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Sunday, July 15, 2007

On Cardinal Kasper (Response to Michael Joseph)

The following should be read in connection with Cardinal Walter Kasper: Helping or Hindering the CDF?

Michael Joseph (Vox Nova) responds in Kasper's defense Clarifying Cardinal Kasper on Ecumenism and Evangelization.

As Michael points out, any document issued by the Church is best read in context with past statements. (The copious use of footnotes are there for a reason). A lot of misunderstandings could be avoided by reading "within the totality of the greater context of magisterial and curial teachings on ecclesiology, ecumenism and mission." The helpful documents in this case which Michael recommends (and bear repeating) are:

Moving on to Michael's objections . . .

Cardinal Kasper and the Jews

Michael responds:

There is also the delicate question, frequently addressed by Kasper, on the relationship of the Jews to the Catholic Church. Kasper has described the Jewish faith as "salvific" on several occassions. Regrettably, many Catholics have misread these statements--likely due to having little theological reading under their belt--and contorted them into suggesting that the Jews can be saved simply by being Jewish. But such an interpretation is far too heavy for Kasper's words to bear. The covenants of God with Israel are stages in "salvation history," which means that each covenant reveals or discloses the salvific plan of God for humanity, sanctifying those with whom the covenant is made. That said, Kasper's use of "salvific" is really quite simple: the Jews already participate in salvation history by means of their covenants with God (cf. Romans 9-11). Vatican II expressly stated that the Jews are "most dear for the sake of the fathers, for the gifts of God are without repentence," that they are included in "the plan of salvation" (Lumen gentium, no.16), and that the "Church of Christ acknowledges that in God's plan of salvation the beginning of her faith and election is to be found in the patriarachs, Moses and the prophets" (Nostra Aetate, no. 4). Salvation history does not begin with Jesus, yet it is fulfilled with Jesus, who said himself "Salvation comes from the Jews" (John 4:22). Thus, Jews, by virtue of their covenants with God, participate in the salvific plan for humanity in a way wholly unlike any other non-Christian faith. The Jews are already "on the way" to Christ, so to speak, and so evangelization of the Jews is an altogether different affair than evangelization of, and mission to, members of other faiths.

However, the covenants of Israel coalesce and culminate in Jesus, so salvation is a full reality only through faith in Jesus the Christ. The chosen people of God, the Jews, are predisposed as a people for receiving Christ as their Messiah. But that final step of faith into the fulfilled covenant of the blood of God is still necessary, and Kasper has never denied this.

Michael provides a general summary of the Church teaching on the question of the Jews. None of this is particularly news -- I've discussed this and other issues in Jewish-Christian relations (probably to the point of overkill) since this blog began, and I'm familiar with the Catholic contributions to this field (Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, Msgr. John Österreicher, Eugene Fisher, Fr. Flannery, Fr. Palikowski, Fr. Hans Hermann Henrix) and not a few Jews or Protestants.

I should point out, however, that as educational as Michael's summary may be, it is hardly sufficient and not "really quite simple" as he suggests: a cursory reading of those involved in Jewish Christian dialogue reveals a range of differing interpretations, and as far as this topic is concerned I don't think another passage is contested more heavily between Jews and Christians, and between Christians vs. Christian, than "the covenant has not been revoked."

My concern with Cardinal Kasper on this subject lies not so much with his personal theological opinions but his public statements, and the general impression given to his audience through his choice of words.

The Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews is quite clear on the correct interpretation of Nostra Aetate, insofar as the salvation of the Jews is concerned:

7. "In virtue of her divine mission, the Church" which is to be "the all-embracing means of salvation" in which alone "the fulness of the means of salvation can be obtained" (Unit. Red. 3); "must of her nature proclaim Jesus Christ to the world" (cf. Guidelines and Suggestions, I). Indeed we believe that is is through him that we go to the Father (cf. Jn. 14:6) "and this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (Jn 17:33).

Jesus affirms (ibid. 10:16) that "there shall be one flock and one shepherd". Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all, "while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Declaration Dignitatis Humanae)" (Guidelines and Suggestions, I).

(Source: "On the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church" June 24, 1985).

As far as rejecting the 'parallel ways to salvation', Kasper does touch on this all-too-briefly in the discussion which I quotes (his address to the Jews concerning Dominus Iesus in 2001):

One of these questions is how to relate the covenant with the Jewish people, which according to St. Paul is unbroken and not revoked but still in vigour, with what we Christians call the New covenant. As you know, the old theory of substitution is gone since II Vatican Council. For us Christians today the covenant with the Jewish people is a living heritage, a living reality. There cannot be a mere coexistence between the two covenants. Jews and Christians, by their respective specific identities, are intimately related to each other. It is impossible now to enter the complex problem of how this intimate relatedness should or could be defined. Such question touches the mystery of Jewish and Christian existence as well, and should be discussed in our further dialogue.
Catholics may allude to the possibility of Jews being saved by Christ even through the expression of their own fidelity to their covenant but insist nonetheless -- quoting Michael Joseph -- "on the final step of faith into the fulfilled covenant of the blood of God is still necessary." Jews on the other hand will more often than not interpret that phrase (when stated in isolation) as meaning they have no obligation to consider the claims of the Church.

Michael is right: Kasper "has never denied" that Jews must take the "final step of faith into the fulfilled covenant" -- But could he have stated that more forcefully? Did his Jewish (and Christian) audience take that from his 2001 address? Or come to other conclusions?

It comes as no suprise to me that the authors of Reflections on Covenant and Mission (a 2002 joint release by The Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB and the The National Council of Synagogues) based their reflections on the same May 1, 2001 address from Cardinal Walter Kasper, stating that while the Church accepts individual converts from Judaism "out of respect for religious liberty":

. . . it also acknowledges that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God. However, this evangelizing task no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into Christianity and so end the distinctive witness of Jews to God in human history.

Thus, while the Catholic Church regards the saving act of Christ as central to the process of human salvation for all, it also acknowledges that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God. . . .

Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God’s kingdom. Their witness to the kingdom, which did not originate with the Church’s experience of Christ crucified and raised, must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity.

There was considerable and understandable criticism of the ambiguities in the document upon its release: Cardinal Dulles responded in America; Deal Hudson (Crisis); Carl Olson (then editor of Envoy Magazine); Fr. James V. Schall, SJ, Dr. Ronda Chervin, Fr. Francis Martin and others voiced their criticism of the document in a symposium for the National Catholic Register.

In the end, Cardinal Keeler was obliged to distance himself, stating that the document "does not represent a formal position taken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) or the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA)" (it was removed as well from the USCCB website; to this day the reference appears, but no link to the actual text).

I cannot say whether Cardinal Kasper's views cohere exactly with those of the authors of Reflections on Covenant and Mission (has he ever commented on that debacle?), nor do I wish to place the blame squarely upon his shoulders. However, there is no question the authors took inspiration from his 2001 address and his selective presentation of Church teaching.

[Update - Donald McClarey offers a bit of background on Cardinal Kasper's role in the meetings which culminated in the release of this document.]

Kasper and the CDF's "Responses to Some Questions"

Michael omits Kasper's reported grumbling against Dominus Iesus as reported in an interview with the , in which he expressed his personal offense at the suggestion that churches born of the Reformation were not "churches in the proper sense," describing the language of Dominus Iesus as "clumsy and ambiguous." The fact that he now informs his Protestant critics that they are likely overreacting to the CDF is certainly heartening.

My chief concern, as indicated in my previous post, is the overall effect that Kasper leaves on his ecumenical audience by the manner in which he "clarifies" the documents in question.

Michael contends that:

The drive behind ecumenism is not to draw Protestants and Orthodox into the Catholic Church. The drive is to remove the obstacles to unity so that Protestants and Orthodox have no reason to remain divided or alienated from the fullness of the Church of which they are already a part, albeit imperfectly. And this includes the humble housekeeping within the Catholic Church so that it is truly an example of holiness and a worthy recipient of the esteem of other Christians.
Perhaps I misinterpret Michael, but it seems as though the intention of the first sentence is phrased in opposition to the second. I wouldn't perceive them as being exclusive. Q: Wouldn't the "removal of obstacles to unity" likewise serve the aim of bringing Protestants and Orthodox into full communion with the Church?

