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!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • 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.