Archive for the ‘Vatican City’ Category

Should Pope Pius XII Become a Saint?

August 29, 2010 2 comments

By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss

WINCHESTER, California — The Catholic Church has over 10,000 saints and “beati,” or blessed on the roster. Does it really make a difference if there is one more?

The answer is probably not for most rank-and-file Catholics. They already have three  saints per day from among whom they can choose for feasting.

It matters to Jews who remember the actions and lack of actions by Eugenio Pacelli, Vatican Secretary of State until 1939, at which time he became Pope Pius XII. Prior to 1963, the world generally viewed Pius XII as a faithful shepherd to his people during a dark period in the world’s history. The liberal-Catholic writer Graham Green characterized Pius XII as, “a pope who many of us believe will rank among the greatest.”

In 1963, Rolf Hochhuth published his play, The Deputy, which condemned Pius XII and the entire Vatican hierarchy for failing to act to save European Jewry from death camps and the atrocities of the Nazis. John Cornwell’s 1999 book, Hitler’s Pope, continued the condemnation of Pius XII for supporting National Socialism and for failing to act on behalf of Jews. Gabriel Wilensky, author of Six Million Crucifixions, argues that Pope Pius XII actions during World War II can be attributed to the belief that he had more to fear from the survival of godless Communism then from the Nazi regime.

Many Jews and non-Jews believe that making Pius XII a saint is a disgrace. In Israeli’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, there is a plaque that delineates the perceived anti-Jewish actions of the Pope during the war. The plaque lists such things as the 1933 Concordat with Hitler to preserve the Church’s rights in Germany in exchange for recognizing the Nazi government, pigeon-holing a 1939 letter against anti-Semitism that his predecessor prepared, abstaining from joining the allies’ denunciation of the extermination of Jews, and failing to intervene in the deportation of Jews living in Rome to Auschwitz.

The sainthood of Pius XII certainly matters to the Vatican. Most Catholic scholars have cautioned the Vatican to move slowly with regard to his sainthood. Yet, for the papacy and the church hierarchy there seems to be a need for urgency. According to Celestine Bohlen, Pope Benedict’s December, 2009 decree moving both John Paul II and Pius XII closer to sainthood is filled with Vatican politics. She wrote that, “Benedict had hoped to satisfy both the conservative and the liberal wings of the Catholic Church”. Pope Benedict’s outward position is simple: Pius XII worked quietly and behind the scenes to rescue Jews from the hands of the Nazi war machine. Benedict is also quick to point out that many Catholics risked their own lives to save Jews.

It also matters to the Pave the Way Foundation, whose website declares, “We are a non-sectarian public foundation, which identifies and eliminates non-theological obstacles between the faiths”. From September 15 through 17, 2008 the foundation held a symposium in Rome to examine the papacy of Pius XII. At the conference, lawyers, linguists, researchers and foreign correspondents, priests and nuns, and even a Rabbi met to report on deeds and acts of Pius XII during World War II. In the proceedings, published under the title, Examining the Papacy of Pope Pius XII, the conference examined twelve commonly-held beliefs about the Pope. These beliefs included such things as the Pope was: anti-Semitic, obsessed with atheistic Communism, did not believe that the Church has an obligation to either protect or care for non-Catholics, and should be condemned for signing an agreement with Hitler in 1933. They also responded to the annotations on plaque at Yad Vashem.

The proceedings concluded that “the controversy about Pius has to a large degree been generated by those who ignore his endless efforts over many years to help victims of Hitler.” For example, the proceedings argue that Pius’ Concordant with Hitler occurred before he became Pope and was actually at the direction of his predecessor, Pius XI. There never was a letter opposing anti-Semitism, only drafts.  The Pope did protest the deportation of the Jews from Rome to Auschwitz. Cardinal Maglione, his Secretary of State, delivered the first protest and the second was delivered through an assistant to German General Stahel.

