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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Is it good for the Jews?

Before posting anything about the election of the new Pope, I wanted to find out as much as possible about him.  Over the past week or two I have read as much as possible about the lead contenders for the Papacy... and have read additional coverage since the announcement of the selection of former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. 

You may be asking yourselves why a Jewish journaler living in Israel would take any interest whatsoever in what is essentially an internal matter for the Catholic Church. 

The answer can be found in an age old question:

"Is it good for the Jews?"

Those of you who are not Jewish may not know how central this half-joking question is to the essence of who we are and how we have always lived our lives. 

Before the establishment of the State of Israel, all Jews were dependent on the tolerance and good will of host countries for their continued well-being.  Throughout two millenia of exile among the nations of the world, the Jews have rarely enjoyed more than fleeting periods of such tolerance and good will.

Thus, whenever a government decision is made... or a new leader elected... or any of a thousand other events that could potentially impact the well-being of the Jews somewhere in the world, the question is whispered among my coreligionists:

"Is it good for the Jews?"

The coverage in the Jewish/Israeli media has danced around this question - asking it without really asking it. 

His membership in the Hitler (Y"S) Youth has been widely discussed, as has his service in the German army.  Some of the more enlightened journalists have taken a more subtle approach, delving into how a hard-line conservative Pope might relate to the modern State of Israel or the Catholic Church's relationship with the world's Jewish communities.  But the underlying question remains the same:

"Is it good for the Jews?"

Almost a year ago I posted about a troubling statement issued by the late Pope John Paul II which said that fewer witches and heretics had been killed at the hands of the Inquisition than had been previously thought.  If you aren't familiar with the Inquisition (beyond modern references in Monty Python and Mel Brooks movies), I suggest you read my little primer and bring yourself up to speed.  It's a real eye-opener.  This statement revealed a chilling lack of progress on the part of the Church towards acknowledging past sins.

I mention the Inquisition here because one of the most troubling things on the new Pope's CV is not getting much coverage in the Jewish Media; the fact that in 1981 he became the head of the 'Congergation for the Doctrine of the Faith', the new-and-improved name for the Inquisition. 

No joke. 

I found this little tidbit buried in the third-to-last paragraph of a Reuters article about the new Pope.

Most people think that the Inquisition was a nasty period in Church history during the late 15th / early 16th centuries.  The fact is that the Inquisition has been renamed and cleaned up a few times over the centuries... but it is still alive and well.

I'm curious as to why his position as Chief Inquisitor (my title, not the one he officially held as head of the 'Congergation for the Doctrine of the Faith'), hasn't garnered more attention.

In the grand scheme of things, this role seems to mark him as the sort of person who is not particularly enlightened when it comes to the rights and views of people who are not Catholics... or even of Catholics who do not share his orthodox interpretation of doctrine. 

I'm not suggesting that Jews will once again be skinned alive, burned at the stake or pulled limb-from-limb on the rack.  But the continued existence of The Inquisition, no matter what its new name, is evidence of arrogance and intolerance towards those who are not orthodox Catholics.  And the head of the modern Inquisition being elected as Pope sends a chilling message as to which way the winds are blowing in St. Peter's Square.

This is exactly the kind news that has historically been quite bad for the Jews.


Posted by David Bogner on April 20, 2005 | Permalink


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About 5 minutes after they announced Ratzinger's ascendancy last night, I browsed Google News and hit the original Reuter's article that mentioned his leadership of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith; my skin crawled. The mere fact that such a thing exists speaks volumes.

Lileks' Bleat had a good take on expectations of the Catholic Church. Worth a read and explains volumes.

Posted by: jennifer | Apr 20, 2005 10:51:58 AM

Jennifer... Crawling skin is always better than flayed skin. I'm just saying! :-)

Thanks for the tip about Lileks... for anyone who hasn't read it here's the link to today's bleat.

Posted by: David | Apr 20, 2005 11:42:38 AM

While the Congregation on the Doctrine of Faith may have roots in the Holy Office of the Inquisition... it's not really the Same. Still the fact that the HO was not abolished until The Second Vatican Council in 1965, is troubling enough. (In your Inq. Post you mentioned 1834... if my memory is right that was the last Execution at an auto de fe, but the HO remained until Vatican II)

The fact that the church was condemning people and confiscating property until well into the 19th century gets far too little play in the history books. It's not that big a leap from Spain in 1834 to Germany in 1934... for centuries it had been blessed by the church, and that taking the property of Jews was OK... and it was all too comon.

