00 5/13/2009 8:40 PM

Benedict XVI and God's rainbow over Auschwitz.

"I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth" (Gen 5,13)

Speaking up for Benedict XVI:
A politically incorrect denunciation
of Shoah madness - and Israeli media's
utter disrespect for a visiting head of state

I have been loath to post the outrageous injustices in the Israeli press trumpeting scornful criticism of Pope Benedict XVI because they did not hear him say all the banalities they expected to hear when he visited Yad Vashem.

Hannah Arendt wrote a memorable book called The Banality of Evil at the time of the Eichmann trial, which was an appropriate description of the minutiate that constituted what the Nazis called 'the Final Solution (Endloesung) for the Jewish problem', their euphemism for exterminating the Jeiwsh race.

The word banality came to my mind when listening to the emcee at Yad Vashem on Monday, hammering home the formulation about "Nazi German criminals who murdered six million Jews". I don't know if Yad Vashem emcees do that everytime they receive a VIP, or if they chose to do so - the relentless repetition - only because the VIP this time was a German.

As someone who is not directly involved or invested in the horror of the Shoah, no matter how sympathetic I am [and I have devoured Holocaust histery and literature since I read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was 10], that needless repetition was mind-numbing, and ultimately banal, a counter-productive trivialization (even if I know Jews would never trivialize the Shoah knowingly).

Surely, the exercise could not have been meant to constrain Benedict XVI into saying things he did not plan to say on this occasion. They know his texts are written well in advance. And that he does not march to anyone's orders other than Christ.

It has been difficult to feel Christian charity about these militants who want every individual in the world to share their monomania - a pathological fixation about the Shoah - and who, in particular, want to claim their pound of flesh (and all the blood that goes with it) from Benedict XVI.

And that's a puny image for what they seem to demand of him - namely, that he singlehandedly pay retribution for the unspeakable crimes that resulted in the Shoah. Even if he obviously had nothing to do with it.

The facile pretext for this outrageous exaction is that he is a German, who, as a teenager, was enrolled in the Hitler Youth (by legal compulsion, and without his active participation), and then served in the German military (he was conscripted).

But of course, like the MSM when they write about these things, they make it appear that both activities were voluntary, nor even mention that he was 14 when it all began and was still a teenager by the time it ended.

Then, of course, he is Catholic, the head of the Catholic Church, yet! - and the Jews have bitter memories of centuries of persecution and unjust treatment on the part of Christians who were brought up in a tradition of considering the Jews as deicides.

In effect, they are practising on Benedict XVI and on the Catholic Church the very same bigotry that was unjustly visited on their ancestors - the religious bigotry of traditional Christians and the racial bigotrry carried to horrendous extremes by Hitler and his deluded Aryan self-worshippers.

What they wanted was for Benedict XVI to stand in that Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem and simply repeat all the commonplaces and readymade phrases generally employed when one speaks about the Shoah, plus the apologies for the Church that they had come to expect regularly of John Paul II. In the process, they almost completely ignored the fresh reflection that Benedict XVI brought to bear on the subject, and that's their loss.

Benedict personally has nothing to apologize for. And he cannot apologize for Germans - assuming Germans bear any reflected collective blame' for what the Nazis did, as the Jewish militants seem to assume - because he is one German among 60 million, nor is he President or Chancellor of Germany with the official capacity to speak for the nation.

As for the Church's apologies, Joseph Ratzinger was perhaps the one person most responsible for the theological rationalization and verbal formulation of all the apologies ever given by John Paul II. What more can he add? Especially since, as a Jerusalem Post editor wrote, 'For Jews, there is only one Pope'?

Fine, that 'one Pope' spoke loud and clear and often, and to their liking, in his time. Why should it matter to them then what this 'other Pope' says and does?

Worse, what is this sadism of wanting the head of the Catholic Church to apologize and grovel to them on every occasion?

It is very distressing that the Shoah should have bred all these psychological pathologies among Jewish militants - because that's what it is now, a sickness in the mind and heart that causes even the most religious among them to completely forget God's commandment of love.

Now, having let that off my chest, here is a reaction from a priest who lives in Jerusalem.