Since John Paul II abolished the “devil’s advocate” portion of the canonization process, the question of whether or not Pope Pius XII becomes a saint may be more a result of politics than theology. If it is true that Pius’ strategy to save European Jews was to work behind the scenes, then that strategy failed. That alone should disqualify him.

Thousands of Catholics fall into the category called righteous gentiles, Christians who personally risked their lives and the lives of their families to save Jews. Perhaps they are more qualified for sainthood.


Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of The Standard Guide to the Jewish and Civil CalendarsAncient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah. The author can be reached through his website,

Commentary: Inappropriate for U.S. State Department to send Muslim cleric to Arab countries

August 11, 2010 1 comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. –The State Department has confirmed that Feisal Abdul Rauf – who wants to be the imam of a mosque at Ground Zero – is taking a State Department funded trip to the Middle East to foster “greater understanding” about Islam and Muslim communities in the United States.

“He is a distinguished Muslim cleric,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. “I think we are in the process of arranging for him to travel as part of this program, and it is to foster a greater understanding about the region around the world among Muslim-majority communities.” Rauf is reportedly going to Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar.
What a load of hooey.
We know a lot of rabbis, some ministers and a few priests. We would be appalled to have the government of the United States, which by law favors no religion, sending a rabbi to Israel – or the former Soviet Union or France or Argentina, where there are communities of Jews – to talk about how Jews live in the United States. Having a priest travel to the Vatican, Honduras, Ireland or the Philippines to describe the lives of American Catholics would be outrageous. Likewise, ministers to Sweden.
What business is it of the American government to send a Muslim to Muslim-majority countries to talk about Islam? How offensive is it to think that the American government is using American tax dollars to fly a non-government person around the world to promote the activities and lifestyle of a particular religion? Better to send a non-Muslim American government official to talk about American religious freedom, cultural diversity and the virtues of the secular, democratic state. 
To the speculation that Rauf will engage in fund raising for the proposed mosque at Ground Zero, Mr. Crowley said, “That would not be something he could do as part of our program,” he said. 
We’re so relieved. And we’re so sure he will do only as the American government desires.
But Debra Burlingame, a 9/11 family member told The New York Post, “‘We know he has a fund-raising association with Saudi Arabia,’ … noting that the Saudis have contributed money to underwrite programs by the American Society for Muslim Advancement, a not-for-profit that Abdul Rauf runs with his wife and that is one of the sponsors of the Ground Zero mosque. ‘He’s going to the well, and how can they say they do or don’t know what he’s doing?'”
To be entirely clear, JINSA believes Ground Zero is a battlefield cemetery – the site of a battle for the liberal democratic state. We oppose the building of a Muslim sectarian monument there because regardless of what its supporters say, it will be widely understood in the Muslim world as a battlefield monument in the name of Islam. 
Does the State Department really think Rauf (who said in English that the United States bears responsibility for 9-11) will tell the Saudis, Bahrainis and Qataris that he is building a monument to cultural understanding, interfaith relations and peace in New York because America is a good, safe and decent place for Muslims as long as they understand the secular, democratic nature of the United States? And that he doesn’t want their money because Americans will fund the mosque?
And how will the State Department know?

Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

Book Review: Tracing Jewish influences on Michelangelo

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican, Benjamin Blech and Roy Dolinger. HarperOne, New York, 2008. 320 pages.

By David Strom

David Strom

SAN DIEGO — Over the years as a reader and book reviewer, I have focused my interests mainly on nineteenth and twentieth century history. Most of that interest is focused on the Jewish people in the European, American, and Middle-Eastern areas. I have never read nor been too interested in learning about the Sistine Chapel. However, I am now glad I picked up and read this extraordinary book on the secrets of the Sistine Chapel because of the insights it has given me into the impact of Judaism on the work of the great artist, Michelangelo.

