February 08, 2009

The Vatican

It is not my business to tell another religion what to do unless its actions impact directly on me.

I despise the mix of religion in politics. Politics, like diplomacy, is the art of hiding the truth in order to achieve specific tangible goals that may have little to do with spirit or morality. Nothing devalues religion more than its power plays.

For a change I am not talking about Judaism, but about the Vatican, which has been playing politics for two thousand years. Yes, there have been some good and spiritual popes. But for every pope that defended Jews there were more who attacked and expelled them from their dominions and burnt their books. Take Pius IX who kidnapped the Jewish child, Edgar Mortara, and refused to hand him back to his parents. Or indeed Pius XII who, as Papal Nuncio to Hitler, entered into a defensive concordat with the Devil at the price of never publicly mentioning the fate of the Jews throughout the Nazi era, and refused appeals to hand back Jewish children given refuge during the war.

I admired Pope John XXIII, who singlehandedly pushed the Catholic Church to repudiate its doctrine that the Jews were cursed for rejecting Jesus as their Messiah (barely 40 years ago I might add). But ever since, warring factions in Rome have been busy in a game of tug-of-war where any pro-Jewish or pro-Israel statement or move has to be counterbalanced by an opposite one. That’s diplomacy, or politics, for you.

I wonder why just now the Vatican has decided to lift the excommunication on four priests involved in the notoriously anti-Semitic Marcel Lefebvre's conservative breakaway movement that considered Pope John XXIII an anti-pope. Amongst those exonerated is the notorious Richard Williamson, who denies the Holocaust and thinks 9/11 was a Zionist plot. It is true the pope has wanted to bring the archconservatives back into the fold for a long time. But the timing of the reconciliation is no coincidence. In the same way that the opinion of a senior cardinal that what happened in Gaza is another Holocaust can only be a declaration approved by the top for political purposes. Terrible, unnecessary, excessive--call it what you will, but to compare it to the Holocaust is, in itself, evil. And who is fooled when the pope makes a special radio statement about how terrible the Holocaust was? Right hands and left hands, good cops and bad cops. It is all part of the game of having your cake and eating it.

Now I personally don’t give a fig whom the Vatican makes a saint of; so why am I even raising it? Some argue that Israel needs allies and to be on good terms with the Vatican. And I have it on good authority that Israel has not behaved as it should have towards the Vatican over agreements on Church property in Israel. But then that’s a diplomatic matter, not a religious one. Others argue that we need good relations with Christianity in order to counterbalance the anti-Semitism of most of Islam. But then, many Churches are as antithetic to Israel as Islam.

Interestingly, the Charedi world finds it easier to talk to Imams than to Christian priests. Islam is, after all, regarded as monotheistic, and an oath in the name of Allah counts the same as an oath in the name of God. Whereas Catholicism, with its literal Trinity and imagery, is still regarded as idolatry by most Charedi rabbis.

Catholicism, for its part, still believes it is the sole possessor of truth. Even if recent popes have liked to call us the Children of Abraham and in possession of an ancient covenant, nevertheless they continue to hope and pray that one day we will see the light. Our Southern Baptist Christian allies go even further, believing we have no chance at all if we stay as we are! At least their support has been total and undivided, but as Voltaire said, "Lord protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies." To use a modern Hebrew phrase, "Kabdeyhu VeChashdeyhu"--respect but suspect! So I respect diplomats and ecumenicalists, as I do those politicians who try to build bridges regardless of their true motives. But I try not to fool myself.

It is all very well for liberals of all faiths to meet together in amicable discussion, but if none of it filters down to the rest what is the point? I recall a conversation twenty years ago with the late Cardinal Konig of Vienna. He said that regardless of the new Vatican teaching on Jews, he had no power over the country priests of Austria who continued their anti-Semitic teaching and preaching. The same holds true of much of Christianity still today. There are indeed good and noble cardinals who genuinely seek reconciliation, but for everyone one of them there are two of the others.

You may have seen that remarkable YouTube video of a Portuguese Catholic service of reconciliation in which the whole Church reverberated to "Shema Yisrael" sung in Hebrew. It was very moving. That is one side of the coin. The other is that if the pope does not realize that rehabilitating a Holocaust denier is an insult to the memory of those who died, then frankly dialogue is not working. Angela Merkel understands this. Why does not he?

Now the Vatican has ordered him to recant. But evidence of his views was placed before the pope months ago. Since then Williamson has repeated his hate on Swedish media. Clearly the Vatican has realized it has made more than a public relations mess and is trying to patch things up, but it is all crisis management. That it happened at all is a symptom of the problem.

2 Comments:

At 9:43 AM , Anonymous Adrian P said...

I have an Idea, let's base our politics on the assumption that racial identity and culture is a natural human trait and as such needs to be taken into consideration when formulating policies.

 
At 2:28 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

What policies do you have in mind?
J

 

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