Pope Benedict Leaves Behind Mixed Record of Relations With Jews

Stood by Vatican II But Brought Traditionalists Into Fold

Double-Edged Sword: Pope Benedict was in many ways a contradictory figure who moved the church forward in some ways and took it back in others.
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Double-Edged Sword: Pope Benedict was in many ways a contradictory figure who moved the church forward in some ways and took it back in others.

By Ruth Langer

Published February 12, 2013.
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Eventually, after an outcry from Jews and Catholics, the pope issued a revised Latin prayer, removing the insulting language, but retaining the title and the petition that Jews come to “recognize Jesus Christ as the savior of all men.” Subsequently, Cardinal Walter Kasper clarified that this prayer refers to the time of Jesus’ second coming, and not today; this defused this crisis

Then, in 2009, the Pope reached out specifically to the Society of St. Pius X, a conservative group that rejected the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. He offered to lift the excommunication of their bishops and invited them to realign themselves with Rome. Jews were immediately concerned; not only did this group’s rejection of the council’s teachings include its teachings about Jews and Judaism, but Bishop Williamson had shortly beforehand publicly denied the historicity of the Holocaust. Jewish concerns were heard; today this breach remains unresolved. Recently, when another of these bishops referred to Jews as “enemies of the church,” the Vatican quickly condemned his words.

Other examples of tensions could be cited, mostly cases where the inner logic of Catholic theology creates a necessity incomprehensible to the Jewish mind. This includes: the move to canonize Pope Pius XII as a saint before fully clarifying his role in the Holocaust; or, before Benedict became pope, his failure to exclude Jews from the 2000 Dominus Iesus’ universal requirement of faith in Christ; or We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, the document published in 1998 by the Catholic Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, which was an apology that came from Christians but not the Church.

Most of these were failures of communication, not substance. Only further and deeper dialogue and friendship will allow Jews and Catholics regularly to understand each other’s concerns and consistently to speak in a voice that the other will readily understand. Hopefully, Benedict’s successor will live a life of dialogue, while walking in the footsteps of his immediate predecessors.

Ruth Langer is a professor of Jewish studies at Boston College and the associate director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning.


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