Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Does the Pope Have a Jewish Problem? Or a Liberal Problem?

Pope Francis and Conservative Rabbi Abraham Skorka (Angelus)
Does what the pope does matter to the Jewish people?  The answer is yes. It absolutely does. Not in any religious sense. That should be obvious since our belief systems are incompatible. But in the sense of his influence in the world. Which extends well beyond the Roman Catholic constituency he serves. With a popular pope like Francis, that influence in not insignificant.

He is widely admired for his warm embrace of all people. People of all faiths.  Sinners and saints alike. His liberal approach to Church doctrine has surprised many in the Church hierarchy. 

People with a resume like that tend to be seen as exemplars of high moral  character.  Their views on world events can heavily influence people that admire him outside of the church. He could in theory sway public opinion well beyond his natural constituency.

This is why Pope Francis’s close friendship with Conservative Rabbi Abraham Skorka in his home country of Argentina was a welcome sight for people like me. Historically popes have not been all that kind to the Jewish people. Pre Vatican II - centuries old old church doctrine held that we lost our claim to be God’s chosen people. We were therefore either condemned to hell for not recognizing their god - or targets for heavy handed conversions. Which is what the Crusades and the Inquisition were all about.  

Although that type of heavy handed treatment has waned over the years we were nevertheless seen in the same negative light .Whose special stature as the chosen people of God was lost and replaced by them.

It took a pope of tremendous courage who witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust to change all that. During the Holocaust, before he became Pope John XXXII,  Bishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli had saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish children from the hands of the Nazis. With no religious strings attached.  After he was chosen, Pope John mandated a  change in church doctrine that went from rejection of Judaism by God to acceptance of it as a brother religion to Christianity. His successor, Pope Paul, presided over Vatican II which followed his bidding.

Pope Francis took this new ‘brotherhood’ to a new level.  While still a bishop in Buenos Aires he became close to Rabbi Skorka. They ended up coauthoring a book together in a spirit unprecedented ecumenism. And they have remained friends ever since. It was in that spirit that Pope Francis traveled to Israel twice - one of which included a visit to the Kotel together with his old friend, Rabbi Skorka.

A recent article by John L. Allen Jr. in Angelus questioned how genuine Pope Francis’s affinity toward the Jewish people really is.  Asking whether he had a ‘Jewish problem’!

He based that question on what seemed to be a turn away from sympathy for the Jewish people in favor of sympathy for Palestinians. Allen gave several examples where his concern for Palestinians suffering exceeded his concern for Jewish suffering - on several notable occasions well before the the horrendous massacre of 1200 Jews and kidnapping 250 Jews by Hamas on October 7th.  As well as at least one time after. The latter of which was described this way: 

The fact that Francis delayed meeting a group of family members of Israeli hostages, an encounter originally requested in October but denied on the grounds that he was too busy with the Synod of Bishops, until he could also see on the same day a group of relatives of people from Gaza affected by the war, created the latest frisson in terms of his perceived pro-Palestinian tilt. 

There were also theological comments by Francis about Jewish inability to receive salvation through the Torah. That salvation could only be received through embracing their god.

Does that mean Pope Francis’s affinity for the Jewish people was fake? Was it some kind of publicity stunt to show how ecumenical the church has become? Was that what his friendship with Rabbi Skorka was all about? PR?

Not that the pope needs me to defend him. But I believe that nothing has changed. First that the pope believes salvation comes only through his church should not surprise anyone. More importantly, however, is the fact that Pope Francis entire worldview is that of the quintessential arch liberal. Who is open to all people. He  sees human suffering and responds to that. The liberal mindset does not look very hard at context. It sees suffering and insists it stop immediately and unconditionally. 

In the case of Palestinians, the liberal mindset sees devastation in Gaza, huge numbers killed, and millions more displaced; with little in the way of sustenance coming their way. All because of Israel’s defense initiative. 

So Francis the arch liberal turns his attention to Palestinians. The liberal sees Israel as the oppressive occupier and Palestinians as the oppressed occupied. people That injustice is what the arch liberal addresses. That is the one that gets their immediate attention. 

Not that he does not have sympathy for the hostages, or the  families that suffered lost loved ones on October 7th.  But that is all back burner stuff to an arch liberal like Francis. Israel’s assault is uppermost in his mind. As are the sheer numbers of Palestinians that have died or survived in a state of homelessness with nowhere to go. Their numbers by far outweigh the numbers of Jews suffering. So Francis’s sympathy lies there.

That not a single Palestinian in Gaza would have been harmed, had Hamas not done what it did; and that there would be far less civilian casualties had Hamas not imbedded themselves among sensitive civilian populations - such as schools and hospitals - matters to the liberal. In the moment all they see is human suffering on a major scale. So they get the lion's share of the pope’s sympathy.

This ‘Jewish problem’ is not the pope’s alone. It is a ‘Jewish problem for the liberal mind. Which is why liberal Democrats for example are more likely to have a knee jerk reaction to the violence and more inclined to ask for a cease-fire in Gaza - than are conservative Republicans who tend to see the bigger picture.

Liberal concern for the underdog comes from a good place. But it is a ‘good place’ without context. Which changes everything. 

The current pope is about as politically liberal as possible for the head a doctrinal religion like Catholicism. So it isn’t really a ‘Jewish problem. It is a ‘liberal problem’. 

Just my two cents.