Benedict XVI walks a religious tightrope:
Trying to stay on message despite criticism

By Father Thomas D. Williams, LC

JERUSALEM, May 12, 2009 (Zenit.org).- We woke up this morning in Jerusalem to newspaper headlines decrying the supposed inadequacy of Pope Benedict's remorse in his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial Monday and in his meeting there with six Holocaust survivors.

Complaints dealt more with omissions -- what critics thought he should have said -- than with what he actually said and did.

Despite his explicit remembrance of the Shoah in his first address in Israel and his unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitism ("Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found"), a raft of reports claimed that he didn't go far enough.

Some took issue with the fact that the words "Nazi" and "murder" didn't appear in his Vad Yashem address, while others felt that the Pope should have apologized for alleged Catholic complicity in the Holocaust.

Others still blamed the Pope himself for having been drafted into the German army (though he later defected) and for showing too little emotion in his Yad Vashem speech.

One hardly knows where to begin in the face of this wave of criticism (I have only scratched the surface). It appears that some of the Holy Father's hearers would not be satisfied with anything the Pope could say or do, short of falling on his face and begging the earth to swallow him up in utter shame.

In return for what seemed to me a sincere and humble overture of peace and reconciliation, the Holy Father has been taken to task as if he were personally responsible for Jewish suffering in the world.

I struggled in vain to explain to several Israelis that the Pope isn't an outwardly emotional man, so whatever outpouring of distress they expected from him just doesn't correspond to his nature.

I invited them to look more to the Pope's personal decision to address this issue so frankly, and to visit the Holocaust memorial as the centerpiece of his first day in Israel (which he certainly wasn't required to do), as evidence of his deep-felt concern. Unfortunately these arguments fell into a void.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum passions are running just as high. This morning I received a blistering email message from a Christian in Gaza who had seen me on the evening news and who strenuously objected to the nearly exclusive attention being given to the Jews in reports of this visit.

His lengthy missive, titled "What about us?" enumerated a litany of complaints against the treatment of Palestinians by the state of Israel.

"Maybe you forgot," he wrote, "that Israel was built on the blood and on the homes of thousands of Palestinian Catholics and Christians." He continued, "Maybe you forgot that Israel is building an apartheid wall, a way worse than Berlin wall and the South African one" -- and so the letter continued on and on.

For just a moment I felt a tiny sliver of what the Holy Father must be experiencing as he tries to navigate the tremendously difficult shoals of high-strung religious sentiment that permeates this region.

Like a spiritual tightrope walker, all he needs to do is lean slightly to the left or to the right and immediately he is labeled as insensitive or evil. Worse still, even when he does manage to strike the perfect balance, it still isn't enough.

It seems that many observers couldn't care less about the Pope's actual intentions for this pilgrimage or with the positive content of his message, and instead run all his words and actions through a microscope in the search for something with which to find fault.

Despite all this, the Holy Father seems remarkably poised and serene, testimony to the depth of his spiritual convictions and his abundant confidence in the grace of God to bring much good out of this journey.

His days are literally filled with activities, sometimes a different venue every hour, and yet he perseveres with unflagging good spirits.

One person who at least ostensibly seemed more in sync with Pope Benedict was Israel's president, Shimon Peres. In a striking passage of his welcoming address to the Holy Father, he seemed to capture better than anyone the importance of this apostolic visit.

"Spiritual leaders can pave the way for political leaders," Peres said. "They can clear the minefields that obstruct the road to peace. The spiritual leaders should reduce animosity, so that political leaders do not resort to destructive means."

To those who criticize the papal trip as being ineffective and without "teeth," Peres' words seemed incisive and clairvoyant. "We do not need more armored vehicles," Peres added, "but inspired spiritual leadership." This is what Benedict is providing in spades to this troubled land.

On a far lighter note, I have enjoyed my frequent elevator rides throughout Jerusalem because of an ironic little plaque found inside. Rather than the Otis brand, elevators in Israel are predominantly manufactured by a company called Schindler. And since British English is used here, elevator riders are carried up and down, courtesy of "Schindler Lifts."

(Legionary of Christ Father Thomas D. Williams, an American theologian living in Rome, is providing commentary for CBS News on Benedict XVI's historic visit to the Holy Land.)

