Friday, April 23, 2010

Arnold Ages "Vatican: Three steps forward, three steps backwards".

I am grateful to Norm Gordnor, Editor of the Jewish Tribune for permission to reprint this article. 

Arnold Ages is Distinguished Emeritus Professor of French Language and Literature, University of Waterloo (Ontario) and Scholar-in-Residence at the Beth Tzedec Congregation, Toronto.   His article is a balanced and thoughtful.  I think it is an excellent example of the great move forward Jews and Catholics have made over the last 50 years, that we can speak frankly with each other, and know the relationship / friendship will stand firm.

Vatican: Three steps forward, three steps backward

Written by Arnold Ages

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

One must be very discrete in criticizing the Vatican or the Pope. Catholics understandably, are as sensitive to ungainly criticism of the papacy as Jews are to unfair criticism of the state of Israel. Therefore, words must be carefully weighed before they are transformed into print.

First the good news. Since 1964 the Roman Catholic Church, through the agency of Vatican II and Pope John XXIII, has made heroic strides in reconfiguring the church’s unfortunate and ultimately damaging theological biases against Jews and Judaism. As a result of deliberations at the 1964 conclave, the deicide myth attached to Jews historically by the Catholic Church has been removed and replaced by a doctrine that cites humanity in general as responsible for the crucifixion. The church has gone a long way in its text books to also remove the “teaching of contempt” for Jews and Judaism that has been an integral part of Catholic teachings.

There have been two other significant positive developments in Catholic-Jewish relations since the period in question. One of the irritating obstacles to that relationship was the reference to “perfidious Jews” in the Good Friday Easter liturgy in the Catholic Church. The church tried originally to mute the criticism by explaining that “perfidious” in its Latin original simply meant “unbelieving.” Still, a prayer for the conversion of “unbelieving Jews” was offensive to the Jewish community at large. The Catholic Church eventually eliminated that liturgical curiosity.

The most important change of all occurred in the early 1990s when the Vatican, after protracted debate among the leaders of the church, decided to reverse two millennia of anti-Jewish doctrine concerning the link between the rise of Christianity and the expulsion of Jews from the Land of Israel by taking the extraordinary step of recognizing the state of Israel as a palpable and living expression of Jews and Judaism. True, the diplomatic channels have not always been amiable, but they remain an important conduit for both sides.

In the last several years, however, the Vatican has been stepping backwards through a series of thoughtless gestures. The reintegration of excommunicated Bishop Richard Williamson, a known Holocaust “minimizer” (“only 300,000 Jews died and none in the concentration camps,” he said), into the Catholic Church two years ago, was a painful episode for the Jewish community, which correctly sees Holocaust denial in any form as a recrudescence antisemitism. Bishop Williamson was recently found guilty in Regensburg, Germany of Holocaust denial and fined. Williams’s other statements about Jews as “the enemies of Christ,” and that the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion are authentic, makes one wonder how the Vatican could have welcomed such an individual once again into the bosom of the church.

The Vatican’s beatification exercise for two people – a first step to canonizing an individual as a saint in the Catholic Church – has been a misstep for most Jews because of the two candidates, Edith Stein, a converted Jewish thinker murdered by the Nazis, and Pope Pius XII, the Germanophile leader of the church during the Holocaust. While it might be incautious for Jews to render opinions about the inner religious mechanisms of another religion, the move to elevate a Jewish victim of Nazi barbarism and to transform her into a sacred personage is grating. As for Pope Pius XII, there is evidence that the Vatican did help many Jews during the Holocaust, but the same evidence suggests that Pius XII was uninvolved in those rescue attempts.

Finally, the current Pope’s spiritual adviser used the pages of the Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, to offer what is undoubtedly a base example of foot-and-mouth disease when he suggested on Good Friday this year that criticism of Pope Benedict, regarding the sexual scandals among priests, was akin to antisemitism. The absurdity of the charge was immediately recognized by Vatican officials and the article was repudiated while its author apologized.

It is to be hoped that the backward steps recorded above are mere minor blips on the radar screen of Catholic-Jewish relations and that both communities can look forward to a renewed entente.

Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Tribune, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. © 2010 Jewish Tribune, all rights reserved.

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