Losing Touch A German Pope Disgraces the Catholic Church


Part 4: Killing Jews -- Praying for Jews

Benedict even manages to offend Protestants in his native Germany when he discusses the legitimate teachings of his church. In July 2007, Benedict authorized a document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which stated that Protestants did not form "churches in the real sense." This was nothing new, from a Catholic perspective. For Rome there is only one church, namely its own, the "Una Sancta Catholica Ecclesia," which goes back to the Apostles. Everything else, in the Vatican's view, is nothing but sects, Christian communities or lay events.

In this respect, the pope is right. But was he well advised to point it out once again? At any rate, he has inflicted damage on the relationship among the denominations. "Some hoped that a pope who comes from Germany, and as such is quite familiar with the Protestant Church, would improve relations. These hopes have not been fulfilled," says Bishop Margot Kässmann from the northern German city of Hannover. In fact, official relations between Protestants and Catholics are relatively frosty at the moment.

Last November, Benedict XVI wrote the foreword for a book by Marcello Pero, a philosopher and former president of the Italian Senate. In it, the pope praises the rejection of a "cosmopolitan" Europe. "You explain with great clarity," Benedict writes, "that an interreligious dialogue, in the narrow sense of the word, is not possible, whereas the intercultural dialogue in which the cultural consequences of the fundamental religious decision are examined becomes all the more urgent." There can be no "true dialogue" about religion, Benedict continues, "without excluding one's own faith."

What some critics of the pope dismiss as naiveté and awkwardness in dealing with the world is far more for others. For them, the series of mishaps eventually turns into a pattern of stubbornness.

Praying for the Jews

The papal gaffes strike a particularly sensitive note in those who have experienced too many supposed exceptions and blunder in their history, and have done so for so long that they were almost wiped out: the Jews.

The extension of the pope's hand in blessing to the most right-wing fringe of Christianity, an act of mercy for someone like Williamson, is "no regrettable isolated incident," says Walter Homolka, rector of the Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam outside Berlin. Instead, the rabbi sees it as "a cascade of incidents," which can only lead to the conclusion that "the Jewish-Christian relationship is of no value to the pope."

This statement is evidence of a deep bitterness. Joseph Ratzinger is anything but an anti-Semite. The common origins of Judaism and Christianity are at the core of his theological thought. In his "Introduction to Christianity," he approvingly cites a sentence by the "great Jewish theologian Leo Baeck," according to which all devout people, not just the Israelites, will share "in eternal bliss."

However, one can accuse the pope of assigning greater importance to inner unity of his church than to its relationship with other religions. This became clear, once again, to Jewish religious scholars when Benedict issued a so-called motu proprio document on the liturgy on July 7, 2007.

Since 1570, Catholics had prayed on Good Friday for the conversion of the "faithless Jews," and that "they may be delivered from their darkness." Catholics did this for 400 years, but their prayers never met with much success. The rite was modified after the Second Vatican Council, and the new version of the intercession read, somewhat more politely: " Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the Word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant that they may reach the destination set by God's providence."

Step Backward

To the delight of traditionalists, Benedict's decree reinstated the Tridentine Mass in a special form. That form included all of the passages that were laid down in 1962, in the Roman Missal ("Missale Romanum"). But did it include the intercession for the Jews?

Following a series of critical inquiries, the pope decreed, in early February 2008, that from then on the following text was to be included in the Good Friday prayer: "Oremus et pro Iudaeis ut Deus et Dominus noster illuminet corda eorum ..."

It sounds festive enough in Latin, but only because no one understands it. But the statement becomes more than clear in translation: "Let us pray for the Jews. May the Lord our God enlighten their hearts so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men. Almighty and everlasting God, you who want all men to be saved and to reach the awareness of the truth, graciously grant that, with the fullness of peoples entering into your church, all Israel may be saved. Through Christ our Lord. Amen."

For historian Michael Wolffsohn, the motu proprio was the "biggest theological step backward in relation to Judaism since 1945." The Jewish representatives in the Jewish and Christian working group within the Central Committee of German Catholics then boycotted the Catholic Assembly.

Benedict XVI's support for the process of beatification of Pope Pius XII is also a serious problem for history-conscious Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora. The Italian pope, for reasons of diplomatic caution or out of sheer fear, remained publicly silent on the Holocaust.

Pogroms Became Commonplace

In September, Pope Benedict expressed his clear support for his "esteemed predecessor." At a conference of the Jewish-Christian Pave the Way Foundation, the pope spoke of Pius's "many interventions, made secretly and silently, precisely because, given the concrete situation of that difficult historical moment, only in this way was it possible to avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews." The achievements of the Pacelli pope were not always "examined in the right light."

Although Pius XII secretly saved the lives of many Jews, his name is still mentioned at Israel's Yad Washem Holocaust Memorial as an example of the failure of the church.

Former Italian President Francesco Cossiga is not surprised by the constantly recurring tensions. "We must not forget," he says, "that a strong anti-Jewish feeling is rooted in Catholicism. And two popes -- Wojtyla and Ratzinger -- are certainly not enough to put an end to this."

Even the Apostle Paul wrote about the Jews "who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, who have persecuted us, and who please neither God nor any group of people." For Christians, the Jews were the supposed "murderers of God" for almost two thousand years. Anti-Judaism permeates the history of the church -- and it has often been bloody.

In the late 11th century, after Pope Urban II urged Christians to conquer the Holy Land, thousands of crusaders in France and Germany followed his call. But instead of traveling to Jerusalem, they first descended upon their Jewish neighbors at home. On a single day, Christian mobs, chanting "Let us avenge the blood of the Christ Crucified," murdered the entire Jewish community of about 1,000 people in the western city of Mainz.

Pogroms became commonplace. In 1298, bands of "Jew killers" led by a knight named Rindfleisch aus Röttingen traveled through the Franconia region and murdered about 5,000 Jews. Life was especially dangerous for Jews on Good Friday, when Christians, seized by their pious bloodlust, pursued the "god killers." By the end of the 15th century, Christians, through murder and forced displacement, had managed to wipe out the majority of Jewish populations in Western and Southern Europe.

Even Martin Luther, the reformer, was no friend of the Jews. He recommended: "First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed."

'Smoke of Satan'

During the course of the 19th century, anti-Judaism was replaced and displaced by anti-Semitism, which was rooted in racism. According to theologian Hans Küng, "National Socialism would have been impossible without the centuries-old anti-Semitism of the churches." During Nazi rule, conflicts quickly arose between Catholic doctrine and the all-encompassing claim to power of party members. Although some bishops were headed for a clear course of confrontation with the Nazis, the annihilation of the Jews was by no means the German episcopate's greatest concern.

It was only in 1965 that Pope Paul VI, in the "Nostra aetate" declaration of the Second Vatican Council, rejected anti-Judaism once and for all. The church, the groundbreaking document read, "decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone."

It is precisely this document that Lefebvre's followers have not recognized to this day. The SSPX saw the Council essentially as a "fissure in the church," through which the "smoke of Satan had entered the Church."


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