A Recent History of Papal Acts Impacting Jewish Catholic Relations. What Does the Future Hold After Benedict XVI?
By Gary Krupp, President, Pave the Way Foundation
Having endured 2000 years of persecution, Jews may have a justified distrust of Christians. Today some Christians have expressed support for the enemies of Israel, further fueling this potential for distrust. Mindful of this reality, we must also acknowledge those Christian individuals and groups who have made positive efforts in support of Jews. Specifically we should take a look at the Roman Catholic Church's actions in recent decades, attempting to reverse centuries of hostility towards Jews, in an official capacity.
The church's October 1965 Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) made a clear statement. The document, released by Pope Paul VI and originated by Pope John XXIII before his death, was deliberate and steadfast. The declaration decries all displays of anti-Semitism made at any time by anyone. These powerful words have guided the church's actions throughout the ensuing decades. The impact of modern papacies since the 1960's represent important symbolic trends towards friendlier relations in the current era.
Moreover, our work with Pave the Way Foundation (PTWF) has uncovered evidence (including large numbers of documents, news reports and acknowledged historical events) showing that this relationship with the Jewish people was forcefully moved forward far earlier than the 1960's, by Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli.) Posted on our website (www.ptwf.org) are numerous original documents and news reports of this surprising reality.
Pacelli's love for the Jewish people began with his childhood relationship with an Orthodox Jewish friend, Guido Mendes. Young Eugenio attended Shabbat meals at the Mendes home, and learned to speak some Hebrew. He borrowed books of the great Rabbis from his friend. This spiritual link to the origins of Christianity influenced Pacelli's relationship with the Jewish people, beginning when he entered the priesthood and ultimately ascended to the Seat of St. Peter on March 2nd, 1939. Documents show that it was Pacelli's direct action from 1917 through 1947 that ultimately led to the creation of the modern state of Israel.
As Pope Pius XII, his directives instructed Catholics worldwide to do everything possible to save the Jews from the onslaught of Nazism. Upon Pacelli's death in 1958, his successor was the Vatican's Ambassador to Bulgaria, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli (Pope John XXIII). Carrying his predecessor's policies forward, Pope John XXIII is today widely regarded as a hero to the Jewish people. Most notably he is praised for his issuance of false baptismal papers and other actions to save Jews during the Shoah. Later in his papacy, he is credited with convening the Second Vatican Council, which culminated with the historic declaration, Nostre Aetate. The declaration absolved Jews of the crime of deicide, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Deicide was historically used to justify atrocities against the Jewish people for centuries, along with the lies of Blood Libel and the Protocols of Zion.
Ultimately, Pope John XXIII died before Nostre Aetate was released. His successor, Pope Paul VI, was another member of the Roman Curia during the wartime papacy of Pius XII, Giovanni Montini. Paul VI announced Nostre Aetate on October 28, 1965.
Pope Paul VI also ordered a team of Jesuit historians to comb through the official diplomatic documents of the WWII wartime Secret Archives, currently closed under canonical seal, to publish the Acts and Documents of the Holy See during the Second World War. These 11 volumes in 12 books identify over 9000 diplomatic documents which, he hoped, would prove that the allegations of his predecessor Pope Pius XII were wrong. The intent was to end the new false allegations, which endangered Jewish - Catholic relations. Pave the Way Foundation asked for and was given permission to digitize this collection along with the Acts of the Holy See 1909-1965. The contents are available to historians on our website www.ptwf.org and on the Vatican website: http://www.vatican.va/archive/atti-ufficiali-santa-sede/index_en.htm worldwide to study this important resource.
Most of the Jewish world is more familiar with the next Bishop of Rome, Pope John Paul II, himself a victim of Nazi brutality in his native Poland. (John Paul II succeeded the brief papacy of John Paul I who died soon after his election). Without question the Jewish world has come to acknowledge John Paul II as one of the great Catholic leaders, who further enhanced Catholic-Jewish relations with demonstrated gestures. Most significantly, similar to Pope Pius XII's formation from his Jewish friend Guido Mendes, John Paul II's childhood Jewish friend Jerzy Kluger,(PTWF advisor in Italy until his death in 2011) had an historical impact on this great man's future actions towards the Jewish people.
John Paul instituted normalization with the State of Israel in 1994. He visited Israel March 2000, placing his prayer for forgiveness of Jewish persecution throughout Christian history in the Kotel. He mourned the murdered Jewish martyrs of the Shoah in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, and most significantly was the first Pope since St. Peter to visit the Great Synagogue in Rome as gesture of brotherhood. His personal devotion to the Jewish people was quietly pointed out after his death when he remembered the former Chief Rabbi of Rome Elio Toaff in his will. Rabbi Toaff so welcomed Pope John Paul II to the synagogue April 13, 1986 with the words of Psalm 118:26 "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."