I admit that whenever I hear these phrases like "removing obstacles to unity" and achieving "full communion" in the context of ecumenical dialogue and particularly with Protestants, I have to wonder: do Catholics and Protestants share the same understanding of these phrases? -- I could name a few "obstacles to unity" for Protestants which Catholics understand to be normative to our faith and practice.

Consider the press release of the World Council of Churches, which if I read the news correctly is the body to whom Kasper was responding in his cautionary letter. Responding to the CDF, Setri Nyomi (Rev. Dr.) General Secretary expressed the WCC's specific problem with the statement that "These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'Churches' in the proper sense," stating:

Since Vatican II, our dialogues have sought to understand and overcome differences we have had for centuries, and to build common agreements over things we hold dear in our common Christian faith. The outcomes especially of Reformed-Catholic dialogues on "Towards a Common Understanding of the Church" and "The Church as Communion of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God" have given hope to our journey of overcoming differences and affirming our oneness in the Church of Jesus Christ.

An exclusive claim that identifies the Roman Catholic Church as the one church of Jesus Christ, as we read in the statement released today, goes against the spirit of our Christian calling towards oneness in Christ.

Kasper was right to point out that the CDF's proclamation was "nothing new" and "clarifies positions that the Catholic Church has held for a long time" and that this was a "clarification of the dialogue" (would that he have adopted this approach more firmly at the time of Dominus Iesus, when the Church likewise asserted "nothing new"). But was it enough to say that Catholic and Protestants "mean different things by 'church'" or to point to the "recognition of baptism . . . and a series of positive statements about the Protestant eucharist (Decree on Ecumenism 22)"?

In my opinion (for what it's worth), to suggest that Unitatis redintegratio is a "positive" statement of the "Protestant eucharist" is questionable and I suspect that Setri Nyomi would find it just as offensive, having declared his adamant opposition to the Church's self-conception as "the Church of Jesus Christ" and the Catholic belief that Protestants "have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery" because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood.

Kasper seems most optimistic in believing can proceed from there; I do hope the WCC will reconcider and respond in the desired manner.

There is a passage from John Paul II's Ut Unum Sint that leapt out at me and to this present pseudo-"crisis":

Ecumenism implies that the Christian communities should help one another so that there may be truly present in them the full content and all the requirements of "the heritage handed down by the Apostles". Without this, full communion will never be possible. This mutual help in the search for truth is a sublime form of evangelical charity. . . .

The documents of the many International Mixed Commissions of dialogue have expressed this commitment to seeking unity. On the basis of a certain fundamental doctrinal unity, these texts discuss Baptism, Eucharist, ministry and authority.

From this basic but partial unity it is now necessary to advance towards the visible unity which is required and sufficient and which is manifested in a real and concrete way, so that the Churches may truly become a sign of that full communion in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church which will be expressed in the common celebration of the Eucharist.

This journey towards the necessary and sufficient visible unity, in the communion of the one Church willed by Christ, continues to require patient and courageous efforts. In this process, one must not impose any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary (cf. Acts 15:28).

79. It is already possible to identify the areas in need of fuller study before a true consensus of faith can be achieved: 1) the relationship between Sacred Scripture, as the highest authority in matters of faith, and Sacred Tradition, as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God; 2) the Eucharist, as the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, an offering of praise to the Father, the sacrificial memorial and Real Presence of Christ and the sanctifying outpouring of the Holy Spirit; 3) Ordination, as a Sacrament, to the threefold ministry of the episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate; 4) the Magisterium of the Church, entrusted to the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him, understood as a responsibility and an authority exercised in the name of Christ for teaching and safeguarding the faith; 5) the Virgin Mary, as Mother of God and Icon of the Church, the spiritual Mother who intercedes for Christ's disciples and for all humanity.

In this courageous journey towards unity, the transparency and the prudence of faith require us to avoid both false irenicism and indifference to the Church's ordinances. Conversely, that same transparency and prudence urge us to reject a halfhearted commitment to unity and, even more, a prejudicial opposition or a defeatism which tends to see everything in negative terms.

To uphold a vision of unity which takes account of all the demands of revealed truth does not mean to put a brake on the ecumenical movement. On the contrary, it means preventing it from settling for apparent solutions which would lead to no firm and solid results. The obligation to respect the truth is absolute. Is this not the law of the Gospel?

It is with this in mind -- this attentiveness to revealed truth and an intolerance for "apparent solutions which would lead to no firm and solid results" that we should receive the Congregation's latest release.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Passion of Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson in Trouble? -- it would appear so. Amy Welborn hosts the (largely Catholic) reaction to the tabloid reports on Open Book. Not to excuse Gibson's remarks about the Jews, I daresay most of us have done or said things while inebriated we would surely have apologized for when sober. In "The inner darkness of the redeemed": in defense of Mel Gibson, Hugo Schwyzer questions the common notion of in vino veritas -- that what we say when drunk generally reflects our true feelings, and offers as a conclusion what I think is the best lesson we can take away from this tabloid feeding frenzy:

Above all, I'm angered at those who question Gibson's faith. Those of us who walk with Christ are not instantly given the power to turn from all forms of sin. Though grace comes into our lives, our struggles will often remain with us for as long as we live in human flesh. Conversion is not an instant process, but rather a gradual, painful one filed with stories of temptations resisted -- and temptations not. Walter Wink was right:

Christians have never dealt well with the inner darkness of the redeemed.

When we come to Christ, we become a new creation. But that creation is still in an earthen vessel, in mortal flesh, still subject to sin and to darkness. One of the great realities of the Christian journey is that many of us stumble, post-conversion. It isn't all sweetness and light on the other side of being born-again. The inner darkness doesn't always vanish even after we embrace Christ as our Savior. For Mel Gibson, as for many of us, the struggle to live in to our redemption can be a day to day battle. By grace and will together, we win that daily struggle most of the time. But at one time or another, most of us, in one way or another, will fall. The measure of a person's faith is not whether she falls, but whether she repents in the aftermath of the fall, and redoubles the effort to live a Christian life.

Mark Shea comes to similar conclusions about Mel Gibson's Bad Weekend:
And so, to Mel Gibson. Gibson tells us, "I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable." It seems to me that we have a basic choice: to believe revelation or to believe Freud.

If you believe Freud, then Gibson is a liar when he says he does not believe what he said, because only the subrational outbursts of the drunk, the panicked, and enraged can be regarded as Truly Revelatory. We must see through the Mask of the "person" supposedly "made in the image of God" to the subrational beast composed of tangled desires, fears, hatreds, and appetites beneath. This is, of course, a measure we would not want anybody to apply to us, considering the horrible things we've caught ourselves thinking in unguarded moments (you know what I mean, don't try to kid me). In our own lives, we are deeply grateful for the fact that nobody, including God, measures us by the chaotic and selfish impulses scrambling around down there in the id, but instead respects us enough to know that it is what we choose that matters. We're even more grateful that they judge us by what we choose when we are at the top of our game.

But a good deal of our culture *does* believe Freud, and so for the rest of his days, nothing will wash away from many people's minds that what Gibson (or whoever) says when he is dead drunk, or terrified, or enraged is what he "really" is.

And this from Rich Leonardi (Ten Reasons):
There are a handful of demons that, since my reversion to the Faith a half-dozen years ago, occasionally remind me it is by grace and not merely by my effort that they are kept at bay. Should one of them seize me, even temporarily, and especially publicly, I would hope that the reaction of my Christian brothers and sisters would be to pray for me and not experience satisfaction in what I let sin do to me.
Further Commentary
  • Some are presumably wondering if the outcry over Gibson's remarks are influenced in any way by hostility towards the movie Passion of the Christ -- David Klinghoffer, a Jewish columnist for the Forward who defended Gibson's movie at the time it was released, reponds to Mel Gibson's outburst.

