Last week, ahead of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Israel, we asked our readers, via our webpoll, if they considered him “a friend of the Jews.” The weekly poll officially closes at 3:59 on Wednesdays, as we enter the next week’s question. The results – see page 3 – were overwhelmingly negative. And that was before he went to Israel.
He’s certainly not been a poster boy for papal infallibility. This is a pope who rescinded the excommunication of a bishop, Richard Williamson, who denied the Holocaust – and please note that Williamson and three other bishops whose excommunications were rescinded at the same time reject the reforms of Vatican II, which absolved Jews of collective guilt for the death of Jesus, a charge that clearly led to the deaths of untold numbers of Jews throughout the ages. The remarkable document that came out of Vatican II, “Nostra Aetate,” also stipulated that the Jews should not “be represented as rejected or accursed by Godâ€¦. [I]n her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church â€¦ decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”
Vatican II was a high watermark in Catholic-Jewish relations. As well as salving – if not healing – old wounds, it made it easier to be a Jew in a largely Christian world. To reject its contrite and honorable and necessary conclusions is to condone, even to be complicit in, the murder of Jews for the “crime of deicide.”
(Benedict, who claimed not to have known Williamson’s views – astonishing, if true – ultimately ordered him to recant his Holocaust denial, which Williamson does not seem to have done.)
This is a pope who reinstituted the original language of the Good Friday prayer “For the Conversion of the Jews,” the prayer from which Pope John XXIII – the convenor of Vatican II – expunged the phrase “perfidious Jews.”
And yet, the 81-year-old Benedict deserves some credit for making the journey – the journey from being a member, no matter how reluctant, of the Hitler Jugend, the journey to a life of faith, to Israel, to Yad Vashem, which memorializes the millions murdered in the Holocaust by his own countrymen, although he could not bring himself to say that.