And here is John Allen's new and always political correct take on the Yad Vashem fallout against Benedict XVI. I must say I have rarely found the adjective 'noble' used so patronizingly and therefore negatively, Ii.e., damning with faint praise.

In effect, after all the nobility stuff that he cites, Allen tells us that in this day and age, when PR and perception are all that seem to matter, nobility means nothing, and the Pope is simply wasting his opportunities, not playing the expectations game and not keeping to the script that know-alls in the media would like him to follow.

Didn't I say in my comment on Allen's 'instanalysis' of the Yad Vashem event that you cannot get more conformist than spouting politicially correct conventional wisdom? Where does Christ say or imply in any way that his followers should be conformists? Didn't he say they should expect to be 'a sign of contradiction' in the world?

Benedict’s timeless touch
noble, but tricky

By John L Allen Jr

May 12, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI's visit yesterday to Yad Vashem, Israel's main Holocaust memorial, had been billed coming into this trip as a make-or-break moment, a key test of whether the Pontiff could mend fences with Jews after several recent setbacks.

This morning, the lead commentary in Haaretz, Israel's leading daily, carried this reaction: "Benedict's speech showed verbal indifference and banality." [Who is guilty of 'verbal indifference and banality' - the Pope who speaks with theological and moral authority behind every well-thought word and who refuses to indulge in commonplaces, or the purveyors of cliches that have been drained of meaning by sheer overuse and misuse?]

Safe to say, that's not exactly the headline the Vatican was hoping for.

To be sure, other Jewish commentators so far have been far more positive, accenting the importance of the Pope's choice to visit Yad Vashem and his firm commitment to Holocaust remembrance.

A striking number of critical voices, however, saw the visit as a missed opportunity. (Notably, those voices included the chairman of the board of directors at Yad Vashem.)

Aside from some relatively minor points of word choice – that Benedict said Jews had been "killed," not "murdered," and that "millions" of Jews died rather than "six million," even though he cited that figure in an earlier speech at the Tel Aviv airport) – the main thrust of the criticism centered on three points missing from the speech:

- Acknowledgment of the role that Christian anti-Semitism played in shaping attitudes that led to the Holocaust;
- Reference to Benedict's own biography as a German who saw the horrors of the Nazi regime with his own eyes, and who had himself been drafted into the German army;
- Regret for the recent strain in Catholic/Jewish ties caused by the lifting of the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, including one, Richard Williamson, who is a Holocaust denier.

[Look, if Benedict were Obama - whose motto is "Please like us, I'll roll over and crawl for you if that's what it takes" - he might have done all that. But he is not a politician and he would not demean the Hall of Remembrance by using the occasion to score any points with his critics, least of all by playing a breast-beating Pharisee, no offense to Jews intended. Also, Jews know their Ecclesiastes, unless paranoia and morbid enjoyment of 'being victim' makes some of them forget.

We can be sure that, unlike the 'Shoah cultists', to coin a term, the good souls who inhabit the memorial with the record of their savaged lives do not need any of those rationalizations to validate the Pope's sincerity.]

For the record, Benedict did not hit any of these points today either during his visit to Jerusalem's fabled Western Wall. In 2000, John Paul II left a note in the Western Wall asking forgiveness for "the behavior of those who have caused these children of yours to suffer."

This morning, Benedict XVI left a note asking God to "send peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family."
[Both notes were entirely in keeping with each Pontiff's priorities at the time of their visit.

In 2000, a negotiated peace appeared 'near at hand' between Israel and the Palestinians, and John Paul II was making his Jubilee tours (marking the second millennium since the birth of Jesus). One of his Jubilee priorities was to seek forgiveness from all the groups and entities who were wronged by Christians in the course of centuries. The Jews loved him for it and will forever be beholden to him because he took that step.

Benedict has moved on as he should - the urgency for now is getting the peace process under way again. And in any case, what's wrong with him praying for peace, which is the most urgent practical need of the region and the world, not ritual breast-beating! It's been nine years since John Paul II's visit.