Pave the Way Foundation had the honor of thanking Pope John Paul II with the largest private Jewish audience in history January 18, 2005, where we recognized his historic gestures to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel. We brought 168 Jewish leaders from around the world to thank this great pontiff. A Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform rabbi each blessed the Pope in the Papal palace on that historic day. The video of this historic event is on our website, www.ptwf.org . Sadly, this was to be his last major audience as he fell ill 11 days later.
vHaving a personal relationship with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he was elected Pope April 19, 2005, gave us the opportunity to discuss Jewish-Catholic, and Vatican-Israeli relations with this wonderfully brilliant, yet shy man. This relationship would prove invaluable with our reaching out to him after his election.
Pope Benedict XVI previously held the post of the president of the Holy office or the sacred congregation for the doctrine of the faith for 24 years. In his capacity, he had the responsibility to write much of the edicts of the church and its relations with the Jewish people and Israel. We knew that, as pope, he would move the church along the same path of reconciliation as his predecessors. Pope Benedict XVI was different, however. His devotion to faith and personal drive caused him to take positions which were controversial but would have a far reaching impact.
May 28, 2006, Pave the Way Foundation was honored to join Pope Benedict during his pilgrimage to Poland and his historic visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. On that special day when he prayed at the monument to martyrs, a rainbow appeared in the sky over the camp, which seemed to signify G-ds approval of this significant act.
When he made his pilgrimage back home to Regensburg, Germany, his remarks to the Muslim leaders on September 12, 2006, stirred much controversy and even evoked death threats as he condemned the use of religion to justify violence. He publicly quoted the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos. Such a statement took enormous courage, but he said what he believed needed to be said in light of increased worldwide violence in the name of Islam.
One of his important acts caused an extreme negative reaction from the Jewish world on January 21, 2009. Pope Benedict XVI lifted the ban of excommunication against the Lefebvre followers in the illicit Society of Pope Pius X. This act was an attempt to not only unify his church, but also to neutralize this extreme rightwing group of over 1 million breakaway Catholics, and to bring them back into the teachings of the Catholic Church. The pope wanted to put an end to this groups absolute denial of the declaration of the Second Ecumenical Council and especially its objection to the modern church's relations with other faiths as declared in Nostre Aetate. One of the illicitly ordained Bishops of this group was Richard Williamson who gained notoriety as a holocaust denier.
One difficulty of this action was that no one, including many priests and Bishops, knew that all Benedict's decree did was to legally allow the Vatican Holy Office to simply talk to this group and to convinced them to accept the dictates of the Vatican Council. The world and many Catholics thought that this community, including Bishop Williamson, was welcomed back to full communion with the Church. This was absolutely incorrect. PTWF acted immediately after this announcement to convince Vatican officials to clarify this misconception, which they did three days later.
The Pope stood steadfast and resolute on demanding the recognition of Jewish Catholic relations. Since this group would not budge on their position, the results of negotiations have failed and the group remains excommunicated from the worldwide Catholic Church. It should also be noted that Bishop Williamson was thrown out of the Society because of his bigoted and ignorant statements on the holocaust.
May 11, 2009 Pope Benedict XVI followed in his predecessor footsteps by returning to Israel. During his visit he laid a wreath at Yad Vashem's memorial in Jerusalem, and said that the Holocaust victims "lost their lives but they will never lose their names."
May 2010 - PTWF brought the head of AIPAC to personally meet with the pope to ask the Vatican to lodge a protest against the threats from Iran against State of Israel. The Pope personally agreed to do this. Soon after that meeting, the Vatican received a scathing letter back from the Iranian government basically telling them to mind their own business.
March 2, 2011: Pope Benedict XVI Issued a sweeping exoneration of Jews for the death of Christ in his Book "Jesus of Nazareth" released March 10.
In conclusion, when we follow that acts of these historic leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, we can reach only one conclusion. Its unrelenting commitment to improving and continuing Jewish Catholic reconciliation and cooperation can only move forward no matter who the next pope will be. As Jews we should try to embrace Catholics as brothers and sisters, especially since the current level of anti-Semitism has increased worldwide due to the biased media and extremist demonization. As Jews and Israelis we need every friend we can get.
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About the author: Gary Krupp is the co-founder and president of the Pave the Way Foundation. The only non-sectarian organization in the world, whose mission is to improve relations between the world's religions through historic gestures of good and by identifying and eliminating obstacles between the faiths. Mr. Krupp is the only Jewish man ever to have been elected as an Officer Brother into the Anglican Order of St John and Knighted into the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II and raised in rank by Pope Benedict XVI.