Two recent Boston Globe
articles give cause to reflection on the past as well as the future of Jewish-Christian relations. Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Auschwitz last week was intriguing to say the least: a "son of Germany" now at the head of the world's single largest Christian denomination visiting the site of perhaps the world's single largest crime against humanity, a crime that many still deny and make excuses for. The silence of the Catholic Church throughout the duration of the Holocaust is shameful to say the least; only recently have we begun to see regret surfacing and condemnation of the Nazis' actions being put forth by the Catholic leadership. However, after a close examination of Benedict's words I, along with many others, cannot help but think he is "skirting" the issue a bit.
The Globe's James Carroll writes
:In addressing an audience of Jews in [Cologne], the pope roundly condemned the Nazi genocide campaign. But then he defined the lethal Nazi anti-Semitism that spawned the genocide as having been ``born of neo-paganism." He made no mention of anti-Semitism's other parent, the long tradition of Christian contempt for Jews and the Jewish religion... At Auschwitz, again, he was unsparing in condemning what the Nazis did. But now he implicitly exonerated the German people, effectively defined the Nazis' ultimate target as having been not Jews but Christianity, and complained not of the church's silence in the face of the horror, but of God's
As the vicar of Christ on Earth, I would argue that within a Catholic setting, the silence of the Pope (in other words the Church) is practically the same as the silence of God. Trying to overanalyze the motives of the Nazis by throwing in phrases like "neo-paganism" and "the destruction of Christian values" seems to take away from the real point at hand, which is simply that the Church failed horribly in its duty to defend the rights of man. Jeff Jacoby's column
has more on the subject."Where was God in those days?" asked the pope. How could a just and loving Creator have allowed trainload after trainload of human beings to be murdered at Auschwitz? But why ask such a question only in Auschwitz? Where, after all, was God in the Gulag? Where was God when the Khmer Rouge slaughtered 1.7 million Cambodians? Where was God during the Armenian holocaust? Where was God in Rwanda? Where is God in Darfur?The answer, though the pope didn't say so clearly, is that a world in which God always intervened to prevent cruelty and violence would be a world without freedom -- and life without freedom would be meaningless. God endows human beings with the power to choose between good and evil. Some choose to help their neighbor; others choose to hurt him. There were those in Nazi Europe who herded Jews into gas chambers. And there were those who risked their lives to hide Jews from the Gestapo.
Yes. The Pope's lamentation hardly impresses me... I feel that his message should have been exactly what Jacoby is saying here. If God made man in His image, then it is our responsibility to act in His image.
One more point that I'd like to make is that certain individuals present at the Pope's speeches at Cologne and Auschwitz could not help but notice that he did not choose to address the rise of modern
anti-Semitism, a pressing issue facing the European Jewish community. I think perhaps Benedict owes us a few more speeches... or better yet actions.