What can a well written and thoroughly researched book do for the reader? In the case of the Sistine Secrets it excited me enough to want to visit the Sistine, a place I never gave much thought to or had a desire to see. It has awakened an untapped interest in the sculpture of Michelangelo, his political thoughts, his religious beliefs, and the important ideals he stood for and fought for through his life and his art. The Sistine Secrets informs readers about the struggle to make religion understandable and accessible to the “person in the street.”

As a young boy from the mountains, Michelangelo came under the watchful eye of Lorenzo de’ Medici, who was often called Lorenzo the Magnificent. In 1489, Lorenzo saw that this mere boy could carve stone better than any adult. Seeing that Michelangelo was a child prodigy, he virtually adopted him and raised him in his home. “Thus, Michelangelo, at the age of thirteen or fourteen, suddenly found himself being raised with the richest offspring in Europe… and studying with the best private tutors in Italy.”

His education (in Italian, formazione meaning shaping, molding, forming) gave Michelangelo a particular view of the world that impacted him for the rest of his life. Important in his formazione were two Florentine masters in philosophy: Marsilio Ficino and the childhood prodigy Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. From Ficino he learned about Plato and Neo-Platonism. Michelangelo absorbed the daring ideas of this philosophic school of thought. From the young Pico, Michelangelo learned of interconnectedness “between ancient mysticism, Greek philosophy, Judaism, and Christianity.” Pico in fact inspired freethinkers, enraged the Vatican, and deeply affected the passionate, impressionable Michelangelo.” The ideas that Michagelo absorbed at this tender age would later secretly turn the ceiling of Sistine into a testimony to Pico’s unique and heretical teachings.

Ficino and Pico, Michelangelo’s teachers, were “powerfully inspired by Jewish thought.” They transmitted their ideas to their prize pupil who easily absorbed them. They taught him about the Midrash. Midrash “is not the name of one book, it rather refers to many collections of stories, legends, and biblical commentaries from the hands of different scholars.” They are, according to Jewish tradition, a part of the oral law. Midrash is interested in theology, while the Talmud is more dedicated to the law. “It has been well said the Talmud speaks to humanity’s mind but the Midrash is directed to its soul.”

With the recent cleansing of the Sistine ceiling it became clear that Michelangelo had knowledge of the Midrash. Many of his insights, as depicted in the Sistine, emerged in his biblical scenes on the ceiling. “An excellent example is the panel in the Sistine ceiling known as The Garden of Eden. There we find Adam and Eve standing before the Tree of Knowledge.” Most cultural tradition at the time, and even some today, looked upon that tree as an apple tree, however one did not. The Jewish culture did not view it as an apple tree. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree they were immediately ashamed of their nudity, so they quickly found a solution. They covered themselves with fig leaves. “According to the Midrash, the Tree of Knowledge was a fig tree, since a compassionate God had provided a cure for the consequences of their sin within the self-same object that caused it.” It is difficult to imagine any Christian being aware of this, either in Michelangelo’s era or even today. Yet, in Michelangelo’s panel of the Original Sin his Tree of Knowledge is a fig tree.

Michelangelo’s strong familiarity and affinity with Jewish knowledge helped make the Sistine into a work of art best understood with a grasp of Midrash. The “Midrashic allusions that Michelangelo worked into his frescoes-something unfortunately are almost completely unknown and ignored by contemporary scholars.”

Pico, the great teacher of Michelangelo, had the largest Judaic library of any gentile in Europe, and –more striking still-holds the record for the biggest private library of Kabbalistic materials gathered in one place anywhere.” Kabala was his passion. In fact, Pico’s dedication to this branch of Jewish knowledge “may well explain his very positive feelings towards Jews and Judaism.”

What fascinated Michelangelo about the Kabala “to the extent that almost every part of the Sistine ceiling bears traces of its teaching?” Surely some part “of the answer lies in the major premise…that beneath the surface of every object are hidden ‘emanations’ of God. Things are far more than they seem to the naked eye.” This thought fit perfectly with Michelangelo’s neo-Platonism philosophy. “Every block of stone has a statue inside of it and it is the task of the sculpture to discover it.”

