Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

Pope Benedict and Rabbi Riskin Should Both Examine Their Deeds

My earlier post about Pope Benedict XVI’s reinstatement of four excommunicated bishops was for informational purposes and in no way endorses either the tone or content of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s analyses. While I appreciate Riskin’s pain and frustration brought about by the Pope’s endorsement of Richard Williamson, an avowed Holocaust denier and rather loony conspiracy theorist, I found his approach to the entire situation arrogant, self-serving and insensitive.

Is it really appropriate for Rabbi Riskin to give New Testament lessons to the Pope? Even if the rabbi’s reading of John 8:32 is correct, making such one-sided pronouncements about the meaning of other people’s scriptures is the height of arrogance. If that is the spirit in which the Rabbi’s Center for Jewish Christian Understanding operates, he should shut it down as quickly as possible.
If nothing else, the rabbi should ask himself how much damage has been done by well-meaning and sincere Christians misreading Jewish texts. Why does he presume to do better by theirs than they have often done with ours? Does he find it appropriate when others isolate individual lines from the Hebrew Bible to prove the inappropriateness of policies supported by him, including the recent war in Gaza?
And who is Rabbi Riskin to suggest that this one ace by the Pope constitutes a death blow to Catholic-Jewish relations? If he is right, then there was no real relationship to begin with and he needs to reflect on the nature of the inter-faith work he has done.
The concluding paragraph which indicates that the return of prayers for the conversion of Jews, Cardinal Martino’s recent comparison of Gaza and a concentration camp, and the reinstating of these Bishops as all having the same meaning is really hard to understand. At lease it is until one appreciates that the only test for Rabbi Riskin is whether of not Church actions please Jews who happen to agree with Rabbi Riskin. If that kind of approach doesn’t set back inter-group relations, I don’t know what will.
But Rabbi Riskin is correct about one thing: the Pope should examine his conscience. So should Rabbi Riskin. Each needs to ask if they are doing all that they can to reach out beyond their own ideological boundaries to nurture better relationships between people of different faiths. I actually suspect that the Pope did just that in making his most recent decision. I may not agree with it, but I think there is something to be learned from it. More on that later.

  • Pavvel

    Good analysis, Rabbi Brad!
    I think one has sound standing to evaluate the actions of another against the other’s own statements of belief and purpose. Does Benedict live up to his own pronouncements of what the Church is, allows, commands, and permits? Do his actions and statements support his own claims of the institutions goals and purposes?
    But to evaluate whether another lives up to their own primary sources rests on the assumption that one knows the TRUE meaning of another’s faith better than the other does. That is worse than arrogant – it is impolitic.
    It seems clear, though, that what Rabbi Riskin objects to ought reasonably to be objected to – though within the interfaith relationships that give us reason to hope that the other cares about the impact of their words and actions on people not of their in-group. It is right to tell the other that their actions and words are offensive and/or do harm. It gives them the opportunity to reconsider whether they might have misspoken or failed to consider the impact on others.

  • rich moffers

    Complaining about he Pope’s lifting of the excommunication of Williamson makes little sense.
    Williamson was not excommunciated for his stands on Nazi’s or Judaism. It is inconsistent to maintain it for those reasons.
    Are all Catholics who think that the stories of the concentration camps to be excommunicated? Is that a tent of Catholicism that Nazi’s were horrible people and killed six million Jews? I don’t remember seeing that in the catholic Catechism or their creeds. Is it in the New Testament or anywhere in any Scriptures.
    I admit I don’t know much about Williamson.
    He may be anti-Semitic. He may be a thief. He may be a murderer. The last I knew those were not offenses that get excommunicated.
    Those may be sins. Not all sins receive excommunication.
    Do anti Catholics get excommunicated from Judaism?