Why must Benedict be compelled to step back in time, get on the apology treadmill and stay on it, other than for the sadistic pleasure ofgetting off on 'getting even' or 'turning the tables'? Saying "I'm sorry' over and over does not make you any sorrier or more sincere!]

Since it was entirely predictable that the absence of these three points from the Yad Vashem speech would stir reaction, the $64,000 question becomes: Why didn't Benedict say it?

It would be easier to answer if it were clear that Benedict didn't actually think these things – that is, if he didn't believe that anti-Semitic attitudes among Christians played any role in the Holocaust, or that his personal experience is irrelevant to what Yad Vashem symbolizes, or if he felt no regret for the Williamson affair. Then his decision not to say them would make all the sense in the world.

In fact, however, Benedict is on record as thinking and saying the precise opposite.

In December 1990, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote a blunt essay for L'Osservatore Romano acknowledging that too many Christians failed to resist the lure of anti-Semitism, and that this failure contributed to the Holocaust.

In his autobiography Milestones, he wrote at length about the lessons he learned from growing up in the shadow of Hitler and the Nazis, and during his 2006 visit to Auschwitz he spoke of the significance of being "a German Pope" and "a son of Germany" in that place.

Just weeks ago, he addressed a letter to all the bishops of the church expressing his deep anguish over the Williamson case.

So once again, the inevitable question: Why didn't he say any of this at Yad Vashem?

Jesuit Fr. Fedrico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, attempted to answer that question in a session with reporters today in Jerusalem.

"He does not have to repeat every time, in every speech, all the points he has made in the past about the tragedy of the Holocaust," Lombardi said. "Many people who have not listened on other occasions to what the Pope has said expect him to repeat it every time, but this is not possible."

That's certainly a point. Yet inevitably, there's a difference between saying it in an article in L'Osservatore Romano or in a letter to bishops, and saying it at Yad Vashem – when virtually every major news network in the world is carrying the event live, and when it's one of the rare occasions when the Pope has unfiltered access to the Israeli and Jewish "street."

One could argue, of course, that Benedict did not want to tarnish the significance of the Yad Vashem visit by using his speech to put out fires or score PR points.

It's also true that Benedict is legendary for thinking in centuries, implying that his main concern is rarely what tomorrow's headline might be.

Yet Lombardi seemed to hint at a deeper logic for the way Benedict chose his words. The theme of the speech, Lombardi insisted, was "memory," and that's where the Pontiff placed his focus.

In fact, the most dramatic line from the speech came near the end. Meditating aloud on the sight of the reflecting pool at Yad Vashem, where the faces of Holocaust victims gaze back at visitors, Benedict said the memory of those who were lost "is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence … a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood."

Perhaps the key words in that line of thought are "every" and "perpetual." At monuments to evil such as Auschwitz and Yad Vashem, Benedict seems compelled to offer reflections which are deliberately universal and timeless.

In both cases, he clearly acknowledged the specificity of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust, and resolved to ensure that such crimes are never repeated.

Nonetheless, Benedict XVI seems to see such settings – not just Holocaust memorials, but also, for example, the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, which he visited last April – as eternal reminders of the seductive power of hatred.

One has the impression that to him, it would fail to do justice to what these places represent if he were to turn the focus upon himself, or recent events and plans of action, or even too much on the historical particularities of the location.

In a sound-bite, he seems to believe that occasions for grappling with the deepest and most painful mysteries about God's plan require something more from a Pope than good image management.

Put that way, of course, it sounds quite noble. The fly in the ointment is that Benedict is nonetheless Pope in the here and now, and whatever he does and says – or, in this case, fails to say – has immediate real-world consequences: For inter-faith relations, for the public image of the Catholic church, for his capacity to get a hearing, and across the board.

Thinking in centuries when you speak in public is a marvelous academic disposition, but it can be a tricky business for a leader on the global stage.

Whatever one makes of Benedict's approach to these moments, however, one thing seems clear after four years, which has been reinforced this week: This is who Benedict XVI is, and he's not likely to change simply because day-after headlines don't break his way.

[Nor because journalists playing at being Pope presume to lecture him at every turn on what he must say and do, as in articles like "Five things the Pope must say when he goes to Israel". 'Must say'? Sez who? ]

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/14/2009 7:36 PM]