Some will counter that Jews weren't REALLY a target of the Inquisition because the Pope had no authority over them they were just after Christian Heretics... But they seem to ignore that many [most?] Jews only took Baptism to save their lives in the first place. After being converted at the point of the sword their sincerity as Christians was challenged, by those same people who baptized them.

The cowardly and hypocritical kind and benevolent church, tortured confessions out of thousands, killed thousands of others with the torture, but actually "only" executed very few. Instead, they turned those sentenced to death over to Secular authorities for execution. And in their merciful Christian way, the Secular authorities bent to the Church's aversion for shedding blood and burned them... often alive.

All that being said, I agree with you. A return to the traditional, conservative, arrogant, intolerant Catholic ways is not good for the Jews... but it won't be good for Islam either.
the tone of this rant is more ominous and venomous than I feel. I feel no worry, I simply have a sceptical eyebrow raised. But the Inquisition and the Church's sugar coating their actions is a hot button for me.

Posted by: oceanguy | Apr 20, 2005 3:56:53 PM

Andrew Sullivan, a troubled Catholic, has been writing pretty extensively about this as well, and has been sharing some of his readers' thoughts. The short answer seems to be: it's too soon to tell, and considering Ratzinger's advanced age, it may not be all that relevant.

Posted by: efrex | Apr 20, 2005 4:01:22 PM

According to this Jpost article, Benedict would appear to be good for the Jews, or at least for Israel:

"I think it is very important that Jews, even if they live all over the world, have a homeland, a point of reference, live in the land of their fathers as a people in continuity with their own history and the promise given to their forefathers."

Also, if you believe Robert Spencer, Benedict also believes in stopping the Muslims at Vienna, if you will - something that's also good for the Jews. And lest anyone call me racist, think for a second what the foreign policy of France would be like if there were only 600,000 Muslims instead of 6,000,000 in that country.

Like many things, however, it will be a game of wait and see. However, given that the new pope is 78 years old, we'll probably be having this discussion again in the near future.

Posted by: Geoff | Apr 20, 2005 9:44:02 PM

I remember reading a news article the other day that said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was simply the new name for the Inquisition, and as a Catholic that was news to me. In my (post-Vatican 2) lifetime the CDF has been internally focused - the watchdog within the Catholic church to make sure all the local churches don't stray from official doctrine.

Of course Jews have every right to ask if the new pope is 'good for them' and every right to have suspicion. Words and intentions are one thing, but Pope Benedict's present & future actions towards Jews will show where his heart really is. Based on his recent statements, I am optimistic. And I believe people change - if people were to scour my past they would find certain things that are very much out of character with who I am today.

It seems to me that John Paul 2 started some constructive dialog with Jews, and I really do hope Benedict continues that. But after centuries of injustice caused by the Church, we Catholics have a lot of damage to repair in this relationship.

Posted by: Steve Bogner | Apr 21, 2005 3:22:03 PM

As a Catholic the articles here are very interesting reading. Give the new Pope a chance and God willing he will be fine. You may be suprised to know how sensitive Catholics in the uk are to the amount of really unpleasant anti Catholicism this has thrown up here.

Posted by: Denis | Apr 21, 2005 9:57:24 PM

I don't blame you for being concerned, but let me see if I can answer a couple of your concerns.

First, you mentioned in passing that Pope Benedict XVI was involved in the Hitler Youth and that he was in the Nazi army. Both things are true. But he was forced into both. He dropped out of the Hitler Youth and never belonged to the Nazi Party. And he defected from the Nazi army without ever firing a shot, and he defected precisely because he knew that what the Nazis were doing was wrong. The media has not reported this aspect well enough.

Second, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Although it is historically the same institution as the Inquisition, the reforms that have taken place have rendered it totally unlike the Inquisition. Its role now, as Steve wrote above, is to explain and preserve Catholic doctrine. Basically, what the CDF does now is explain ambiguous elements of doctrine to bishops who write with questions about them, and also to monitor and, if necessary, restrict Catholic theologians who go outside the boundaries of Catholic theology.