  • Mel Gibson has released a second apology, this time addressing specifically -- and repudiating -- his anti-semitic comments.

  • Dale Price on Mel's Der Sturmer moment: "the only thing we have learned about him is that he is an alcoholic in need of help. . . . Oh, and that he avoids passive-voice non-apologies for appalling conduct, too."

  • Mel Gibson is a Human Being, by Stephen Hand:
    He should have taken a cab home. Heck, he could buy any whole fleet of cabs. But he didn't and got into trouble. He'll recover. To suggest his very expression of remorse was "unremorseful and insufficient" (ADL) is not helpful. Only the very malicious will attempt to exploit this against him as revenge for the Passion of the Christ in which Gibson listened to Jewish concerns, while staying true to history. To seek religious revenge would be foolish. As foolish as blaming all the Jews in Hollywood for whatever some of their own have done to insult Christianity in the movies, the arts, etc., over the decades. We all know how to forgive each other. It is time to do so.
I see it as reflecting not so much the influence of alcohol as the influence of his father, a man who has no qualms about dispensing his views on the Jews and skepticism towards the Holocaust. But I think this is more than a case of "Like Father, Like Son", as ABCNews would have us believe. People will continue to debate the degree to which Gibson's outburst reflects his childhood upbringing or an assertion of his own views -- I find the latter hard to square with his present apology to the Jewish community.

In any case, let's keep him in our prayers.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Reflections on Steven Spielberg's Munich

Note: I saw Munich the movie last (Tuesday) night, and had been working on the following post over the course of this week, reflecting on the film and the various issues it raised. Of course the leading story this week is the release of Pope Benedict's long-awaited and timely encyclical Deus Caritas Est, which will likely be the subject of my next post, either this weekend or early next week. Pax. -- Christopher

At 5:00 AM, September 5th, 1972, a seminal event in the development of modern terrorism took place. Eight Palestinian terrorists invaded the site of the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. They killed and took hostage eleven Israeli athletes competing in the Games, demanding the release of over 200 imprisoned Arabs and 2 German terrorists. Over the next few tension-filled days, all the hostages and some of the terrorists were killed, and the remaining terrorists escaped, mostly due to incompetence and perfidy of the German government. The Olympic Committee made a controversial decision to continue the Games, and has never held any memorial for the slain athletes. Eventually almost all of the remaining terrorists were hunted down and killed by Israeli agents, directed by then Prime Minister Golda Meir.

-- Munich Remembered, by Judith @ Kesher Talk.

The authoritative documentary of the Munich Massacre is One Day in September.

The new Steven Spielberg film Munich, loosely based on George Jonas' book Vengeance, purports to be "the story of what happens next," following the 1972 Munich Massacre. Many critics and pundits (predominantly those on the left) have praised it as a stirring commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its "cycle of violence", as well as a cinematic protest against the Bush administration's "war on terrorism."

Munich: Praise

Discussing The Morality of 'Munich' Alternet Dec. 24, 2005), Jordan Elgrably heralds Munich as "the work of a mature filmmaker--one who does not appear beholden to popular American Jewish opinion that Israel is always the underdog," with a timely moral lesson for today's conflict:

The military occupation of Palestinian territories is in its 38th year; the settlement movement continues apace; and all the international peace initiatives have failed. The one dependable reality of the conflict -- Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli targeted assassinations -- is utterly bankrupt. Nothing remains but for the Palestinians to seek justice with a nonviolent revolution for peace, in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, and for the Israeli people to follow new leaders who can devise political rather than military solutions.

Andrew Gumbel applauds Munich's implicit criticism of President Bush: (The Independent January 5, 2006):

The material not only takes a sideswipe at Israel and its long-standing policy of doing whatever it takes to guarantee its own survival. The parallels with George Bush's America are also unmistakable, at a time when the moral standing of the United States around the world has been severely undermined by reports of torture, targeted killings and war justified by intelligence that was either incorrect or deliberately skewed to suit a pre-determined political agenda. To ensure that the point is not missed, the film concludes with a shot of the lower Manhattan skyline including the now-fallen twin towers of the World Trade Center.
David DiCerto of the USCCB's (Conference of Catholic Bishops) Office for Film & Broadcasting praises Munich as "a clear statement by the filmmaker that violence comes at a cost of one's soul," a continuation of "a cinematic conversation about the value of human life begun with Schindler's List. The message of that film was that 'whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.' The grim counterpoint here suggests that in taking lives the light of our humanity is collectively dimmed."

And JB (aka Dawnwatchman explicates Munich's gospel of nonviolence:

Munich speaks extensively about home, brotherhood, morals, and achieving peace on earth. However, these themes are secondary to the point Spielberg is trying to make through a powerful meditation. The dogma of an eye for an eye does not work. Here is where the irony comes into play, for the solution is most likely beyond what Spielberg intended. For we know that only the New Law is capable of justifying a man in the sight of God. Therefore, the problems and conflicts in the Middle East can’t be arbitrated using a precept of the Old Law. The New Law alone is sufficient. What this means is something which neither side is willing to accept. Israelis and Palestinians need to learn to live together. To break bread together, so to speak. It’s either that or somebody has to relocate to another part of the world, either of this life or the next. In better words, the Old Law must pass away:

“You have heard that it hath been said: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other.” – Matt., 5:38-39

Munich: Criticism

On the other hand, other critics have charged that the very zealousness with which Spielberg condemns the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has led him to entertain the notion of "moral equivalence" -- namely, that there is, with a view to the consequences, no ultimate difference between the Palestinian terrorist and the Israeli soldier.

Captain's Quaters, for instance, gave a disappointing review of the film:

On its most facile level, Munich is a gripping film. Had it been based on complete fiction -- if Spielberg had had the sense to manufacture a hypothetical instead of hijacking history and twisting it -- then it might have even had a valid point to make. Spielberg has lost nothing as a film director in a technical sense, . . . The cinematography, music, mood, and all of the technical efforts put into the film are first rate, without a doubt.

And every last bit of it gets wasted by a silly sense of moral equivalency that comes from a fundamental misrepresentation of the threat Israel faces, and in the strongly suggested allegorical sense, the threat that faces the US and the West now.

The problem with Munich, says the author, is that "by equating the two sides, Spielberg and the world gave the perpetrators of terrorism the same moral standing as its victims, especially when the victims sought to ensure that their enemies could not live long enough to plan more such attacks."

Cliff Kincaid and Roger Aronoff of Accuracy in the Media describe the film in terms of a Hollywood Surrender to Terrorists:

It is apparent that the movie is not only supposed to be historical but meant to send a message to Israel, the U.S. and the Bush Administration. The film's website even says that "the film takes audiences into a hidden moment in history that resonates with many of the same emotions in our lives today." Spielberg intends to convince us that responding to terrorism with military force is hopeless. . . .

The real problem with the film is the moral equivalence, as Spielberg talks about "intransigence" and complains about "response to a response," as if Israel is at fault for trying to defend itself. What he seems to forget is that Israel is fighting for its very existence against an Arab/Muslim bloc of nations that still preaches hatred and destruction of Jews and Israelis.

Roger Ebert, who gave the film a big thumbs up, says about Spielberg's approach: "By not taking sides, he has taken both sides." But how can that be morally correct or defensible?

FrontPageMag also hosted a (sometimes heated) Symposium on Munich, inviting several authors and commentators -- pro and con -- to discuss the meaning of the film. Carl Horowitz points out that Munich mastermind Mohammed Daoud has voiced his disagreement with the film's depiction of his team, charging: "We did not target Israeli civilians. Some of the athletes had taken part in wars and killed many Palestinians. Whether a pianist or an athlete, any Israeli is a soldier." According to Horowitz, Doud's "factually-challenged rant performs a useful function. For it indicates that Spielberg would have had to have gone a lot further to appease his Arab critics – that is, to make a film that truly was morally equivalent."

Arnold Steinberg disagrees:

This movie is an assault on the war on terrorism. That's why the movie ends with the twin towers in the background. It's supposed to bring you full circle, on the cycle of violence b.s. which is the corollary of moral equivalence, alongside the Arabist belief that the U.S. provoked 9-11.

