This past weekend Pope Benedict XVI visited the main Roman synagogue. In part this was to coincide with January 17th, a date that his predecessor John Paul II made a day of remembrance of a Roman anti-semitic attack that took place in 1793. John Paul declared that this commemoration should be a day of Judeo-Christian reflection.
This was Pope Benedict’s third visit to a synagogue but the first in the hometown of Rome! He had previously visited the synagogue in Cologne just following his election as Pope and in New York. But he had not visited the Italian synagogue of Rome so close to the Vatican. Pope Benedict has visited Israel and has prayed at the Kotel, the Western Wall.
But his visit remains controversial. Benedict is a German pope and questions have long swirled about his involvement with the Hitler Youth. In recent weeks Benedict has furthered the process of Pope Pius XII beatification. This is the process within the Catholic Church of sainthood. Pope Pius XII was the Pope during World War II who did little and said little to prevent the deportation and annihilation of the 6 million Jews. Many Roman Jewish leaders boycotted the pope’s visit. While the chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni told daily newspaper La Repubblica that “It would be a serious mistake to reduce the visit only to things that divide us or about the beatification of Pius XII.”
During Pope Benedict’s term there have been other controversies related to the Jewish community including the welcoming back of a bishop who denied the holocaust last year at this time and the reinstatement of traditional Latin mass that included anti-semitic statements as part of the liturgy. And yet this Pope wants to be seen as engaging in dialogue with the Jews.
The problems of the Catholic Church are too numerous to detail here. The church operates in its own often myopic world. While they claim a commitment to life-I have seen all too often the way they want to denigrate the humanity and lives of gay and lesbian people and how the Catholic Church historically fanned the flames of deep Anti-Semitism. For the most part the Vatican II documents helped to cleanse a lot of the official anti-Semitism from the decks but it still remains in some quarters. And Pope Benedict’s visit to the Rome synagogue will not simply wash over the controversies.
I do remain committed to dialogue on a host of issues with Catholics and just a couple of months ago I addressed a Catholic- Jewish women’s dialogue that has gone on in Los Angeles for many years. I hope the Pope’s visit this last weekend to the synagogue made him more sensitive to Jewish concerns and shapes his reality a bit more. Now if we could only get the Pope to visit the Gay and Lesbian Center so he could see the damage the Churches anti-gay stances create!