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Pope Visits Italian Jews

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!

9 thoughts on “Pope Visits Italian Jews”

  1. The Pope says he wishes to extend friendship with Jews, this while elevating an accomplice to genocide of the Jews towards Sainthood.
    Given the sensitivities in this matter, what was so compelling about deifying Pope Pius XII – a man with a long history of Jew hate? If Benedict was so sincere about friendship with Jews, why not start by excommunicating Catholic Adolph Hitler, who remains a Catholic in good standing with the Church?. It’s not as if they don’t talk about excommunicating Priests that are gay friendly; apparently that is a greater crime than Hiltler’s.
    Let us not accept the words of the Catholic Church, let them show their sincerity by deeds. Benedict should not have been allowed through the doors of the synagogue.

  2. I have no great admiration for the man. However, Pope Pius XII knew about the Holocaust but could do nothing except hide Jews in the Vaticain and ecourage other Romans and Roman Catholics to do the same…and hundreds did. In September 2009, Pave the Way Foundation nominated Pius XII to be listed as Righteous Among the Nations at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. There is little dispute: he is eligible.

    We will not see two men I admire tremendously, FDR and Churchill, nominated, they are not eligible, they knew early on what was happening. They felt that crushing the Nazis had to be the means to the end of the Holocaust.

  3. Doug, you are severely wrong. Pius was utterly, completely complicit. You need to read his history of anti Semitism & active promotion of Jew hate in years preceding the Holocaust.
    You say he couldn’t do anything – BS! Had he excommunicated Hitler, would that have stopped it? Assume no. What if he had threatened to excommunicate all Catholic German soldiers? Would that have stopped it? What if he had just stood on his balcony ONCE and said “killing Jews is bad”? But that didn’t happen. Rather he flung out his arms in the Nazi salute and supported the regime.
    In 65 years the Catholic Church has yet to provide a single shred of evidence that he helped a Jew. Had there been any, they would have produced it to counter the overwhelming evidence that he was thoroughly complicit.
    The fact that the Church wishes to deify such a vile and morally bankrupt man is a clear statement on the values of the Catholic Church.
    Who is “Pave the Way Foundation”? Are they a credible organization?

  4. Grant I know, I’ve heard all that you are saying growing up and still hear and see it today. There are numerous books that label Pius VII as “Hitler’s Pope.” (including “Hitler’s Pope” by John Cromwell and James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword.)

    But here are some Jews who think/thought there was just a lot of “Catholic Hatin'” going on and say different:

    Pave The Way Foundation is just a guy, a Jewish guy his site:

    Rabbi David Dalin thinks that most of the “Hitler’s Pope” stuff basically comes from ex-Catholics and Protestant “Catholic Bashers” Rabbi Dalin’s book “The Myth of Hitler’s Pope”(

    And these three people didn’t have a website or write a book about Pius VII they were doing other things but have their opinions and are creditable:

    Golda Meir:

    Chaim Weizmann from Dalin’s book: (Full discloser: said this as politician) “the Holy See is lending its powerful help wherever it can, to mitigate the fate of my persecuted co-religionists.”

    Albert Einstein (full discloser: attended a Catholic School for awhile), said: “Only the Catholic Church protested against the Hitlerian onslaught on liberty. Up till then I had not been interested in the Church, but today I feel a great admiration for the Church, which alone has had the courage to struggle for spiritual truth and moral liberty.”

    Two things stand out for me: 1) whether or not Pius VII was anti-Semitic we don’t know, he was not in a position to prove himself not by go up against Hitler—he was surrounded by Mussolini. 2.) He was the victim of a lot of Catholic hate and is frequently defended by Jews, I think out of empathy. Jews know hate when they see it.

  5. Doug, I respect what you would LIKE to believe, but unfortunately it is incorrect. Whilst I am not a scholar of the Catholic Church, I have read sufficient Jewish history to have created some strong opinions. I have in fact read some of the texts you mention here.
    I read what you say about Golda & Chaim Weizmann, but what was the context of their statements and what were they trying to achieve at the time? A specific agenda and accommodating comments do not re-write history.
    Einstein said lots of things, recall that he too was a politician, not everything he said was accurate. Would you personally agree with the statement? Re-read it, I think you might reconsider.
    Of the two things that stand out to you – I do not believe there is any credible discussion of academics that would dispute this Pope’s Jew hatred. If you wish to say that he was surrounded by Mussolini and offer that as a justification, then you will have to renounce any moral credibility that the Church ever wished to claim.
    2. HE was the victim of Catholic hate? That’s like calling the KKK the victim of black aggression. Frequently defended by Jews – frankly you are the very first I have ever encountered that defended that Pope.
    When you say that Jews know hate when they see it – correct, and the vast bulk of Jew hate in the past 2000 years has emanated from the Church. Until very recently, their Catechism required Jew hate, they taught it to their children along with Mothers milk. Read the catechism the Church required until the 1960’s. I don’t think modern day Catholics have any idea of the history of their Church.

  6. Oh you know I am not defending the Catholic Church. Particularly when it comes to slaughtering Jews. The Nazi where newcomers to this. The Catholic church has shown time and time again, over more than a millenium, that they don’t just stand idly by when there is Jewish genocide to be done — they dive right in to the well-organized mass slaughter of Jews – along with all the mass-hysteria-causing anti-Semitic propaganda – with relish.

    As for me personally agreeing with Einstein’s comment “…I feel a great admiration for the Church…”. I feel as much admiration for a organization of self-righteous, bitter-because-they-can’t-get-any-(legally),self-hating gay men determine to make their lives, as well as *mine*, miserable – as you would expect I would have.

    The point here is the future of better Jewish/Catholic relations: forgiveness and concentrating on our commonality. This means not being a reactionary detractor (a Paleo-Republican-style emotion that you are above Grant) of one of their leaders (Pius XII) that might not have been as bad as some people (including my own parents, BTW) have made him out to be.

    1. Doug, you seek better Jewish Catholic relations. Why?
      Commonality? Where?

      They are a dying organization with less than 9% adherence remaining in Europe. If you read the Prop 8 trial transcripts, you’ll see their true nature, and all that they are doing is switching targets from Jews to gays. They have exposed their true nature, this time in a court of law.

      If you think that one can befriend and trust such an organization, I would tend to disagree, but then you know the old adage – keep your enemies close.

      For a simple exercise in rational thinking, Google any Pope’s comments on gay folk in any one month period. People call that a Church of Love? An organization that constantly needs an objective target in order to iself validate, is an empty suit.

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