Pope Benedict just can’t stay out of the news. He made headlines again this week after the revelation that his new book will personally exonerate the Jews of responsibility for Jesus’ death. This is despite the fact that the Catholic Church repudiated the notion of collective Jewish guilt in 1965.
Pope Benedict has, however, had something of a rocky relationship with Judaism. He was criticized for backing the beatification of Pope Pius X, who has been accused of being indifferent to the Holocaust. And in 2007, he revived a Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews that had been removed from liturgy.
This move, thus, seems more personal than anything else. Benedict’s scriptural analysis pins the blame for calls for Christ’s death on a Jewish aristocracy than “the Jews” as a whole. He adds, referencing a passage from the Gospel of Matthew, that Christ’s blood “does not cry out for vengeance and punishment, it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone, it is poured out for many, for all.”
Jewish leaders lauded the pope’s stance. “This is a personal repudiation of the theological underpinning of centuries of anti-Semitism,” said Elan Steinberg of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants. The Anti-Defamation League added that it was an “important and historic moment.”
Why Benedict is choosing to personally engage with this issue now is up for debate. The fact that he has made a number of controversial statements recently may have inspired him to try to rehabilitate his image, although this is only speculation.
In a recent dialogue on Jewish-Catholic relations, Jewish officials encouraged the Vatican to extend the same spirit of goodwill to Islam. The focus of the world is no longer specifically on Jewish-Christian amity,” said Rabbi Richard Marker. We must, for so many reasons, involve the third of our Abrahamic siblings…Islam.” Whether this sometimes-tense conversation can serve, however, as a model for other interfaith relationships remains to be seen.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.