Kabala allowed Michelangelo to think positively about sex. Sex was not just for procreation, as the Church taught, nor was it a sin to enjoy sex. Kabala provided a different view of male/female distinctions. “Both are equal parts of divinity because God himself/herself is a perfect blending of both characteristics-God is man and woman.

Sistine Secrets by Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner has opened a new window of light for this casual reader. In just a few pages the book has given me greater insight into my Jewish historical heritage. While I knew we should not “judge a book by its cover,” I never linked this to Kabala. Now, I might.

While I and thousands of others know the role that Martin Luther played in reforming the Catholic Church, what do we know of Michelangelo and his lifelong struggle to make the Catholic Church more humane and truly inclusive of its Jewish roots and its Jewish sisters and brothers? Michelangelo created his art filled with forbidden messages and through his boldness and courage, fought and died for these ideals. Michelangelo through his work hoped to reform the Church, and the world of his day. Through his knowledge of the Torah, he wanted all humans to live peacefully as loving sisters and brothers. While he was ahead of his time, we can work for a more just world to make his dream of Tikkun Olam come closer to being realized in the modern world.

Strom is professor emeritus of education at San Diego State University

Memo to the Church: Please leave us Jews out of your sex abuse scandal

April 17, 2010 1 comment

By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA–The Catholic Church historically inspired persecution against our people, and in the last half-century church leaders merit recognition for reconciling with us. After that immense effort to do right, the church has embarked on a new course of action: Confuse the heck out of the Jews.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, normally known to be a fine gentleman, implied to his flock that a second crucification might be approaching. Who was blamed for the first one?
Then a Vatican priest, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, on Good Friday, of all days, likened the disparagement of Pope Benedict XVI to anti-Semitism. To call this comparison a stretch is a polite understatement. He was wise enough to apologize two days later, on Easter Day.
This frantic rhetoric is rooted in the sex abuse scandal that has finally been dropped onto the pontiff’s lap. Predictably, from Benedict on down church leaders have been defensive to the point of exploiting others, like the Jewish people.
Fortunately, I doubt if their approach will cause Jews any genuine harm. The Vatican’s influence in Europe and North America has thinned over the years. Most Catholics in those regions will probably not take these references seriously. I also give Dolan and Cantalamessa the benefit of the doubt that they intended no offense, and for the record I have long had both positive and negative feelings toward the Catholic Church.
The words uttered by Dolan and Cantalamessa are still potentially threatening, and both should have known better. The New York Daily News reported that Dolan told parishioners at Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, “(Reforms) could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.”
Asking if the church and the pope “need intense scrutiny and just criticism,” Dolan added, “All we ask is that it be fair and that the Catholic Church not be singled out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency and family in the world.”
Thousands of miles east, Cantalamessa was delivering a Good Friday sermon in St. Peter’s Basilica – with the pope in attendance – when he said the timing of Passover and Easter the same week prompted him to think of the Jews, according to The New York Times. “They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence, and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms,” he said.
The priest, who holds the title of preacher of the papal household, then quoted from what he noted was a letter from a Jewish friend whom he did not identify: “I am following the violent and concentric attacks against the pope and the faithful by the whole world. The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.”
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi swiftly emphasized that the sermon reflected Cantalamessa’s thoughts and was not an official Vatican statement. He did not mention that Cantalamessa made these comments while serving in his official capacity for the Vatican, and the location was St. Peter’s Basilica.
So many distortions, so little space.
Benedict is not Jesus, and it is always risky to draw comparisons with a larger-than-life historical or religious figure. The New Testament recounts that Roman soldiers placed a crown of thorns atop Jesus’ head before he was crucified. The church for most of its existence blamed Jews and their descendents for the death of Jesus. Will the Jews be blamed for Benedict’s fate? Or will they replace us with another scapegoat?
When Dolan pleads for fair treatment, the scrutiny is in fact long overdue. It could be far worse.
Sexual abuse is a serious crime, and anyone who shields sex abusers could also be vulnerable to prosecution.
If the church is being singled out, maybe that is due to the vast numbers of victims. These are hardly isolated incidents. It is a direct result of a scarcity of competent leadership. If the church had enacted firm policies and enforced them, church leaders would not feel they were under siege at this time.
It is ironic that Cantalamessa would compare this siege to anti-Semitism since the church perfected hatred of Jews to an art form. The knights who entered Jerusalem during the Crusades massacred not only Muslims but Jews as well. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella murdered, tortured, expelled and forcefully converted Spanish Jews to Catholicism.