This movie clearly implies the Israeli response to Munich escalated, if not unleashed, a new generation of terrorism that culminated in 9-11. Kushner cleverly projected plausible even-handedness, but on the points that mattered, he gutted Israel. Remember, the Palestinian wins the homeland debate by default. I talk mainly about Kushner, because he used Spielberg, who has much more clout. . . . Munich was dishonest, overwhelmingly so, factually. Moreover, the mission, to the extent it existed, was not revenge, but to disrupt the terrorist hierarchy, which it did. And to quote Daoud attacking Spielberg? Bottom line -- this movie depicts the straight Arabist line -- this is a real estate conflict and ignores the reality that key Arab constituencies, from religious zealous to secular extremists, hate Jews and want them dead.

In Spielberg’s Moral Confusion (NRO, Jan. 6, 2006), Monica Charen criticizes Spielberg's inattention to history and the impact it will likely have on its audience, some of whom weren't even alive in 1972 (like myself, I admit) and probably won't bother investigating the actual facts of the incident:

Munich is a well-crafted movie, but it is a deeply and disturbingly dishonest one. Many moviegoers were not even born in 1972, and many who were alive will scarcely remember the details. Do moviemakers owe nothing to them? Do they owe nothing to the truth? This is not Oliver Stone’s JFK, but for that reason its effect may be more insidious. The film looks like history but it is a morality play of the artist’s imagination. Spielberg uses real historical figures like Golda Meir as props, putting words in their mouths that they not only did not say, but would never have said. During the opening credits, the audience is informed that the film is “inspired by real events.” That could mean anything — but movie audiences probably will not parse the words with lawyerly care. They will read it in the context of a film that offers generous servings of verisimilitude. There are clips of sportscaster Jim McKay reporting from the Munich Olympics in 1972, as well as the voice of Peter Jennings narrating the harrowing events. Some of the details of the kidnapping and murder of the eleven Israeli athletes are well-researched. But as CC Colton warned, “Falsehood is never so successful as when she baits her hook with truth.”

Credible Witness? -- Rinker Buck, George Jonas and Yuval Aviv

To compound the problem, Monica Charen notes that the very book Tony Kushner allegedly based his script on -- George Jonas' Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team -- is itself highly questionable:

Jonas based his tale on the word of one Israeli who claimed to have headed a clandestine assassination squad for the Mossad. But Jonas was the second, not the first author to whom this particular Israeli had peddled this tale of “Avner,” the Israeli hit man. The first, according to Time, was a writer named Rinker Buck who was offered an advance from Simon and Schuster. But the deal fizzled when Buck traveled to Europe to check his informant’s information and found that “he was changing his story daily.” Buck said he could not write the book in good conscience. Jonas apparently could. And while the book has been debunked for 20 years, Spielberg saw fit to build a movie upon it.
  • For background on Rinker Buck's conscientious refusal to peddle Avner's story, see "Believing What You Read", by Thomas Griffith Time June 25, 1984).

  • More on Jonas' book from Bret Stevens (Munich: What's wrong with Steven Spielberg's new movie Wall Street Journal Jan. 1, 2006): "Yuval Aviv, who claimed to be the model for Avner . . . was, according to Israeli sources, never in the Mossad and had no experience in intelligence beyond working as a screener for El Al, the Israeli airline."

  • For background on Yuval Aviv himself, see Spielberg could be on the wrong track, by Yosi Mellman Ha'aretz Jan. 8, 2006:
    The problem arose five years later, in 1989, when a third party claimed in a lawsuit that private investigator Yuval Aviv, an Israeli, was Canadian journalist George Jonas' source. In the lawsuit, Jonas identified Aviv as a key figure in the book and argued that Aviv had dishonored an agreement and prevented him from receiving royalties due to him from the profits of the film.

    After this identification, the international press began to publish articles about Aviv. Investigative reports about him revealed that he represented himself as a Mossad agent even though he had never worked in the Mossad and certainly had not participated in operations to kill those involved in the athletes' murder. Aviv, as he emerged from these investigative reports, had a special fondness for conspiracy theories, and it turned out that he was willing to hire out his services to anyone who was willing to pay, even to both sides of the same dispute.

Vengeance author George Jonas himself makes his case for telling "Avner's" story (and the eventual Hollywood cinematization/bastardization) in "the Spielberg massacre" (Macleans Jan. 7, 2006). Jonas stands by his man ("though he was not without a capacity for invention . . . "Avner" described a string of operations of which he had first-hand knowledge") and disavows any relationship with Aviv ("The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz floats the canard that my source was revealed to be one "Yuval Aviv" in the late 1980s when I sued him in a contract dispute in New York. The fact is, I've never sued anyone in my life, in New York or anyplace else").

At the same time, Jonas notes with clear disapproval Kushner's involvement with the Munich screenplay:

The confirmation that production will definitely be put over until 2005, pending a new script to be written by Tony Kushner, comes only in September. It doesn't come from Mendel. It comes from "Avner" who appears to be very much in the loop -- and thoroughly besotted. A spook in the grip of celebrity worship is a sight to behold.

"Avner" writes that with the new script Spielberg is planning "in some aspects to stay parallel with the book. But of course he [takes] the book where only Steven can take it." Considering Kushner's stance on Israel, it isn't hard to imagine where that will be. In addition to his magnum opus, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Spielberg's new screenwriter is co-author (with Alisa Solomon) of a 2003 book, Wrestling With Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The title forecasts a film that will be a "progressive" Jewish-American response to the Munich massacre. No wonder there's a reluctance to let me see the script.

and expresses his disappointment with the finished project by the 'King of Hollywood' himself:
Spielberg's "Munich" follows the letter of my book closely enough. The spirit is almost the opposite. Vengeance holds there is a difference between terrorism and counterterrorism; "Munich" suggests there isn't. The book has no trouble telling an act of war from a war crime; the film finds it difficult. Spielberg's movie worries about the moral trap of resisting terror; my book worries about the moral trap of not resisting it.
Disputing Jonas' account of the operation is Time magazine Israeli correspondent Aaron Klein's newly-published Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly Response:
A main disagreement between the two books is whether the Mossad's assassinations of the Black September leaders that followed the 1972 Olympic attacks was an emotional reaction against the attackers, as "Vengeance" and "Munich" both assert, or whether, as Klein argues, it was also a strategic response to break up a terrorist network.

"Striking Back" was actually in the works at Random House several years ago, before Spielberg revealed he was working on the film, and wasn't set to come out until next year. Random House rushed publication when it learned of the film's release.

("Rival Tome Snipes at Munich Variety Award Central, Dec. 12, 2005).

Setting the Record Straight

The Jewish blog KesherTalk provides a good roundup of pundit reactions, reviews and blogger commentary on Munich.

Likewise, they do the world a favor by drawing our attention to the historical account of Munich -- the massacre, with a series of reflections on the senseless slaughter of the Israeli athletes:

Parting Thoughts

As one who appreciates Steven Spielberg's previous films (Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan especially) and his undeniable prowess in moviemaking, I'd certainly like to believe him when he repudiates "blind pacifism," proclaims his fidelity to Israel and defends the making of the film as an exercise in Talmudic questioning (A telephone call with Spielberg, by Roger Ebert. Dec. 25, 2005).

At the same time, having seen the movie myself, I've come to some judgements of my own about the film:

"Humanizing" Terrorism and drawing "Moral Equivalence"

Yes, a certain degree of "humanizing" of the terrorists does occur in the film -- the selected targets are shown in a positive light: a poet reading his translation of 'Arabian Nights' in Italian to a sidewalk audience; a good father with his loving wife and adoring daughter; a good-natured gentleman who offers a cigarette and sleeping pills to Avner before he goes off to bed (and to his death). In reminding us of their humanity, their crimes are practically hidden, their complicity in the deaths of innocents obscured by the veneer of gentleness and charm.