  • Robert Morwell

    While Bishop Williamson’s utterly vile and truly loony views on the Shoah and a wide variety of other subjects may not have been the grounds for his excommunication, or reinstatement, into the church, the Pope could have and should have offered a strong repudiation of them.
    It is even within his power to order Williamson to shut the hell up about such matters. And if Williamson refused, that would be grounds for excommunication.
    I am appalled by the Pope’s mishandling of this matter and this bigoted crackpot.

  • Robert

    There is blessing in this.
    First of all, reprehensible as they may be, the recommunicated bishops have a small following that hasn’t morphed into anything substantive over the years of their excommunication. Secondly, the Christian teaching is that Christ came to redeem sinners, that he associated with the worst of Jewish society of his time. In that regard, most Popes have been Christlike. But maybe, just maybe, millions of Catholics are paying attention. That really be a blessing for all concerned. The fewer there are trapped in the belief that an old man who wears dresses and a pointy hat in Rome is their direct line to G-d, the better off all are.

  • Goodguyex

    When he was Cardinal Ratzinger he was one the most admired churchman by the general Jewish community. He was a great friend and there was much affinity for him in Jewish circles.
    However now that he is Pope Benedict XVI all is changed. He is insensitive, arrogant, with little conscious, (and possibly a Holocaust denier himself although he lived through the epic himself?).

  • Peter Zim

    When Catholic prayers formerly included the aim conversion of the Jews, it was done because Catholics believe that God would want his original chosen people to do so. The prayers are not intended to be triumphalistic. Catholics believe that Jesus was the Son of God and through him we have salvation. He was also a Jew who by New Testament accounts was a prodigy in Jewish studies, started his mission amongst people to inform them how they might attain the Kingdom of God. At the time of Jesus there were many Jewish sects and there were nationistic movements wanting to overthrow Roman rule. The Jews were expecting a “warrior messiah/king” and Jesus couldn’t have been more different. Jesus was not interested in politics and instead was more concerned with preaching and instruction and eventually fulfilling God’s will by sacrificing his life to atone for our sins. According to the New Testament the preaching to the people was to instruct them how to love God, what charitable love is (and who your neighbour is) and to offer them hope for salvation (eventually through Jesus’s martyrdom). Other parts of the New Testatment Gospels have Jesus run in with the then Jewish religious establishment with the latter at times trying to entrap Jesus on civil/criminal matters. Jesus wanted very much to show his people that he was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and initially most of the earlier Christians were Jewish. It was St. Paul, the converted Saul of Tarsus, who really expanded the Church to include the Gentiles in a big way. Eventually, Jerusalem, the original center of Christianity faded in significance owing to hostile resistance from traditional Jewish sects and the destruction of Jerusalem.
    So we have come full circle where formerly Jews converted their fellow Jews, Christian Jews converted gentiles and now back to to Catholics hoping for the conversion of the Jews. All done in good faith with the aim of the salvation of mankind.

  • Peter Zim

    Should have qualified my penultimate sentence…
    “Jews converted their fellow Jews… – (the earliest Christians still regarded themselves as being Jewish)

  • Joshua Karlin

    Arrogance is nothing new to Rabbi Riskin. It was less than a year ago that he refused to abide by a ruling of the Beit Din of America (a religious court made up of his Orthodox Rabbi peers) and despite his frivolous actions at the time, he refused to pay more than $25k for interest and legal fees incurred specifically as a result of his recalcitrance. In doing so, he established his commitment to doing the expedient instead of what is right. So if he believes that he himself is the highest authority, what is surprising about him trying to teach Catholicism to the Pope?

  • Jude Gentile

    “Endorsement”? This was not an endorsement of Bishop Williamson’s anti-semitic views. The Pope is not going to throw the baby out (traditionalist catholics) with the dirty bathwater (Williamson’s anti-semitism). He’ll clean up the dirty bathwater later, I’m sure. And why haven’t any of you in the media considered the timing of Bishop Williamson’s remarks just before he knew the excommunications were being lifted? Perhaps he doesn’t want re-unification because he is a seperatist besides being an anti-semite. Think about that all you pidgeon headed brainiacs.

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