Jews suffered from “collective violence,” but what church leaders (with one reported exception) have been subjected to violence over this?
Would nuns and priests stand for such excuses from students and parishioners?
Church leaders must confront these charges like adults. When mistakes are made in the media, they are welcome to correct the record, but it is time they took full responsibility. Just leave us out of it.

Bruce S. Ticker is a freelance journalist in Philadelphia. He can be contacted at

San Diego’s historic places: Mission San Diego tells circumspect tale of Kumeyaay life

April 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – Janet Bartel, chief docent at San Diego Mission, treads as carefully as a performer on a tightrope when discussing the Kumeyaay Indian experience at Mission San Diego, There have been too many controversies not to.

In September 1988, Pope John Paul II beatified Father Junipero Serra saying that the missionary’s “great goal was to bring the Gospel to the Native People of America, so that they too might be consecrated in the truth.”

On the other hand Rupert Costo, a Cahuilla Indian, wrote The Missions of California: A Legacy of Genocide. The book offers the view that at the missions established by Serra, Native Americans were systematically deprived of their culture and dignity, beaten unmercifully for infractions of the rules, and sometimes killed.

The website of the California Historical Society online tells of Pablo Tac, Victoria, and Lorenzo Asisaro testifying to Catholic authorities about their lives respectively at Mission San Luis Rey, Mission San Gabriel and Mission Santa Cruz.

Tac was the most positive, expressing “thanks to God for the coming of the missionaries to his country. He did observe, however, that thousands of his people died ‘as a result of the sickness that came to California.’

On the other hand, Victoria, a Tongva raised at Mission San Gabriel, said that “mission life was filled with misery, humiliation and terror. She reported that the missionaries punished an Indian woman who had a miscarriage by having her head shaved, by being flogged every day for fifteen days, and by wearing iron shackles on her feet for three months and by ‘having to appear every Sunday in church, on the steps leading up to the altar, with a hideous painted wooden child in her arms.’

And Asisaro said: “The Indians at the missions were very severely treated by the padres, often punished by fifty lashes on the bare back. They were governed somewhat in the military style, having sergeants, corporals and overseers, who were Indians, and they reported to the padres any disobedience or infraction of the rules, and then came the last without mercy, the women the same as the men. The lash was made of rawhide.”

To date, Serra has not been eligible for canonization—a process that requires documentation of two miracles attributable to Serra’s intercession. Beatification requires one miracle, and one was attested to by Sister Mary Boniface Dryda of St. Louis, Missouri, who said her prayers to Serra resulted in her being cured of lupus—a claim Vatican examiners found to have merit. Although others have subsequently stepped forward to claim miraculous results from prayers to Serra, no reported incident has yet been validated by the church as a second miracle.

With sainthood pending, and opposition to Serra among his critics unabated, Bartel knows that she must be circumspect in what she says, lest a slip of the tongue provoke another controversy.

There have been controversies large and small between Mission San Diego and Native Americans, Bartel explained.

In one, Mission San Diego planned to construct a building on the grassy side of the central quadrangle. However, archaeologists said there were bones on the property and notified local monitors for Native Americans. Bartel said it was entirely possible that the bones were those of 19th century U.S. military personnel who were stationed at the mission after the United States captured California in the Mexican-American War of 1846. But rather than have a drawn out controversy, the church decided to simply cover over that portion of the Mission property, and construct the building on another portion where there was no such controversy.

