Headlines proclaiming “Jews are angry” over Pope Benedict XVI signing a decree which recognizes Pius’ “heroic virtues” and declaring him “venerable” disturb me greatly. I am Jewish and I am not angry, so let’s be careful here. Which Jews are “angry”? About what are they angry? And how much of this is journalists who still imagine a monolithic Jewish community?
To be sure, the new status makes the late pope eligible for beatification, the rank just below sainthood. And it’s just as sure that some Jews remain deeply resentful of both what they see as the former Pope’s failure to act on behalf of Jews during the Holocaust, and the current Pope’s embrace of his predecessor. But like all stories of the Holocaust, this one is simply too complex to left in the hands of Jewish defense agencies, resent-filled rabbis, or anti-Catholic journalists just looking for another excuse to beat on the Church.
Let me be clear, I am not without my own reservations about the move to canonize Pope Pius XII. But I am aware that in a world in which almost nobody did “enough” to save millions of Jews from their deaths, the issue cannot be who did enough. Instead, it must be, did people do all that they thought they could. And the response to this question, at least about then Pope Pius, appears to be ‘yes’.
We need to exercise great caution about allowing past hurts to undermine current relationships, in any setting, but none more so than in the area of faith. Sadly though, that is precisely what we do in the world of Catholic-Jewish relations. We send watchdogs with long memories about the past to do the work of builders empowered by a vision of the future. Given that, how can we be surprised that things are not further along between our two communities? We can’t.
All of which leaves me wondering, how much we really want things to be different. Are we ready for the next stage of Catholic-Jewish relations, one based more on the mutual dignity of each than on the need to heal past hurts done by one? I hope so, and I hope that more Jews will step up to that vision in the days and weeks ahead.