The Next Pope Could Be Progressive and Transform Relations With Jews

Don't Assume Cardinals Will Pick Benedict-Style Conservative

getty images

By John Connelly

Published February 17, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world with his announcement that he will step down at the end of February. Though resignations are permitted by a little known paragraph of canon law, no pope has submitted one in six centuries. Historians will now begin asking about Benedict’s legacy.

In the field of Jewish-Christian relations he will not be remembered as having enjoyed success. Most of his initiatives involved a gaffe of one sort or other. From a visit he made to Auschwitz we recall that he conspicuously avoided any statement of repentance for the church’s history of teaching anti-Semitism.

Later, he attempted to reconcile the church with reactionaries who deny the reforms of Vatican II, where, among other things the church renounced the theological sources of hatred of the Jews, sometimes called anti-Judaism, above all the idea that Jews lived under a curse for killing God. These extremists have refused the Vatican’s overtures, perhaps saving the pope further embarrassment. Among their number are Holocaust deniers.

Perhaps most troubling, in the spring of 2008 Benedict announced a Good Friday Prayer for the Jews “that God our Lord should illuminate their hearts, so that they will recognize Jesus Christ, the Savior of all men.” This seemed to presage a return to the practice of trying to convert Jews and denying—against the teaching of Vatican II—that Jews stand in a covenantal relation with God.

Some people who care about relations between Christians and Jews may breathe a sigh of relief at Benedict’s resignation. Others will see it as a mixed blessing. After all, he and his conservative predecessor John Paul II have appointed the overwhelming majority of the Cardinals who will vote on his successor.

Call me an optimist, but I see little reason for alarm. For one thing, there is no necessary relation between “conservatism” and acceptance of Vatican II teachings on the Jews. Though reviled in liberal quarters for his views on birth control and the ordination of women, John Paul II had a keen sense for the Church’s new approach to the Jews, and went beyond the Vatican II language, calling Jews Christians’ “older brothers,” who lived under a covenant “never revoked by God.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.