Ewa'a {Dan Schaffer photo}

Even construction of an ewa’a—the temporary shelter that Kumeyaay Indians used to build during their migrations along the San Diego River—was not without controversy, Bartel said. It turned out that the man who built the ewa’a for the Mission, while of Native American descent, was not a Kumeyaay, prompting protests.

On another occasion, she said, a guide provoked ire by telling a group that there were fleas at the Mission, and that Kumeyaay sometimes would burn down their ewa’as as a pragmatic form of pest control. That should have come as no surprise, said Bartel, as there were fleas all over San Diego County. One area of Camp Pendleton, for example, is called “Las Pulgas,” – Spanish for “the fleas.”

Bartel said that in any project that the Mission does now concerning the Kumeyaay, it seeks advice from representatives of the local tribe.

Besides the ewa’a, one can find in the quadrangle the Kumeyaay equivalents of mortars and pestles, known in Spanish as metates y manos. Kumeyaay culture also is represented in the Mission’s museum, where tightly woven baskets are on display. In the Meditation Garden, Indian neophytes who died during the mission are memorialized by crosses made from building materials from the original Mission San Diego.

When the Franciscan padres arrived in San Diego, the Kumeyaay were “hunters and gatherers, and fairly nomadic,” Bartel said. “They would get the small animals and they would fish. Occasionally when they were in the mountains they would catch a deer but a problem was that they had no means of meat preservation, so they would have to kill it, prepare it and eat it.

“To me, the Kumeyaay knew this land like no one else ever could have known it. They might not have been agriculturalists; they didn’t grow things, but the things that grew wild they knew how to propagate,” Bartel added. “They knew what to do with the wild berries and things like that.  Sometimes it seems like the food was not plentiful, other times it was very plentiful. But I think it is important to know that the Spaniards were the ones who planted the first seeds of agriculture here in San Diego” – creating the foundation “for what turned out to be a great agricultural state – California.”

Of charges that Native Americans were forced to live at the missions, Bartel said that whatever may have happened at the other 20 missions, such was not the case at Mission San Diego, where there was no room for a permanent work force to reside. Instead the Kumeyaay came to the mission for eight days at a time, and then went back to their villages. “We have more than enough documentation to support the fact that it was definitely a rotating system here,” she said.

What attracted the Kumeyaay to the missions? The chief guide was asked.

Bartel responded that they were drawn by the advances in agriculture, food preparation, and technology. Whereas the Kumeyaay wore clothes of animal skins or plant material, Spaniards had brightly colored textiles. Whereas the Kumeyaay built rafts, the Spaniards had comparatively large ships.

At the missions, she said the Kumeyaay were taught to sew and to sow – they learned to stitch together clothing and to plant crops. They were taught the blacksmith trade. They were introduced to such livestock as cattle and horses.

They also were introduced to Christianity.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World; his story ran previously on

Vatican, ‘Pave the Way’ to post some WWII documents

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

VATICAN CITY (WJC)– The Vatican is planning to post selected documents from its World War II archives on the internet, according to the Catholic news agency ‘Zenit’.

The move came at the initiative of Pave the Way Foundation, a US-based group that promotes inter-religious dialogue and strives to defend wartime Pope Pius XII from allegations that he ignored Jewish suffering during the Holocaust.

Pave the Way offered to digitize some 5,125 descriptions and copies of documents from the closed section of the Vatican archives, ranging from the period of March 1939 to May 1945, ‘Zenit’ reported. These would then be posted on the websites of both the Vatican and Pave the Way.

Pave the Way President Gary Krupp told the news agency that the documents in question had been “previously published and mostly ignored.” He said their publication on the internet was “not meant to be a substitute for the full access” to the Vatican archives, but would “show the unique efforts of Pope Pius XII and the dangers he was forced to operate under a direct threat from the Nazi regime.”

However, media reports said the documents to be published would not include material directly relating to Pius XII.

Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

Renegade bishop questions Israel’s legitimacy

January 23, 2010 1 comment

PARIS (WJC)–The ultra-traditionalist Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson, whose denial of the extent of the Holocaust created an uproar a year ago, in a French video clip has called the discussions between the Vatican and his Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) a “dialogue of the deaf.”

Williamson is one of the four SSPX bishops whose excommunication was lifted by Pope Benedict only days after his controversial views on the Holocaust were broadcast on Swedish television. In an interview conducted in French and published on the video-sharing website ‘Dailymotion’, Williamson said the two sides had “absolutely irreconcilable” positions.

He discussed a number of issues with Pierre Panet, a man identified by the French Catholic newspaper ‘La Croix’ as a far-right politician. When asked about the negotiations under way with the Vatican to reintegrate the SSPX into the Roman Catholic Church, the British bishop said in fluent French:  “I think that will end up as a dialogue of the deaf. The two positions are absolutely irreconcilable… Either the SSPX becomes a traitor, or Rome converts or it is a dialogue of the deaf.”

The SSPX, which rejects the Second Vatican Council and the Catholic Church’s reconciliation with the Jews, broke from Rome in 1988 when Archbishop Lefebvre disobeyed Pope John Paul II and consecrated four bishops, including Williamson. Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications of the four in January 2009 and started negotiations aimed at finding a way to reintegrate the traditionalists into the Catholic Church. Recently, Benedict expressed hope that he would be able to reestablish full communion with the SSPX.

Williamson pointed out that for a real Catholic, only the Catholic faith was true, and all other religions were “more or less true and more or less false” and that hence there could be no agreement between the faiths on a religious level.

When Panet asked for him his views on Israel, Williamson said: “A lot of people think this state is legitimate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is.” He also declared that the biblical notion of a “chosen people” had changed with the advent of Jesus Christ and that since then only those who had faith in Jesus were part of the chosen people.

The bishop also called Hamas and other groups in the Middle East “resistance movements” and said that the situation in the Middle East was “particularly difficult since 1947.” In that year, the United Nations adopted a plan to create a Jewish and an Arab state in Palestine.

Meanwhile, a court spokesman in Germany said that the trial of Williamson in the city of Regensburg on charges of incitement and Holocaust denial would not commence before mid-March.

Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

ADL says Pope’s visit to synagogue strengthened Catholic-Jewish relationship

January 19, 2010 Leave a comment

NEW YORK (Press Release)– The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said that the visit to the Rome Synagogue by Pope Benedict XVI “acknowledged the validity of Judaism and affirmed the Catholic-Jewish relationship.”           

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued the following statement:
“Pope Benedict acknowledged the validity of Judaism and affirmed the Catholic-Jewish relationship by his visit to Rome’s main synagogue.  Like his predecessor Pope John Paul II, whose 1986 visit to the same Rome Synagogue was a message to the Christian world that Judaism was not superseded by Christianity and is a living dynamic religion with its own continued vitality and sacred purpose to do God’s will, Benedict sent the same message to prelates, priests and those in the pews.
“Pope Benedict has institutionalized for his and future papacies the fact of mutual respect by making it clear that the Jewish people are the people of God’s Covenant through Moses.  The Pope’s words cannot but help to bring greater understanding, respect and dialogue to our two connected faiths.
“While there remains a cloud over the relationship on issues relating to the Holocaust, there is no doubt that his visit to the synagogue confirms the importance of the Catholic-Jewish relationship and that we will continue to dialogue with mutual respect.”

Preceding provided by Anti-Defamation League

Pope Benedict XVI calls for healing of wounds between Jews and Catholics

January 18, 2010 1 comment

ROME (WJC)—At his highly publicized visit to Rome’s Great Synagogue on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI said the Vatican had “provided assistance” to Jews in a “hidden and discreet way” during the Holocaust, thus indirectly defending his predecessor Pius XII. While not citing him by name, Benedict XVI attempted to address concerns in the Jewish community that Pius XII did too little to prevent the mass murder of Jews and failed to speak out forcefully against the Nazis.

