2016-06-30
In response to interest in Catholic-Jewish relations-- as exemplified by the popularity of David Kertzer's "The Popes Against the Jews" and James Carroll's "Constantine's Sword," as well as a new Vatican document about the Jewish wait for the messiah -- Beliefnet recently launched a new dialogue between Catholic and Jewish scholars, leaders, and clergy called "The Vatican and the Jews: Understanding the Past, Looking Toward the Future." The dialogue is in the form of an email exchange. Beliefnet will periodically post contributions from the participants.

The dialogue continues with the following question about the Vatican's stance towards both Jews and liberalism:

Fr. John Pawlikowski raised an interesting point about both his and David Kertzer's belief, as addressed in "The Popes Against the Jews," that the Vatican's real enemy during the years before and during the Holocaust was liberalism. Do you agree that the Vatican didn't speak out against anti-Semitism because it viewed Jews or Judaism as too liberal or modern? Was liberalism really the enemy in the eyes of the Vatican?

Albert Friedlander, dean of the Leo Baeck College, a school in England for the study of Judaism and the training of rabbis and teachers, responds:

As we have mentioned before, the Vatican's war against secularism, liberalism, and also Communism clearly included the thought that Jews were favoured by a secular society; and the popular notion of Jews as central to Communism was very much part of Vatican thinking.

However, I think it is an overreaction to conclude that, for that reason, the Vatican did not speak out against antisemitism. (Note: I still write 'antisemitism' because I accept James Parkes' view that the word is senseless when it is broken apart with a hyphen).

There were times when the Vatican <>

A small distinction: "Jews or Judaism as too liberal or modern" does not always describe the Jewish community. Rather: "liberalism and modernism favored the Jews" is an accurate, if incomplete, comment upon the pattern of modern society which allowed minorities to live in their own way-- outside of Christianity or of religion.

Why did the Vatican hesitate so often about attacking antisemitism? Partly, there is the whole anti-Jewish tradition which came from the oldest sources and which still endures within much of Christianity. Partly, of course, our colleagues do point to a weakness in the policies of Pope Pius XII. I think one can say that while he disapproved totally of Hitler's 'Final Solution' (I use that negative term advisedly to underscore the horror of the Shoah), he did not disapprove of the attempt to drive the Jews to the outer margins of society. He accepted Jews as humans but wanted them unempowered. One must still ask whether that culpable silence was his weapon against liberalism. (Consider Voltaire and others who found antisemitism compatible with liberal thoughts and their quest for freedom). The Vatican's silence did not really strengthen its battle against liberalism.

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