Pope Benedict XVI’s decisions regarding Jews and Jewish history continue to vex and confuse many Jews. Having already shared my own perspective in previous posts, including most recently, one on the Pontiff’s recent visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome, I thought another perspective might be of interest. Writing in The Forward, John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter had this to say:
“When Benedict XVI says or does things that affect Judaism, the key is often to understand that he’s not really talking to Jews but to other Catholics…. it may help to understand that Benedict’s approach, as he understands it, is anything but inconsistent. It boils down to this: Let’s each of us be ourselves internally, and let’s see what we can do together in the outside world.”
Is Allen correct?
I am not sure, and it really doesn’t matter – at least from a Jewish perspective. After all, it would be good for Jews to stop assuming that we lay at the center of the Pope’s decision making process, even on matter that relate to Judaism. It’s not like we are in any danger because of what the Pope does, and it’s remarkable hubris on our part to assume that the leader of more than 1 billion Catholics is primarily concerned with us! We need to get over ourselves, don’t you think?
I will say this though about Allen’s analysis of the Pope’s thinking: anyone who thinks that they can be whoever they want to be internally, without that effecting who they are in the “outside world”, is seriously kidding themselves. So while I have no concerns for example, about Catholics returning to a mass which occasionally includes a prayer for the conversion of the Jews, perhaps they should – not for our sake, but for their own.
The track record of any community which yearns for others to become just like them, is never a good one. But that’s not a Catholic-Jewish issue; it’s an issue about balancing passion for that which we believe, the natural desire to share it with those about whom we care, and the ways in which that enthusiasm can turn into an ugly triumphalism. Of course, we need look no farther than how different kinds of Jews have problems with than one, so we need not pick on the Catholics about it.