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5/21/2009 11:25 PM
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Here is what seems to the typical middle-of-the-road Jewish attitude towards Benedict XVI - a persistent suspicion and doubt about his attitudes towards Judaism and anti-Semitism overlying any positive assessment there may be.

It is most annoying because there is no ground for such skepticism towards such a transparent and open person like Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI who has never hesitated to put himself on the record about the things he believes in.

Hidden meaning of
Pope’s Israel visit

by Dr. Adam Gregerman

Issue of May 22, 2009

Dr. Gregerman is Jewish Scholar at the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies.

Hundreds of rabbis recently signed a statement, coordinated by the Center for Religious Understanding, welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to Israel.

While they expressed a heartfelt sense of appreciation for the Catholic Church’s efforts over the last few decades to improve Jewish-Christian relations, the final sentence seems unreasonably optimistic: There is nowhere “better to reaffirm that relationship than in the Holy Land of Israel, a place both religions treasure as part of a shared heritage.”

Indeed, many Jews now feel that Benedict’s trip has been a disappointment. By bringing the Middle East conflict into the mix, and ensuring intense scrutiny of his every word and deed, he only increased the possibility that his lack of skill in handling inter-religious relations would again be revealed.

During the trip Benedict was been criticized for insensitivity to Jewish suffering, poor choreography of meetings likely to become contentious, and political meddling.

Knowing of Benedict’s stumbles in relations with Jews, seen in recent controversies over a Holocaust-denying bishop and revisions to Catholic liturgy, one might reasonably have suspected that a trip to Israel was unlikely to improve the relationship.

Looking back over his visit, the rabbis’ admirable wish seems sadly unfulfilled: Coverage of his trip has focused largely on Benedict’s perceived gaffes and unsatisfying statements. Not surprisingly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has intruded at nearly every event.

What was, however, largely overlooked were the ways that Benedict’s statements and actions reflect remarkable changes in Catholic views of Jews and Judaism, changes that long-predate him and will, I hope, continue unabated.

This is surely the most significant lesson of his trip. I fear that it can be lost amid noisy disputes over, for example, how close his podium in Bethlehem can be to Israel’s separation wall/fence, or his opinion about the location of the capital of a future Palestinian state. Even during this rocky visit, we find striking confirmation of changes in Jewish-Catholic relations.

These changes began at the epochal Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, initiating a stunning turn away from Catholic anti-Judaism. In particular, two traditional claims were rejected, that all Jews are guilty of the crucifixion, and that God’s covenant with the Jews was abrogated with the coming of Jesus. The rabbis were right to focus on these changes in their recent statement.

We find welcome confirmation of them in Benedict’s remarks. Speaking at Moses’s traditional burial place, he expressed “a desire to overcome all obstacles” to an improved relationship, despite centuries of acrimony and mistrust. Such efforts must be founded on a spirit of “mutual respect and cooperation.”

When meeting Israel’s chief rabbis, he affirmed a continuing commitment to Vatican II and hopes for “genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews.” (Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger in response movingly expressed his own yearning for “love and brotherhood” with Catholics.)

Yet respect and tolerance, Benedict insisted, is not enough. Catholics must strive to know more about Judaism, in order to see Jews as Jews see themselves. Catholics must commit to learning about Jews’ distinctive approaches to worship and study.

Using language reminiscent of the most remarkable post-Vatican II statements, he extols the shared “spiritual patrimony” of Jew and Christian and hopes in the end that dialogue leads to “love.” [And who more than Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI has made the most wide-ranging statements of rapprochement and fraternal love towards the Jews since Vatican II?]

Interviewed just prior to his arrival, he admitted that setbacks were inevitable. The Catholic Church has had to address enormously complex theological and historical issues. Catholics simultaneously must grapple with hateful religious traditions and centuries of terrible Jewish suffering in Christian lands.

[Wait, that statement needs to be qualified. I may not have a detailed grasp of world history, but persecution of Jews in Christian lands as a policy and practice was limited to certain periods in history and specific nations, such as after the Spanish Reconquista in medieval Spain - and not a widespread, continuing process in all Christian lands, even if anti-Jewish sentiment may have been sort of 'traditional'! Despite such sentiment - linked to traditional cultural upbringing and not necessarily preached by the Church - Jews prospered all over Europe after the Middle Ages - until the Nazis began their pogroms that led to the Holocaust.]

However, these shifts in relations are immensely significant, and have increasingly deep roots in contemporary Catholic thought. They are, he said, “irrevocable.”

We should not discount real worries about backsliding by some in the Church. These last few years have been difficult. Sometimes, Benedict himself has been disappointingly ambivalent about improving relations with Jews, and insensitive to complaints about decisions he has made (about reviving prayers for Jewish conversion, for example).

[When hass he ever been ambivalent about improving relations? ... And as for the revision of the prayer, it was precisely because of Jewish obkections raised after he 'normalized' the use of the traditonal Mass that he revised the John XXIII version of the prayer [which John Paul II left as is in all the indults he granted for the traditional Mass during his 27 years as Pope] to reflect eschatologic hope about the Jews - using St. Paul's language in the Letter to the Romans, which Jews have accepted without question for centuries - instead of the implied need to convert the Jews in the old prayer.]

I detect hints of tentativeness in some of his statements, perhaps reflecting a reluctance to break with past teachings or admit to the failings of Catholics.

[That's sheer fault-finding, Name such a statement! And when has he ever been reluctant to 'admit to the failings of Catholics"? More than regular Catholics, the Pope above all is the first to say we are all sinners in the Church - we have been guilty and will be guilty of all kinds of shortcomings including intolerance for others, adn he says so over and over in his writings about Catholic-Jewish relations in the past.]

However, when taking a broader view, we should be reminded of just how much has changed.

While it can be foolhardy to underestimate the significance of the Pope for the Catholic Church, these changes are bigger and deeper than Benedict. Usually he nurtures them, sometimes he retards them [Again, a sweeping judgment that has no objective basis], but they remain the norm in the Catholic Church today.

Jews should recognize how much has been accomplished, while also encouraging the Church to remain faithful to its own vision.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/21/2009 11:27 PM]
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