Powered by WebAds

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Pope's missed opportunity

I've seen a bunch of comments on this site from people who don't understand why Israelis were so disappointed with the Pope's speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial earlier this week. In Wednesday's JPost, Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israeli office, does a good job of explaining what was missing.
While the pope spoke with great empathy about the fate of the victims of the Holocaust and specifically expressed the hope that "their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten," there were two critical elements that were totally missing from his remarks.

The first was any reference to the perpetrators and their guilt. Given that the pope grew up in Nazi Germany and even served briefly in the Wehrmacht, it was unthinkable that he did not even mention the Nazi war criminals, among them numerous Catholics, who committed the crimes of the Holocaust. And while there is absolutely no basis for any allegations against him for war crimes, we expect him, as a major spiritual leader, to directly address the issue of culpability. One of the central lessons of the Shoah is that it was not a natural disaster like an earthquake, tsunami or volcano, but the doing of human beings - among them many members of his own flock.

In that respect, Benedict's failure to express any regret or apology for centuries of anti-Semitic teachings that paved the way for the Holocaust, or for the failure of the Catholic Church and Pius to do more to unequivocally condemn Nazi atrocities and to save Jews from death during the Shoah, is also extremely unfortunate. There is no doubt that a more courageous stance by church leaders, both in the Vatican as well as locally, could have had a strong impact. This is especially true for Catholic countries like Lithuania, Croatia, Slovakia (whose President Josef Tiso was a Catholic priest), Poland and others where the church had considerable moral authority and local Catholics were among the mass murderers - not to mention in Germany and Austria.
Read the whole thing. From our perspective, the Pope missed an opportunity to effect a sea change in how the Catholic church relates to the Holocaust.


At 9:04 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

That's true. But the church is a political animal and I didn't expect any great breakthrough here. The Church will have come to terms with its own past and not because moral accountability on its part is a sort of favor owed to the Jewish people.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger Michael B said...

The Wehrmacht? He "served," unenthusiastically and only because it was mandatory for all youths of fourteen years and above, in the Hitler Youth Corp, or whatever the more formal name for that corp was.

I've read three or four (on-line) accounts of that period and Wiki echos those accounts, emphases added:

"Following his fourteenth birthday in 1941, Ratzinger was enrolled in the Hitler Youth, as membership was required for all 14-year old German boys after December 1939, but was an unenthusiastic member and refused to attend meetings. His father was a bitter enemy of Nazism, believing it conflicted with the Catholic faith, according to biographer John L. Allen, Jr. In 1941, one of Ratzinger's cousins, a 14-year-old boy with Down syndrome, was taken away by the Nazi regime to a care center and killed there in secrecy during the Aktion T4 euthanasia campaign of Nazi eugenics."This also has echos in the Pius XII battles, another set of campaigns that should be better grounded in some historical realism. My own comment a few months ago at Z-word's blog serves to substantiate one specific aspect of that general fact, regarding Pius XII, with support from two or three Jewish scholars.

Guilt, real guilt, has been inccurred, variously, throughout the centuries. But these accusations and debates need to be far better grounded than they typically are, than a Hochhuth, a Costa-Gavras or even a Daniel Goldhagen will allow.

The Catholic Church, no matter Benedict's thick German accent and other historical coincidences, is not and was not Hitler's Nazi party.

All such grievances, accusations and debates in this vein, minimally, should be much better historically grounded, as relevant scholarship and historical facts and realities allow.

At 2:44 PM, Blogger Michael B said...

Spengler (Daniel Goldman), newly appointed as an editor of First Things, lends perspective as well.

At 9:23 PM, Blogger LB said...

It's not just about the Pope as an individual. It's about the Vatican as institution - which has probably caused more harm to the Jews than anyone else in history (there's an argument to be made for the Roman Empire).

Israel needs to call the Pope out - to keep his nose out of Israeli affairs (at least the US can claim they're giving money, and want oversight over their investment), to open up their archives from the Holocaust, and to give up any artifacts that they might have from the plundering their forebears enjoyed a couple of millennia ago.

Until then - we should declare the Pope persona non grata.

Michael - the Catholic church was not Hitler's NAZI party, but it most likely complicit in their acts - and even if not, taking into account the past 2,000 years - the Catholic Church is probably worse.

At 11:18 PM, Blogger Chaim said...

I'd rather see the Pope apologize to the Jewish Community on behalf of Vatican complicity in the deaths of 25,000 Jews at Jasenovac Complex in Croatia during World War II

Jasenovac was operated and staffed by Roman Catholic Clergy, Nuns, and zealous catholic laymen.


Until Vatican acknowledges its role in propelling Adolph Hitler to prominence with the Concordat, among other things, the Vatican will not change...Ratzinger only exemplifies a lack of change and demand for the old ways.

At 1:07 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

A thought on the pope's latest PR stunt in his "non-political" trip:
If he thinks our protective wall isn't so necessary or "nice" maybe he should demolish his wall around Vatican City and drop his Swiss Guard patrols.

At 1:11 AM, Blogger Michael B said...


I'm not Catholic and at least to that extent I'm not committed overly much here.

I'll simply leave a couple of links, to two blog posts wherein I did comment at some modest length on related issues, here, and here.

At 11:20 PM, Blogger Michael B said...

It appears a modest caveat is due concerning my earlier Wehrmacht remark. According to three confirming reports presently in the news, much as he was subjected to compulsory inclusion in the Hitler Youth Corp, so was he subjected to a subsequent (appx. two years later) inclusion in a youth arm of the Luftwaffe, the Luftwaffenhelfer, wherein entire classrooms of youth with 1927 and 1928 birthdates were forceably conscripted. Benedict, according to one of those three accounts (the other two did not elaborate), deserted from the Luftwaffenhelfer. So in keeping with his own family's anti-Nazi history, despite his compulsory induction he deserted his service in both memberships. (His family's anti-Nazi history itself is confirmed in multiple sources I could find on-line.)


Perhaps you're relying upon Al Jazeera. What Benedict actually said as applied to the protective wall was: "How we earnestly pray for an end to the hostilities that have caused this wall to be built." He likewise referred to the wall as a "reminder" of the "stalemate" (between Israelis and the Sunni Arabs, aka "Palestinians").

Iow and contrary to your own retort, he is acknowledging the necessity of the wall, due to the hostilities. The language used is obviously diplomatic, not hyperbolic, but the acknowledgement is apparent enough and in fact does run contrary to your own comment.


Post a Comment

<< Home