Although the CDF is typically quite conservative, I don't believe it's possible for it to pose any threat to the Jews or any other people or religion. It is very internally focused, and is totally unlike the Inquisition in nature.

I hope that makes you feel a bit better about this.

Posted by: Nathan | Apr 22, 2005 8:43:39 AM

I'll address a few of the previous comments with one: His role as head of the Inquisition (no matter what the name) is not just an academic position set up to advice Church leaders who have questions. In the last US elections he used his role to command that any pro-choice candidate (or any outspoken supporter of such a candidate) should be denied communion. Besides the obvious conflict of interest/dual loyalty/ meddling in another country's internal politics... this is a clear indication that the Inquisition still has a very long arm with which to punish heretics. It is ironic that the Jews are always accused of having dual loyalty yet the Israeli Rabbinate and political leadership would never dream of commanding American Jews to act or vote certain way.

I hope your predictions of a good relationsip with the Jews and with Israel turns out to be true.

Posted by: David | Apr 22, 2005 10:15:28 AM

David, you write that in the last US elections "he used his role to command that any pro-choice candidate (or any outspoken supporter of such a candidate) should be denied communion".

First, I think you mean any _Catholic_ pro-choice candidate.
Second, if I recall correctly, he did not _command_ any such thing. He corresponded with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on this matter. The USCCB had a taskforce dealing with this issue, and the head of said taskforce, a Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, had corresponded with the then-Cardinal Ratzinger on this matter.
At the end, they had sent him a statement entitled Catholics in Political Life, which states: "The question has been raised as to whether the denial of Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life is necessary because of their public support for abortion on demand. Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment on a matter of this seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles. Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action."
He then sent them a letter back saying: "The statement is very much in harmony with the general principles "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,"".
There's also an article in Catholic News Service outlining how the matter unfolded.

I don't see where outside interference comes in: surely American Bishops are entitled to make statements about American politics. And I believe that the idea of denying communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians came from an American Bishop in Colorado Springs.

As a sidenote, the Catholic Church, as it clearly stated in Humanae Vitae (see #14) back in 1968, is against abortion from the moment of conception. It is not up to the Catholic Church to decide and promulgate what its rules are? Individual Catholics can then follow them or not.

Another sidenote: as a Jew, I believe that individual shul Rabbis should be able to deny aliyot to men who refuse to give their wives a get. I don't think it's that far fetched to see how individual Bishops should be able to deny communion to individual Catholics who take actions contrary to Church law.

Now, as a counterbalance to some of the negative coverage of the new Pope, I suggest the following Catholic blogs:
Amy Welborn's Open Book
Against the Grain (by the gentleman who maintained the Ratzinger Fan Club)

Me, I'm taking a wait and see attitude, as I do with all world political/religious leaders.

Enjoy, and apologies for the length of this post.

Posted by: Mich | Apr 26, 2005 2:46:51 AM

David, I don't dispute what you're saying about then-Cardinal Ratzinger's letter, but let's not forget about an often forgotten quote from that letter:

A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for the candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons (Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles, #6. Emphasis mine).

This quote gives permission to vote for pro-choice candidates in some circumstances, but this part of then-Cardinal Ratzinger's letter was ignored by most conservatives and by most of the news media. When you look at what then-Cardinal Ratzinger said in this letter, and when you look at what other bishops and conservative pro-life leaders were saying, you come to the conclusion that then-Cardinal Ratzinger was taking the more liberal approach by permitting Catholics to vote for a pro-choice candidate under any circumstances -- several bishops had said there were no circumstances under which a Catholic could vote for a pro-choice candidate, and the pro-life lobby had been saying that for a very long time. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger contradicted that by saying that one could vote for a pro-choice candidate for "proportionate reasons," and then left such proportionate reasons to the consciences of the electorate.

Posted by: Nathan | Apr 28, 2005 8:49:08 PM

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as currently structured is sort of like the Moetzet Gedolei hatorah. They issue "Nosson Slifkin" type bans and stress internal obedienace to doctrinial matters, with little influence on issues outside the Catholic Church.

That being said, preventing the distribution of condoms in third world catholic countries probably has a greater effect on the rest of the world, than does declaring the Rambam a midget at the siyum hashas...............

Posted by: oysvurf | May 3, 2005 2:21:04 PM

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