Dear Cyber Rav,
I have a question regarding the Pope's decision to reinstate “the Wayward Bishops." These were the four bishops excommunicated 20 years ago for their rejection of Vatican II, a Church doctrine made official in 1965 which, in part, freed the Jewish people in the past and now of the charge of deicide (killing Jesus). But one of the exonerated bishops is the British-born Richard Williamson, who in an interview as recently as this month (January 2009), stated that there were no gas chambers in Europe and that the Jews who perished in the so-called Holocaust figured no more than 300,000. At first blush, bringing these four bishops back into the fold, particularly a Holocaust-denier, seems like a clear affront to the Jewish community and a decision that is at best indifferent to our sensitivities.
I would argue that his embrace of those who reject Vatican II, including it's denunciation of anti-semitism, could easily be construed as the pope’s inability to actually change Vatican II, even though he might want to. He simply cannot find the political room to go that far. Of course, I realize that within Vatican II there is a larger context beyond the statements regarding the Church’s anti-semitism, but the rejection of anti-semitism was an important part of the findings of the 60's.
So my question is: is the Pope’s actions as bad as all that, or am I missing an angle? I'd like to be wrong about this...
Looking to Forgive
Dear Looking to Forgive,
So the question is: "Is it as bad as all that?"
I guess there are a couple of ways of looking at this. If, from a purely political perspective, the act proves the pope unable to revoke Vatican II, then I guess we should be happy about that. This is to say that Vatican II is here to stay. But another way of looking at this, I would say one that is equally valid, is that the Church is changing direction by welcoming those who would officially and visibly buck Church doctrine. And if that is the case, that's not so good.
Whether Vatican II is here to stay or the Church is positioning itself for a major reversal, perhaps a response to diminishing traditional values throughout the world, I would say that the need for Jews to protest the move is real. If we don't like the direction the Church is moving in, it won't change direction unless it is subject to some force that will counter it. We can thank another Brit for teaching us that, namely, Isaac Newton!
One more point--The church probably thinks less about Jews than we in heavily Jewish New York would like to believe. According to the Vatican's statistics, Roman Catholics represent about 17.5% of the world's population. That’s a lot of Catholics. Jews represent about 0.2% of the world's population. That’s not a lot of Jews. It is understandable that the Church would be more worried about the 17.5% than the 0.2%. This is not to say that protest is unwarranted, but we should not automatically assume anti-Jewish motives when these decisions may have absolutely nothing to do with Jews at all. The Church has been trying to make amends for past sins committed against the Jewish people and these overtures have been appreciated and are a welcome trend. Having proven itself open to dialogue, and having reached out to the Jewish community in friendship, the pope’s most recent actions creates reason for serious and urgent dialogue with our Catholic neighbors.
My two cents--
Rabbi Rafi Rank
The Cyber Rav