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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXVII, No. 1
Lent - Eastertide 2012

What About Our "Older Brethren"?
The anti-Jewish view of a few Catholics harms the whole church

by Joanna Bogle

The discussion somehow never felt easy, but then it suddenly got worse. We were speaking of Blessed John Paul, and they made it clear that they didn’t like him. Pressed, it turned out that they disapproved of his going to a synagogue. And then it emerged — a nasty anti-Jewish rant that I hadn’t been expecting: “The Jews killed Jesus Christ”. “No Pope since Saint Peter had ever been in a synagogue until John Paul II”.

Ugh. The conversation was taking place at a Catholic event, and I’m glad to say that they were so cross at my reactions to their statements that they left. But the incident left a nasty taste.

I had honestly never heard anyone, let alone anyone claiming to be a practicing Catholic, say that “the Jews” — in the sense of the entire Jewish people, including those living today and those who greeted Blessed John Paul in that synagogue — had killed Our Lord. On the contrary, from my pre-Vatican II childhood onward I had sung the lines “To that Cross my sins have nailed Him” and it had never occurred to me that Christ’s death was anything other than a massive, universal, cosmically significant act of loving redemption for the human race and absolutely not the random act of any one group of people.

To discover that there were Catholics who considered themselves to be in good standing with the Church who could assert anti-Jewish statements with such confidence was not pleasant. And it suddenly made sense of the repeated solemn warnings of recent popes against anti-semitism, and made me realize that something I had taken for granted — that Catholics should not insult Jewish people — was not something that others took for granted at all.

We need to be realistic. When an illicitly-but-validly-ordained bishop of the Society of St. Pius X denied the scope of the Holocaust, there was outrage. But the full significance of his attitude needs to be grasped: he had been heading one of the society’s four seminaries for several years. How many young men had listened to his lectures and sermons over the years? How many were influenced by him? How many are working today, preaching and teaching?

“Well, it’s only one aspect of his opinions — he is just off the wall on that particular subject”. Can a person — especially one claiming to have the care of souls and jurisdiction over some of God’s people — be split up into different sections like that?

You can’t put some things to one side in that way.

Nostra Aetate, the key document from the Second Vatican Council on the subject of the Jewish people, proclaimed by Pope Paul VI in 1965, is emphatic: “the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone” (section 4). And the document called for future action to develop goodwill and to further the theological thinking that should undergird it: “Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues”.

Blessed John Paul, of course, did a great deal to further this with his ground-breaking visit to the synagogue in Rome and then to Yad Vashem and to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Benedict XVI has, if anything, gone rather further, especially with regard to the biblical and theological studies.

In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict makes it clear that it is not correct to blame “the Jews” for Christ’s death “Now” he writes “We must ask: Who exactly were Jesus’ accusers?” as he considers Jesus’ condemnation to death by Roman governor Pontius Pilate. He also asks why Saint John said Jesus’ accusers were “the Jews”. “How could the whole people have been present at this moment to clamor for Jesus’ death?”

Benedict explains how only a few Temple leaders and a small group of supporters were primarily responsible for the crucifixion. He believes John’s reference to “the Jews” must have been toward the “Temple aristocracy”, because Jesus had declared Himself King of the Jews and had violated Jewish law.

In an analysis of the phrase in the gospel of Saint Matthew — “His blood be on us and on our children” — Benedict says Jesus’ 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”.

This echoes, but takes further, the statement on this subject in Nostra Aetate: “True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ”.

We need to think about the serious problem of the anti-semitic thinking to be found among some of those who call themselves “Catholic traditionalists”. For years, it has been assumed that the main problems in the Church have been caused by those on the “Catholic left”.

But one can now foresee grave problems created by misguided crusaders on the “Catholic right”. For they are able to turn to their own purposes people’s disapproval of bad liturgies and dissatisfaction with the drab bleakness of some modern hymns, architecture, etc. — along with people’s resentment over extreme views of “multiculturalism” and “diversity” that seem to undermine a sense of belonging, of family, of culture and identity. This misguided group also relies on the boredom and confusion and ignorance of many Catholics who received a poor formation in Catholic schools in recent decades. And they also utilize the massive scope of the Internet, which allows a small group to reach a big readership.

So we must marshall resources to speak out clearly in opposition to those who use “tradition” to support anti-semitic attitudes. We need to be clear and emphatic in support of the Church’s relationship with the Jewish people. John Paul II wrote movingly and humbly about the wrongness of any pain or suffering caused to these children of God by the Church. We do well to keep his words in mind. And we do well to listen to Pope Benedict XVI who is calling us all to continue to reflect and study this subject.

God does not revoke His promises. He keeps His word. And His living Word was incarnate among the Jewish people, safeguarded for the first nine months of His life beneath the beating heart of the Maid of Israel. God’s covenant with the Jewish people was and is sacred.

“Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ Himself, the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 598)

At World Youth Day 2011 all the young pilgrims were given copies of YOUCAT, a new youth catechism. This repeats the information given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church concerning the trial and death of Christ and adds “The idea that all Jews of that time or living today are guilty of Jesus’ death is irrational and biblically untenable.”

YOUCAT also sums up, rather well, the bond that ordinary Catholics should sense with Jewish people: “Jews are the ‘older brethren’ of Christians, because God loved them first and spoke to them first. Jesus Christ as man is a Jew, and this fact unites us. The Church recognizes in Him the Son of the Living God, and this fact separates us. In waiting the final coming of the Messiah we are one” (YOUCAT, 138).

Joanna Bogle, a contributing editor of Voices, writes from London. She is a well-known author and journalist, who writes and lectures on issues of the Catholic faith, and appears frequently on the radio and television.

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