Sunday, May 17, 2009

Benedict and the Jews

The one thing about the recent visit to Israel by Pope Benedict that really bothers me the most is all the criticism he’s been given about what he did or did not say. Specifically at the Israeli Holocaust memorial - Yad Vashem. Some of those who have criticized him are people for whom I have great respect. But in my view, they were wrong.

The way some Jewish leaders have sounded, it is as if he is suspected of being some kind of closet anti-Semite …as if he was an unknown entity on the subject of the Jewish people …and we are waiting eagerly to hear his real position on the Jewish people.

But we do know his position. He clearly articulated his desire to have reconciliation with the Jewish people. His actions toward that goal speak louder than words. He has for example ordered any proselytizing in Israel by members of the Catholic Church to stop. And then there was the historic and unprecedented visit last year to an Orthodox Shul in New York where he addressed a mostly Orthodox Jewish audience.

The Jewish Press made an excellent point about that in their editorial this week. They referred to an earlier editorial they wrote just after his visit to that synagogue:

We cannot avoid a "what if" moment here. What if Pope Pius XII had visited a synagogue in the 1930s or 40s? Would such a gesture of friendship and solidarity not have put the Germans on unequivocal notice that atrocities carried out against Jews would be perceived by the Church as atrocities carried out against Catholics? Would it not have given second thoughts to the fiercely Catholic Eastern Europeans who eagerly facilitated the Final Solution together with the German military? Would it not have given pause to those Poles who murdered the pitiful Jewish survivors of Hitler's death camps who'd managed to make their way back to Poland after the war?

I totally agree.

I realize there will always be some people who will not trust the Church at all. There are those who say that anything positive coming out of the mouths of a Catholic or any Christian leader is a ploy to win our confidence so that they can convert us. Perhaps that was largely true in the past. But I do not think this is any more the case. Of course they would like it if we would convert. They believe they have the Truth.- just as we believe that we do. But ever since Vatican II they recognize Judaism as a legitimate religion.

I take the Pope at his word. He wants to befriend and improve relations with us. I do not think we should micro analyze his every utterance. I also do not think it necessary that he makes a mea culpa for the Church’s actions during the holocaust. He may see that era in a different light and judge the Pope of the time favorably as many in the church do.

I don’t really know the truth about the Curch during that era. I only know what the accusations were and I have heard the defenses. Even though we may see that pope in a negative light - it shouldn’t surprise us that this pope sees him in a positive light. We do not have to agree with him on every issue.

My impression of this pope is that he is a decent man who devoutly believes in his religion. He has as one of his goals to have reconciliation with the Jewish people. I think we ought to step back and let him try and achieve it. Because it can only be to our benefit if does.