[A] highly explosive question is linked with the theme of religious freedom: the question of the relationship between the church and the Jews. It seems too much to many traditional Catholics - especially in the Roman Curia - to ask for a new attitude to Judaism. As early as 23 February 1964 my friend Gregory Baum (Toronto), who with the distinguished Monsignor John Oesterreicher (Seton Hall University) is the decisive champion of a declaration of the Jews in the Secretariat for Unity (he likewise has a Jewish background), had written to me: `The opposition to Chapter IV on the Jews is quite great: the bishops of Arab countries fear unpleasantnesses and those from the mission countries are militating against preferential treatment for the Jews. But many bishops have also reacted positively. Remarkably, not a single German bishop has written to the Secretariat about Chapter IV. I personally think that a scandal.' Gregory Baum had had to emigrate as a child with his parents from Berlin in the 1930s. After the painful curial delaying actions of the second session, the Declaration on the Jews had again been on the agenda for the third session in 1964. On 23 September, Cardinal Augustin Bea presents the report on the `Declaration on the Jews and the Non-Christians' in a calm and measured way - there is demonstrative applause at the beginning of his speech and even more at the end. Happily, the German bishops had previously made a statement supporting the planned Council document and at the same time recalling the crimes perpetrated on the Jews in the name of the German people. Indeed this is the first ecumenical council after Auschwitz. And the world pricks up its ears when it perceives that after long centuries of an open or concealed anti-Judaism within the church, the Catholic Church wants to correct deeply-rooted religious prejudices against Israel, God's old people: the Jews are not God's murderers nor are they accursed by God. However, there is no will to adopt a standpoint on political questions, in other words on the state of Israel. But the curial obstruction had continued even after the conclusion of the Council discussion, which is very positive - only a few negative voices can be heard alongside that of Cardinal Ruffini. On Friday 9 October 1964, towards the evening, our group of French and American bishops and theologians in the Villanova receive news from Cardinal Bea's Secretariat for Unity that Papa Montini has yielded to political pressure outside and inside the church and decided to block the declarations on the Jews and on religious freedom in the Council and submit them to bodies dominated by the Curia for further checking. Speed is of the essence.
Now two completely independent declarations on the Freedom of Religion and on Judaism have been worked out for the fourth and last session of the Council in 1965. The latter is also extended to the Muslims - as Eastern bishops require; indeed on the basis of Asian interventions it finally becomes a declaration on the world religions generally. So some good has finally come out of evil.
However, for me personally all this will once again have an unpleasant sequel. In my commentaries on this declaration I repeatedly make the statement, `National Socialist antisemitism would not have been possible without the centuries of anti-Judaism in the Christian churches.' This wins me a first official reprimand from the chairman of the German conference of bishops. In a long and furious letter, Cardinal Julius Dopfner - now no longer using the familiar `Du' of the Germanicum alumni but the official `Sie' - asks how the 'Herr Professor' could make such an irresponsible statement. The professor replies to the cardinal with a calm but firm letter and as justification for this sentence refers him to the attached Chapter I, 3 of The Church, which has already been written, as planned on the first visit to the USA. In it the author depicts at length the 'indescribably desperate history of suffering and death, which monstrously culminates in the Nazi mass murder of millions of Jews.'
There is no reply to this letter from Cardinal Dopfner. Presumably the vigorous discussion of Rolf Hochhuth's `Christian tragedy' entitled The Representative, first performed in Berlin on 20 January 1963, had contributed to his rebuke. Like the Curia, German bishops, too, react with apologetics instead of reflection in the spirit of the decree on the Jews. It would have been better for them to follow John XXIII who, according to Hannah Arendt, when asked what could be done against Hochhuth's drama, is said to have remarked: `Do? What can one do against the truth?'
All this is promulgated in the ninth public session immediately before the end of the Council on 7 December, now with 2308 votes in favour and only 70 against. With the Declaration on Religious Freedom the Catholic Church brings about a further reorientation: an epoch-making shift towards modernity, for which freedom of religion and conscience is one of the fundamental human rights.
At the same time it is becoming increasingly clear that the Second Vatican Council is a fiasco for traditionalist Roman theology. Everywhere in the Council that theology had come up against opposition to the schemata which it had essentially prepared. It could oppose and block in the debates, but it could hardly make a constructive contribution.It was now not even at home in the modern world, but in the Middle Ages; even Thomas Aquinas has hardly ever been cited in this Council as an authority, except that again he was once praised by the pope himself at a Roman Thomistic congress immediately before the first session of the Council as a normative teacher of the church - not to mention the minor figures of neoscholasticism who populated our textbooks at the Gregorian. But people aren't deceived, and the few dozen "no" votes of the hardliners make one think that the Sanctum Officium and the reactionary core of the Curia have in no way resigned. And all over the world they have like-minded colleagues and helpers whom they encourage. One of them is the primate of Poland.