Yet, even in a stairwell encounter between Avner and a Palestinian named Ali, in which the latter is given the opportunity to present his grievances against Israel, I did not feel that Spielberg was putting forth "moral equivalence" in the sense that the direct actions of the terrorists and those of the Israeli strike team were of a piece. Whereas the Palestinians are shown mercilessly slaughtering the Olympic athletes, Avner and his men take scrupulous care not to harm innocent civilians, nearly-aborting one mission where the target's daughter was endangered. Some critics berated Avner's questioning and moral deliberation as a sign of weakness; I'm inclined to agree with Sonny Bunch (Munich Syndrom Weekly Standard Jan. 6, 2006):

. . . Compare this to the Palestinian terrorists who have no problem with turning AK-47s on hogtied hostages. And then there is the deeper question of humanity: Avner understand the justness of his mission, but still struggles with the taking of life. The terrorists show no such qualms.
And yet, I must say there was a great deal in the movie that could -- and did -- lead audiences to conclude a "moral equivalence" with respect to ends: in suggesting that the Israeli's counter-terrorism tactics were themselves a propogator of more terror, and that resorting to armed force for whatever reason inevitably perpetuates a "cycle of violence."

James Bowman, resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, lists "a few of the conventional ideas served up by [Spielberg and Kushner]" (Munich: A Review The American Spectator Dec. 30, 2005):

* Revenge is an uncivilized, savage act that lowers the revenger to the level of his victim. As a result, there is always a certain moral equivalence between killer and victim.

* Engaging in revenge perpetuates a cycle of violence.

* Those who are caught up in this cycle and who kill in cold blood often suffer terrible agonies of conscience: nightmares, paranoia, substance abuse, and other manifestations of what we have learned to call post-traumatic stress disorder.

* From governments of all kinds, corruption, violence, and lack of human compassion is to be expected.

* Therefore, one should put loyalty to one's family and friends ahead of loyalty to one's country.

Despite Spielberg's intentions, it seems to me that Munich renders itself easily exploitable by those who are anti-Israel, anti-Bush and anti-war, resisting the very idea that armed force can be used in a morally legitimate manner, in service to the good.

In his reflections on the film -- Art Needs Moral Vision ( Dec. 27, 2005) -- Bruce Thornton describes the phrase "cycle of violence" as indicative of a modern moral pathology: the inclination to see force "not in moral terms — that is, as the instrument of a righteous or unrighteous choice and aim — but as a reflexive reaction to grievances and wounds to self-esteem." According to Thorton, it is a pathology that has been soundly exploited by Arab terrorists in the defense of their cause:

Jews traumatized by anti-Semitism and the Holocaust drove from their homes Arabs who, in turn traumatized by their suffering and the thwarting of their “nationalist aspirations,” turn to violence, which provokes a response from the Israelis, which creates more suffering, which provokes more violence, and on and on. All we need to do is break the cycle — which usually means getting Israel to stop reacting to Palestinian violence — create a Palestinian state, and the lion will lie down with the lamb.
Thorton himself sees this as the underlying viewpoint of Spielberg's Munich:
In Munich . . . force is viewed with the suspicion typical of the quasi-pacifist liberal. Using force against murderers is futile, the movie keeps telling us, for each dead terrorist is replaced by another one, each killing of a terrorist inspires another act of terrorist retribution. I wonder what would have happened if the same attitude had been taken regarding Nazis or kamikaze pilots. Thank goodness our fathers and grandfathers had more sense. They knew that evil men have to be destroyed, and you stick with the job until the evil men give up or are no more. They knew that evil men choose their evil to advance some aim, and will try to kill you no matter what you do, and are more likely to take heart from a failure to resist than to reconsider their evil aims or to abandon violence. They knew that the sorts of reservations Munich indulges are not signs of a sophisticated sensibility but rather the evasions borne of moral uncertainty, Hamlet-like doubts whose purpose is to avoid action and moral responsibility.

The moral evasions at the heart of Munich evoke another Munich, the Munich of Neville Chamberlain and appeasement, that moment in 1938 when moral exhaustion confronted evil and blinked, unleashing a force of destruction that cost 50 million dead and that was stopped not by understanding of context or empathy with the enemy’s humanity but by righteous force wielded by men who weren’t afraid to call evil by its proper name.

* * *

Munich and the Greater Question of 'Justified Use of Armed Force

I am presently reading The War to Oust Saddam Hussein: The Context, The Debate, The War and the Future (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), by James Turner Johnson, a notable scholar of military ethics and the just war tradition. Professor Johnson is severely critical of Bishop Wilton Gregory's stance during the Iraq war (and the subsequent position of the USCCB), because its argument against the war began with the prejudice that, in the words of Bishop Gregory, "a moral presumption against the use of armed force." According to Johnson, such reasoning is at a marked variance with the classical just war tradition:

Just war thinking in its classic form is based on something quite different -- a conception of life in political community oriented to a just and peaceful order, in which the use of armed force is a necessary tool to be used by responsibile political authority to protect that just and peaceful order in a world in which serious threats are not only possible but actual. In the presumption against war model, force itself is the moral problem, and peace is defined as the absence of the use of such force. In the just war model rightly understood, injustice and the threat of injustice are the fundamental moral problems, for in the absence of justice, the political community is not rightly ordered, and there is no real peace either in that community or in its relation to other political communities. Force here is not evil in itself; it takes its moral character from who uses it, from the reasons that are used to justify it, and from the intention with which it is used. These are, of course, the classic just war requirements of sovereign authority, just cause, and right intention, and they correspond directly to right order, justice, and peace, the goods at which political community should aim as defined in the Augustinian conception of politics within which just war tradition is soundly rooted. To be sure, force is evil when it is employed to attack the justice and peace of a political order oriented toward these goods, but it is precisely to defend against such evil that the use of force may be good. Just war tradition had to do with defining the possible good use of force, not finding exceptional cases when it is possible to use something inherently evil (force) for the purposes of good.
This post is long enough, so in the interest of time I will refer the reader to James Turner Johnson's excellent essay Just War, As It Was and Is (First Things 149 (January 2005): 14-24); George Weigel also touches upon this briefly in Force of law, law of force (The Catholic Difference April 30, 2003), and at length in his study Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace Oxford UP, 1987.

I can't help but notice some affinities between those who praise Munich as a cinematic protest against violence (the use of force per se) and those who advocate "a moral presumption against the use of armed force" as the starting point for deliberation in matters of war. I think that a film like Munich might compel Catholics and Christians to evaluate where they stand with respect to this issue:

Is the only response to terrorism the eschewing of violence, the adoption of absolute pacifism?

Is there such a thing as a justifiable and legitimate use of armed force?

Is the 'just war tradition' as it has been developed in Catholic tradition rendered absolete, the opinion put forth by a few voices within the Vatican Curia?

With respect to the last question, I am well aware that then-Cardinal Ratzinger, in a May 2, 2003 interview with Zenit, expressed the opinion that "given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war.'" Some have (incorrectly, I think) imbued this specific line with the full weight of magisterial authority, while others -- like James Turner Johnson -- have questioned its implications, as well as its reasoning.

* * *

Likewise, the question is also raised: in responding to terrorism, what is the appropriate, reasonable and morally justifiable course of action?

Are "targeted assassinations" in the prevention of terrorism acceptable? The Logic of Israel's Targeted Killing, by Gal Luft (Middle East Quarterly Volume X, No. 1, Winter 2003) describes the procedure:

Israelis dislike the term "assassination policy." They would rather use another term—"extrajudicial punishment," "selective targeting," or "long-range hot pursuit"—to describe the pillar of their counterterrorism doctrine. But semantics do not change the fact that since the 1970s, dozens of terrorists have been assassinated by Israel's security forces, and in the two years of the Aqsa intifada, there have been at least eighty additional cases of Israel gunning down or blowing up Palestinian militants involved in the planning and execution of terror attacks.
The legality of Israel's policy is presently being debated in Israeli courts. In a July 2001 State Dept. briefing, the Bush Administration stated that "Israel needs to understand that targeted killings of Palestinians don't end the violence, but are only inflaming an already volatile situation and making it much harder to restore calm." Yet, in a Fox News interview August 2, 2001, Vice President Cheney has also suggested that
"If you've got an organization that has plotted or is plotting some kind of suicide bomber attack, for example, and they have evidence of who it is and where they're located, I think there's some justification in their trying to protect themselves by preempting."
The formal position of the U.S. Government is conveyed in Executive Order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan, directing that "no person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination." According to the Washington Post, "the original version was signed in 1976 by President Gerald R. Ford in the wake of public disclosure in 1975 that the CIA, with White House support, had attempted assassinations in the 1950s and 1960s of Cuban President Fidel Castro and leaders in the Congo and the Dominican Republic" (Source: Walter Pincus, Washington Post 1998).

