It doesn’t matter if you are Catholic or not, the Pope is an international figure that cannot be ignored. As a Jew, I do not fall under his authority like a Roman Catholic would, but I understand that he can be a very influential person.
Over the centuries, many popes have come and gone and those who truly loved the Jews were definitely few and far in between. I do not want to give the impression of being anti-Catholic, yet if history is our witness, the Catholic Church has often failed in the area of Judeo-Christian relations. Where the Church as a religious institution has failed, many catholic individuals succeeded, as there are many stories of Catholics loving, helping, hiding and protecting Jews over the centuries and especially during the Holocaust era.
The current Pope was introduced to the world as a “friend of the Jews”. He comes only a short fifty years after Vatican II and the famous Nostra Aetate document also known as the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.” This short, very ecumenical document was aimed at reconciling Jews, Muslims and Christians among other things. It is at that time, almost 1,700 years after the death of Yeshua (Jesus) that the Catholic Church decided to exonerate the Jews from the charge of deicide (the killing of God). That statement is worth reviewing: “Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (cf. John 19:6), neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion. lt is true that the Church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture. Consequently, all must take care, lest in catechizing or in preaching the Word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ. There is no doubt that a clear attempt was made at exonerating the Jewish people from the death of Yeshua. But outside of a few within the leadership of the time along with a few of their Jewish followers, the corporate guilt for the death of Yeshua was established on a false premise. A simple review of chapter 10 of the Gospel of John would probably have sufficed to see that Yeshua claimed to have given His own life for all. One doesn’t need to adhere to the Christian faith to even see that: “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father”.
Interestingly enough, within the same breath, that statement declares that “lt is true that the Church is the new people of God.” Such a theological construct is also based on a faulty biblical approach seeing Christians has having “replaced” Israel. Replacement Theology has always been very prevalent within the Catholic Church.
Fifty years and a few popes later, the Catholic Church has a new pontiff in Pope Francis, a Jesuit from Argentina. He has the reputation of having nurtured some very positive relationship with the Jewish community of Buenos Aires over the years. He even co-wrote the book On Heaven and Earth with Argentine rabbi Abraham Skorka.
Pope Francis’ relationship with the Jewish community seems sincere and has garnered him a trust from rabbis and Jewish leaders that had not been seen in decades. So it’s all good, right? Well maybe not! Ecumenism by nature is open to a wide array of various belief systems. It seeks a common denominator on which it can build its multicultural, multi-religious and tolerant agenda.
But the Pope should be careful in his ecumenical endeavor to make our world better. While it is our corporate responsibility to do all we can to improve our world–a concept found in Judaism as well, and known as tikkun olam (repairing the world)–it shouldn’t be done at anybody’s expense but to everybody’s benefit. Lately I would posit that the Vatican’s approach to the betterment of the world could end-up being very detrimental to Israel and the Jews.
The world reacted when Pope Francis was quoted saying to Mahmoud Abbas that he was “an angel of peace”. The media outlets were quick to react, the ADL was outraged and the blogosphere buzzed with negative excitement. How could a friend of the Jews call a terrorist an angel of peace? Was the Pope an anti-Semite after all? Many would have easily taken that road, but soon after the statement was published, an explanation followed. The Pope had simply given Abbas a medal that he had also given to other world leaders, telling the head of the Palestinian authority that he hoped that he could become an angel of peace. So calm was restored and the Pope had retained his good reputation with the Jews.
But did he?
I have to admit that calling Abbas an angel of peace would have been a grave mistake. This being said, is it truly better now that we understand that Pope Francis was encouraging a terrorist who clearly wants the total destruction of Israel? I think not!
To remove all doubt, the Vatican also decided a few weeks ago to sign a new treaty to recognize the Palestinian State. The Vatican has been in favor of the recognition of Palestine since 2012, but this upcoming treaty would “formally recognize Palestine”. This will be a blow to Israel and the Jewish people, but it will also hurt the reputation that the Catholic Church has been working hard at changing at least for the last five decades. How can a friend of the Jews mingle with a terrorist and officially recognize a terrorist state bent on eradicating the Jewish people?
Many Jewish people worldwide do not trust the Catholic Church and/or catholic people. While many Catholics were friendly to Jews, like the family of peasants who hid my mother and her cousins during the Holocaust years, they weren’t the norm. Looking at history, words like forced baptisms, forced conversions, Crusades, Inquisition, Pogroms and Holocaust come to mind when a Jewish person is asked about the Catholic Church. While I recognize that even using these words to describe the Catholic Church represents painting with very broad strokes, the connection is real, it is painful and in many cases the wounds are still open.
Pope Francis recent dealings with Abbas and decision to officially recognize Palestine could very well destroy five decades of Judeo-catholic rapprochement and even ad some salt to these wounds. Catholics are part of what is known as Christendom and as such are considered Christians. Next time one of your Jewish friends tells you that ALL Christians are anti-Semitic, even though that isn’t a true statement, the opposite might be a bit more difficult to defend.