Although normally Jews would welcome the choice of new leadership by a sister religion, we have particular reason to comment on the election of Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI.
Jews have a powerful stake and commitment in ending global poverty and oppression. We understand well that in a world filled with pain and cruelty, the resulting anger is often channeled in racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic directions. Both as a matter of principle, based on our commitment to a prophetic vision, and as a matter of self-interest, Jews have disproportionately supported liberal and progressive social change movements seeking to end war and poverty.
So it was with great distress that we watched as Cardinal Ratzinger led the Vatican in the past twenty-five years on a path that opposed providing birth control information to the poor of the world, thereby ensuring that AIDS would spread and kill millions in Africa.
And we watched with even greater distress as this Cardinal supported efforts to involve the church in distancing itself from political candidates or leaders who did not agree with the church's teachings on abortion and gay rights, prioritizing these issues over whether that candidate agreed with the church on issues of peace and social justice. As a result, Cardinal Ratzinger has led the church away from its natural alliance with Jews in fighting for peace and social justice and toward a stance which in effect allies the church with the most reactionary politicians whose policies are militaristic and offer a preferential option for the rich.
We can't help noticing that under Cardinal Ratzinger's tutelage, the church began moves to elevate the infamous Pope Pius XII to the status of saint. Instead of repenting for the failure of the church to unequivocally tell all Catholics that they not receive communion if they collaborated or cooperated in any way with Nazi rule, or failed to hide and protect Jews who were marked for extermination, Ratzinger has sought to whitewash this disgraceful moment in church history. Many Jews are outraged at a church that denies communion to those who have remarried or those who oppose making abortion illegal but did not similarly deny communion to those who participate in crimes against humanity.
In fact, Cardinal Ratzinger publicly praised the fascist movement in the church known as Opus Dei and supported canonization of Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, an open fascist who served in the government of Spain's dictator Franco, and who publicly praised Hitler.
Ratzinger also publicly critiques all those inside the church who are tolerant enough to think that other religions may have equal validity as a path to God. This is a slippery slope toward anti-Semitism and a return to the chauvinistic and triumphalist views that led the church, when it had the power to do so, to develop its infamous crusades and inquisitions.
In 1997 Ratzinger said that Europeans attracted to Buddhism were actually seeking an "autoerotic spirituality" that offers "transcendence without imposing concrete religious obligations." Hindusim, he said, offers "false hope," in that it guarantees "purification" based on a "morally cruel" concept of reincarnation resembling "a continuous circle of hell." At the time, Cardinal Ratzinger predicted that Buddhism would replace Marxism as the Catholic church's main enemy.
Ratzinger is being falsely described as a conservative, when in fact he, despite his publicly genteel manner, is a raging reactionary. Unlike many American conservatives who oppose gay sexual practices but not their legal rights, Ratzinger in 1992 argued against human rights for gays, stressing that their civil liberties could be "legitimately limited."
Those of us in the Jewish world who have enormous respect for Christianity and for the wisdom and beauty of the Catholic tradition are in mourning today that the church has confirmed for itself a destructive direction that will hurt not only Catholics but all those who seek peace and justice in the world.
We remain hopeful that the new pope may return to the more progressive positions he held before 1968) . We hope he realizes that the world needs a church that can respond compassionately and wisely to what is needed rather than remain wedded to dogma that is so destructive. In a statement that Ratzinger made a few years ago, he seemed deeply aligned with TIKKUN's critique of the selfishness and materialism of the contemporary world. We hope that he stops blaming that problem on secularists and comes to understand that secularists too, as well as people from other faiths, can be allies in the struggle for a new ethos of love and generosity. We pray that he may find a way to bring a better, kinder, more loving, and compassionate agenda to the Catholic church.
It is precisely because we as Jews continue to feel allied with the church and see it as an important ally in the struggle for social justice and peace that we are so dismayed at this misdirection. Meanwhile, we reaffirm our solidarity with the many millions of Catholics who had hoped for a very different kind of Pope, someone who would make the church more open to women's leadership, to prioritizing social justice, to rethinking its opposition to birth control, and to returning to the hopeful spirit of Vatican II. We can say publicly what many of you can only say Privately--that this new Pope does not represent what is most beautiful and sacred in the teachings of Jesus.