However, one can't help but note the "selective targeting" of Al Qaeda members in counter-terrorist operations (the most recent being a Pakistani air-strike which killed two senior members of Al Qaeda and the son-in-law of its No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri (New York Times Jan. 19, 2006). How does this differ from the present strategy of Israel?

At this time, Israel is faced with the threat of Iran, a nation that has barely concealed its active seeking nuclear arms, and whose president has stated that Israel should be "wiped off the map," and "God willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism."

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Pope John Paul II - Jewish ancestry?

Manchester historian Yaakov Wise claims that Pope John Paul II had Jewish ancestry:
Although he believes the Pope's father was an ethnic Pole, he thinks that John Paul's mother Emilia Kaczorowski - Emily Katz in English - was Jewish and that she was the daughter of Feliks Kaczowski, a businessman from Biala-Bielsko in Poland. Katz is a common surname amongst East European Jewish families.

Emilia's mother, the Pope's grandmother, was Maria Anna Scholz. Scholz, or Schulze, is also a common surname among Jews, as is Rybicka, or Ryback, which is the surname of the Pope's great-grandmother Zuzanna.

All the names or their variations appear on gravestones in the old Biala Jewish cemetery, as does the surname of Felik's mother Urszula Maklinowska. Mr Wise said: "The Pope's ancestry has been researched by an American historian.

"But nobody has traced the family name through the Jewish community and, as Jewish historian, I have access to information that a non-Jewish historian wouldn't know about.

"I'm not making any firm conclusions, but what I'm saying is that there is a lot of circumstantial evidence to say that he was Jewish.

Source: Manchester Metronews Nov. 28, 2005.

Jewish ancestry! Horrors! -- Somebody alert Thomas Herron and Culture Wars.

Who knows if it's true, but I'd consider it a privilege to be related to our Savior in such a manner. Link via Patrick Sweeney.


Saturday, June 25, 2005

Pope Benedict and Father Leon Dehon

This past week we learn that Pope Benedict XVI was acclaimed by The Jewish Week by his decision to halt the "fast track beatification" of French priest Father Leon Dehon (1843-1925) due to allegations of anti-semitism, prompting a formal inquiry by the Church (Important Gesture by Pope Benedict, by James D. Besser. The Jewish Week June 17, 2005).

The beatification of Fr. Dehon by Pope John Paul II was scheduled on April 24, 2005 during the Eucharistic celebration in St. Peter’s Square. Jews took the Holy Father's move as a sign of his sensitivity to important issues in Jewish-Christian relations and that he would carry on his predecessor's commitment to fostering good relations between the Church and the Jewish people:

"This is exceedingly important," Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, interfaith director for the Anti-Defamation League, told The Jewish Week.

Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor was part of a 25-member Jewish delegation who met with the new pope last week. "This gesture is much appreciated and bodes well for the future," the rabbi said. . . .

Earlier this year, historians in France uncovered anti-Semitic writings by Father Dehon, who died in 1925, including his contention that Jews are “united in their hatred of Christ” and that the Talmud is a “manual for the bandit, the corrupter, the social destroyer.”

The hold on beatification — which was not a result of last week’s meeting with the Jewish delegation — also could point to a new Vatican sensitivity on other outstanding issues between the two communities, including the drive to elevate Pope Pius XII, the Holocaust-era pontiff, to sainthood.

“If this means they would consider slowing down the process on Pius XII until all the records are made available and analyzed, that would be a very good thing,” Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor said. “That is an issue we have raised repeatedly. We will have more opportunities to raise it again when we are there in September and October.”

Further discussion can be found, of course, at Amy Welborn's blog ("Second Thoughts" June 10, 2005), where the commentators appear divided regarding the decision, with some proposing that the priest's sentiments should be taken in light of the historical context, especially given the fact that past Christian saints have also expressed claims about the Jews that could be judged anti-semitic in content.

Others question the basic prudency of beatifying any Catholic who expresses anti-Jewish opinions following the Holocaust, especially since, in the rise of anti-semitic incidents in Europe and worldwide, they may be fuel for misinterpretation and confusion regarding the Church's relationship with the Jewish people. Sandra Meisel muses:

The newspaper account says that this cause had been closed on account of the candidate's anti-Semitism in 1952. His attitudes were well known in France. So who saw fit to revive the cause and why? To catch the rising wave of European anti-Semitism? And why would the late Pope approve this, given his warm feelings toward Jews? Was information witheld?

Yes, we'd had anti-Semitic saints in the past, including St. Louis IX and St. John Capistrano. One would think this would be an easy call, post-Holocaust, but the Church recently ignored anti-Semitic elements in Anna Catharina Emmerich -- who made the blood libel -- and beatified her. We should be most grateful that this cause was stopped in time.

I don't see how one can impute deceptive motives on the part of Dehon's supporters in making their case for beatification. After reading about his life and vocation on the website of The Priests of the Sacred Heart, you see there is much one can admire: his devotion to Christ in prayer and veneration of the Eucharist, his solidarity with the poor and working class, his recognition of the "inalienable dignity" of every human being by virtue of their God-given soul ("whether in the body of a worker at the bottom of a dark coal mine, or in the body of a well-fed financier living in the lap of luxury").

According to the SCJ's vocation website, there are approximately "130 SCJ priests and brothers living and working within the United States [and] about 2300 SCJ priests and brothers world-wide," seeking to be "prophets of love and servants of reconciliation" in carrying out a variety of ministries in the world (including, for example, a ministry to the Native Americans from South Dakota to Wisconsin, Mississippi, Illinois, Florida and Texas).

In their defense, it is completely understandable that they would harbor a particular affection for the life and vision of their founder, and wish to see him recognized as a saint. Pope John Paul II also recognized the worth of their charism in his address to the Priests of he Sacred Heart of Jesus (Dehonian Fathers) on June 10, 2003:

This year is the 125th anniversary of religious life of Venerable Léon Dehon. You have wished to commemorate it with a special Dehonian Year that ends on 28 June, the day when you will be commemorating his first religious profession. He himself recognized it as the day on which your Congregation came into being. I hope that this will be an incentive to you to go back to your origins with that "creative fidelity" (cf., Vita Conscrata, n. 37) which will keep intact your charism, distinguished by constant contemplation of the Heart of Christ, conscious participation in his reparative sacrifice and zealous dedication to spreading the Kingdom of the Lord in souls and in society, since it is precisely the rejection of God's love which is the root cause of the evils in the world (cf. Constitutions, n. 4).

However, one must recognize the fact that whatever qualities are good and worthy of admiration in Fr. Dehon, his perception of the Jews in those statements attribute to him are indeed hateful and indefensible, justly meriting condemnation by the Church. And for that reason I concur with those questioning the prudency of such a beatification and the consequent decision of the Holy Father in calling for a formal investigation of the matter. To quote Lee Podles (on Amy's blog):

The poison of anti-Semitism has to be purged from the Church. The beatification of a recent figure who made such anti-Semitic statements would hinder this necessary purification. Can you imagine the legitimate furor if a German Pope canonized an anti-Semite, making excuses for the remarks?
* * *

According to the same article in the Jewish Week, the meeting of the Jewish delegation and Pope Benedict led some participants to speculate on the prospects of a more theologically-oriented dialogue between Jews and Christians:

"He’s a different person," [director of the Commission on Interreligious Affairs of Reform Judaism Mark] Pelavin said of Pope Benedict. "He's a theologian by training and practice. That will color the dialogue. I think it will be more theological in nature. There will be a greater exploration of the idea of the Jews’ covenant with God, and how that relates to Catholic covenantal thinking. Those are things that will have an impact not so much in the political arena but in the teachings the Church uses."

Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor said the meeting suggested Catholic-Jewish relations are poised to jump to a new level.

"After 40 years, the time has come for us to engage in mature theological dialogue," he said. "It’s time for us to recognize that we have very different ways of looking at texts; basic concepts like covenant and mission mean different things. This meeting signaled that it’s time to start unpacking those issues. We have to learn to celebrate our differences, not try to sweep them away."

Several participants commented on Pope Benedict’s demeanor at the meeting.

"At the beginning he seemed as taciturn and as sharp in his bearing as I would have expected," said one. "But as soon as we were finished with the formalities and he stepped down to greet each of us individually, the warmth and kindness were unmistakable."

Related Links:


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI and the Jews

With great affection I also greet all those who have been reborn in the sacrament of Baptism but are not yet in full communion with us; and you, my brothers and sisters of the Jewish people, to whom we are joined by a great shared spiritual heritage, one rooted in God's irrevocable promises.

Pope Benedict XVI, Inaugural Mass Homily April 24, 2005.

* * *
While the harpies of the press and disgruntled remnants of heterodox factions are doing their best to fan the flames of controversy over the Cardinal's brief stint in the Hitler Youth -- rather a non-issue after a careful review of the facts -- a few people have actually raised the genuine inquiry: what does Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, actually think about the Jewish people?

Over the course of his life, as a Catholic theologian as well as in his formal capacity as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Holy Father has written on the Church's relationship to the Jewish people. Following is, to the best of my memory, an overview of the 'highlights'. (To those for whom much of this is a recap of earlier discussions, my apologies).

'Interreligious Dialogue and Jewish-Christian Relations' (1998)

Interreligious Dialogue and Jewish-Christian Relations Communio 25, no. 1 (1998): 29-41. [.pdf format]; HTML Version. Produced for a session of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, Paris, this essay was published in Communio and was republished in Many Religions, One Covenant. The piece is chiefly devoted to the matter of interreligious dialogue and various approaches to the world's religions -- such as the sublimination of theistic religions into a transcendental, mystical model; the pragmatic approach, which prioritizes orthopracy over dogma and "interminable wrangling over truth" -- pointing out their strengths and deficiencies. In the latter part of the essay, Cardinal Ratzinger notes that beyond the superficial opposition of the "Old" to "New" Testament, "the primal fact is that through Christ Israel's Bible came to the non-Jews and became their Bible," bringing Jews and Gentiles together. Furthermore:

"Even if Israel cannot join Christians in seeing Jesus as the Son of God,it is not altogether impossible for Israel to recognize him as the servant of God who brings the light of his God to the nations." The converse is also true: even if Christians wish that Israel might one day recognize Christ as the Son of God and that the fissure that still divides them might thereby be closed, they ought to acknowledge the decree of God, who has obviously entrusted Israel with a distinctive mission in the "time of the Gentiles." The Fathers define this mission in the following way: the Jews must remain as the first proprietors of Holy Scripture with respect to us, in order to establish a testimony to the world. But what is the tenor of this testimony? . . . I think we could say that two things are essential to Israel's faith. The first is the Torah, commitment to God's will, and thus the establishment of his dominion, his kingdom, in this world. The second is the prospect of hope, the expectation of the Messiah -- the expectation, indeed, the certainty, that God himself will enter into this history and create justice, which we can only approximate very imperfectly. The three dimensions of time are thus connected: obedience to God's will bears on an already spoken word that now exists in history and at each new moment has to be made present again in obedience. This obedience, which makes present a bit of God's justice in time, is oriented toward a future when God will gather up the fragments of time and usher them as a whole into his justice.

Christianity does not give up this basic configuration. The trinity of faith, hope, and love corresponds in a certain respect to the three dimensions of time: the obedience of faith takes the word that comes from eternity and is spoken in history and transforms it into love, into presence, and in this way opens the door to hope. It is characteristic of the Christian faith that all three dimensions are contained and sustained in the figure of Christ, who also introduces them into eternity. In him, time and eternity exist together, and the infinite gulf between God and man is bridged. For Christ is the one who came to us without therefore ceasing to be with the Father; he is present in the believing community, and yet at the same time is still the one who is coming. The Church too awaits the Messiah. She already knows him, yet he has still to reveal his glory. Obedience and promise belong together for the Christian faith, too. For Christians, Christ is the present Sinai, the living Torah that lays its obligations on us, that bindingly commands us, but that in so doing draws us into the broad space of love and its inexhaustible possibilities. In this way, Christ guarantees hope in the God who does not let history sink into a meaningless past, but rather sustains it and brings it to its goal. It likewise follows from this that the figure of Christ simultaneously unites and divides Israel and the Church: it is not in our power to overcome this division, but it keeps us together on the way to what is coming and for this reason must not become an enmity.

"Reconciling Gospel & Torah: The Catechism" (1994)

"Reconciling Gospel & Torah: The Catechism". This essay was originally written for a Jewish-Christian encounter in Jerusalem in February 1994 and was republished in various forms, including the first section of Many Religions, One Covenant. Ratzinger asks the question: "Can Christian faith, left in its inner power and dignity, not only tolerate Judaism but accept it in its historic mission? Or can it not? Can there be true reconciliation without abandoning the faith, or is reconciliation tied to such abandonment?" -- framing his answer in light of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches:

The mission of Jesus consists in leading the histories of the nations in the community of the history of Abraham, in the history of Israel. His mission is unification, reconciliation, as the Letter to the Ephesians (2:18-22) will then present it. The history of Israel should become the history of all, Abraham's sonship become extended to the 'many.' This course of events has two aspects to it: The nations can enter into the community of the promises of Israel in entering into the community of the one God who now becomes and must become the way of all because there is only one God and because his will is therefore truth for all. Conversely, this means that all nations, without the abolishment of the special mission of Israel, become brothers and receivers of the promises of the chosen people; they become people of God with Israel through adherence to the will of God and through acceptance of the Davidic kingdom.

During the course of this essay Ratzinger takes a stand against the "superficial polemics" of anti-Jewish biblical hermeneutics, objecting to "crass contrasts [which] have become a cliché in modern and liberal descriptions where Pharisees and priests are portrayed as the representatives of a hardened legalism, as representatives of the eternal law of the establishment presided over by religious and political authorities who hinder freedom and live from the oppression of others."

"Where the conflict between Jesus and the Judaism of his time is presented in a superficial, polemical way," says Ratzinger, "a concept of liberation is derived which can understand the Torah only as a slavery to external rites and observances." Such an antinomian portrayal of Jesus are in no way part of the Catechism, whose presentation of Judaism is derived from St. Matthew and presents "a deep unity between the good news of Jesus and the message of Sinai."

Citing paragraph # 1968 of the Catechism, Ratzinger goes on to say:

his view of a deep unity between the good news of Jesus and the message of Sinai is again summarized in the reference to a statement of the New Testament which is not only common to the synoptic tradition but also has a central character in the Johannine and Pauline writings: The whole law, including the prophets, depends on the twofold yet one commandment of love of God and love of neighbor (Catechism, 1970; Mt. 7:20; 22:34-40; Mk. 12:38-43; Lk. 10:25-28; Jn. 13:34; Rom. 13:8-10). For the nations, being assumed into the children of Abraham is concretely realized in entering into the will of God, in which moral commandment and profession of the oneness of God are indivisible, as this becomes clear especially in St. Mark's version of this tradition in which the double commandment is expressly linked to the "Sch'ma Israel," to the yes to the one and only God. Man's way is prescribed for him he is to measure himself according to the standard of God and according to his own human perfection. At the same time, the ontological depth of these statements comes to the fore. By saying yes to the double commandment man lives up to the call of his nature to be the image of God that was willed by the Creator and is realized as such in loving with the love of God.

In the third part of this essay, Cardinal Ratzinger discusses Jesus' encounter with the Jewish authorities, exploring the mysterious way in which he fundamentally reinterprets and transforms the Torah, opening up the covenant to the Gentiles in a process which culminated in his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. I won't go into further details, but suffice to say it's a good read. According to the Cardinal, Jesus' death on the cross

cannot simply be viewed as an accident which actually could have been avoided nor as the sin of Israel with which Israel becomes eternally stained in contrast to the pagans for whom the cross signifies redemption. In the New Testament there are not two effects of the cross: a damning one and a saving one, but only a single effect, which is saving and reconciling.

I expect that Christian and Jewish readers will be sharply divided in their reactions to this portion -- the former intrigued by Ratzinger's line of thought; the latter finding themselves in disagreement. Nevertheless, it is my hope that Jewish readers will at the very least appreciate the Cardinal's rebuke of anti-Judaism and his reminder that: "Jesus did not act as a liberal reformer recommending and himself presenting a more understanding interpretation of the law. In Jesus' exchange with the Jewish authorities of his time, we are not dealing with a confrontation between a liberal reformer and an ossified traditionalist hierarchy. Such a view, though common, fundamentally misunderstands the conflict of the New Testament and does justice neither to Jesus nor to Israel."

The Cardinal closes with a reiteration of the Catechism's rejection of the charge of deicide and collective Jewish guilt, teaching that "Jesus' violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God's plan" (599) and that "All sinners were the authors of Christ's passion."

. . . the blood of Jesus speaks another - a better and stronger - language than the blood of Abel, than the blood of all those killed unjustly in the world. It does not cry for punishment but is itself atonement, reconciliation. Already as a child - even though I naturally knew nothing of all things the catechism summarizes - I could not understand how some people wanted to derive a condemnation of Jews from the death of Jesus because the following thought had penetrated my soul as something profoundly consoling: Jesus' blood raises no calls for retaliation but calls all to reconciliation. It has become, as the "Letter to the Hebrews" shows, itself a permanent Day of Atonement of God.

'Reconciling Gospel & Torah' is an interesting essay -- one which I found to be conciliatory in spirit and refreshing in its rebuke of "superficial polemics" against the Jews and caricatures of the Jewish law which are found in liberal theology as well as some traditionalist camps.

Dominus Iesus (August, 2000)

Dominus Iesus, or "Declaration on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church" was chiefly intended as a corrective measure to theological excesses and erroneous positions adopted in the course of ecumenical/interreligious dialogue, as well as were found in theologies of "religious pluralism." As such, it was not really intended to address the issue of the Church's relationship with the Jewish people. Nevertheless, some Jews did take offense at its reiteration of standard Christian doctrine concerning the centrality of Christ and his Church in the salvation of mankind, their protests bolstered in part by the press, enough to warrant commentary by Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, who offered both an apology for any misunderstanding that might have occured as well as a defense of Cardinal Ratzinger and the intent of the document:

Some Jewish readers tend to think that the Church's attitude towards Jews and Judaism is a sub-category of its attitude towards world religions in general. Yet, such a presumption is a mistake, and so is the presumption that [Dominus Iesus] represents "a backward step in a concerted attempt to overturn the [in this case Catholic-Jewish] dialogue of recent decades" . . .

[Dominus Iesus] does not affect Catholic-Jewish relations in a negative way. Because of its purpose, it does not deal with the question of the theology of Catholic-Jewish relations, proclaimed by Nostra Aetate, and of subsequent Church teaching. What the document tries to "correct" is another category, namely the attempts by some Christian theologians to find a kind of "universal theology" of interreligious relations, which, in some cases, has led to indifferentism, relativism and syncretism. Against such theories we, as Jews and Christians, are on the same side, sitting in the same boat; we have to fight, to argue and to bear witness together. Our common self-understanding is at stake.

Rabbi David Berger of the Rabbinical Council for America, on the other hand, took issue with Cardinal Kasper's interpretation that Jews "are entirely excluded from the purview of its controversial assertions," and offered his own qualified support of the "supercessionism" of Cardinal Ratzinger (On Dominus Iesus and the Jews May 1, 2001 -- further commentary: "To Evangelize - Or Not to Evangelize?" Against the Grain March 21, 2005).

The Heritage of Abraham: The Gift of Christmas (December, 2000)

The Heritage of Abraham: The Gift of Christmas, published in L'Osservatore Romano December 29, 2000, is one of my favorite writings by our Holy Father on the Jewish people -- in that it clearly demonstrates his alignment with the thought of his close friend and predecessor, Pope John Paul II, and the Second Vatican Council, in speaking of a "new vision of Jewish-Christian relations":

We know that every act of giving birth is difficult. Certainly, from the very beginning, relations between the infant Church and Israel were often marked by conflict. The Church was considered by her own mother to be a degenerate daughter, while Christians considered their mother to be blind and obstinate. Down through the history of Christianity, already-strained relations deteriorated further, even giving birth in many cases to anti-Jewish attitudes, which throughout history have led to deplorable acts of violence. Even if the most recent, loathsome experience of the Shoah was perpetrated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology, which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians.

Perhaps it is precisely because of this latest tragedy that a new vision of the relationship between the Church and Israel has been born: a sincere willingness to overcome every kind of anti-Judaism, and to initiate a constructive dialogue based on knowledge of each other, and on reconciliation. If such a dialogue is to be fruitful, it must begin with a prayer to our God, first of all that he might grant to us Christians a greater esteem and love for that people, the people of Israel, to whom belong "the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs are the patriarchs, and from them comes Christ according to the flesh, he who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen" (Romans 9:4-5), and this not only in the past, but still today, "for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29). In the same way, let us pray that he may grant also to the children of Israel a deeper knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, who is their son, and the gift they have made to us. Since we are both awaiting the final redemption, let us pray that the paths we follow may converge.

The Jewish People & Their Sacred Scriptures (May, 2001)

The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible was published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission on May 4, 2001. In the wake of the Shoah, it dealt with the pertient questions of whether Christians "can still claim in good conscience to be the legitimate heirs of Israel's Bible . . . and propose a Christian interpretation of the Bible," also addressing the issue of scriptural passages in the New Testament deemed "anti-semitic". Although the document reaffirmed the unity of the Old & New Testaments and Christian reading of the Jewish scriptures, it did include a positive treatment of the Jews, as indicated in Cardinal Ratzinger's proposal that:

what ought to emerge now is a new respect for the Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament. On this subject, the Document says two things. First it declares that "the Jewish reading of the Bible is a possible one, in continuity with the Jewish Scriptures of the Second Temple period, a reading analogous to the Christian reading, which developed in parallel fashion" (no. 22). It adds that Christians can learn a great deal from a Jewish exegesis practised for more than 2000 years; in return, Christians may hope that Jews can profit from Christian exegetical research (ibid.). I think this analysis will prove useful for the pursuit of Judeo-Christian dialogue, as well as for the interior formation of Christian consciousness.

Likewise, the document caused something of a stir in the Jewish press by its recognition that:

What has already been accomplished in Christ must yet be accomplished in us and in the world. The definitive fulfilment will be at the end with the resurrection of the dead, a new heaven and a new earth. Jewish messianic expectation is not in vain. It can become for us Christians a powerful stimulant to keep alive the eschatological dimension of our faith. Like them, we too live in expectation. The difference is that for us the One who is to come will have the traits of the Jesus who has already come and is already present and active among us. (paragraph 5.)

See also:

* * *

This will not be last we have heard from Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, on the subject of our elder brothers and sisters in the faith. We can rest assured that, contrary to the fear-mongering accusations of some critics, as well as honest concerns of others, our Holy Father will carry on the friendship between the Church and Israel that was maintained to such an excellent degree by Pope John Paul II.

Further reading:


From the new blog Against The Grain

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Against The Grain is the personal blog of Christopher Blosser - web designer and all around maintenance guy for the original Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club (Now Pope Benedict XVI).

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