“Many Italian Catholics reacted with courage, often at risk of their lives, opening their arms to assist the Jewish fugitives,” the Pope told a packed congregation at the Tempio Maggiore, which is one of Europe’s largest synagogues.

The Pope was met by the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, who said that “despite a dramatic history, the unresolved problems and the misunderstandings, it is our shared visions and common goals that should be given pride of place”. Fifteen survivors of the Nazi death camps also attended the ceremony, but others boycotted it, condemning Pope Pius XII for failing to raise his voice in defense of “our brothers who were sent to the ovens of Auschwitz.”

Riccardo Pacifici, the president of Rome’s Jewish community, said in his address that Pius XII should have spoken out against the Holocaust. While he could not have stopped the genocide, he should have offered solidarity to the Jewish victims of the Nazis. “The silence of Pius XII before the Shoah still hurts because something should have been done,” Pacifici told the 1,000-strong congregation, which also included representatives of other confessions, including Muslim leaders.

Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told ‘Reuters’ after the ceremony that he had asked Benedict “to find a way to make it possible to open the archives in the Vatican in order to give some details of the papacy of Pius XII in order to ease tensions between the Jewish people and Catholics.”

In his speech, Benedict also remembered the near complete wiping out of Rome’s Jewish community during World War II: “Here in this place, how could we not remember the Roman Jews who were snatched from their homes, before these very walls, and who with tremendous brutality were killed at Auschwitz? How could one ever forget their faces, their names, their tears, the desperation faced by these men, women and children?“

The Pope underlined the need to strengthen dialogue between Catholics and Jews: “It is our duty, in response to God’s call, to strive to keep open the space for dialogue, for reciprocal respect, for growth in friendship, for a common witness in the face of challenges of our time, which invite us to cooperate for the good of humanity.”

He added that the church deplored the “failings of her sons and daughters, begging forgiveness for all that could in any way have contributed to the scourge of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism… May these wounds be healed forever.”

The Jewish community in Rome is the oldest outside Israel. Pope John Paul II became the first head of the Catholic Church to visit a synagogue when he paid a visit to Tempio Maggiore in 1986.

Full text of the Pope’s speech English or original Italian Language Version

Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

Pope’s visit to Rome synagogue set for Sunday, January 17

January 16, 2010 Leave a comment

VATICAN CITY (WJC)–Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to the Rome synagogue will take place in a “new atmosphere” in relations between Catholics and Jews, Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican official in charge of religious relations with Judaism, has said. “We have a new atmosphere with Judaism even if there are difficulties,” he was quoted as telling reporters at a news conference in Rome.

The landmark visit on Sunday afternoon would be aimed at seeking common ground, said Kasper, adding: “In our more or less secularized society, we share many concerns: the protection of life, the family, social justice.” Catholics and Jews wanted to work together on “today’s societal problems such as HIV/AIDS”, he said.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder will be present at the synagogue in Rome, together with other Jewish leaders.

Last month, Pope Benedict put his controversial predecessor Pius XII one step away from beatification by recognizing his “heroic virtues”. The Pope, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, has been accused by some of inaction while Germany’s Nazi regime was exterminating six million Jews in the Holocaust.

“I have full understanding for the sensitivity of the survivors of the Holocaust, and we must respect this sensitivity,” Cardinal Kasper told reporters. “On the other side, we have to tell them also what Pius XII did in favour of the Jews during World War II, and this is not known enough. Many thousands of Jews were saved here in Rome and elsewhere in the world,” he said.

Polish bishops had told Pope Pius XII “not to speak too much because it would be counterproductive”, the cardinal said. Pius “did what he could do in a practical sense to help many Jews… He was not able to save all of them, that’s clear, but he saved a lot, so we must do justice to him,” Cardinal Kasper said.

Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni has said that only God could judge whether Pope Pius XII had done enough to save Jews. Di Segni, who will be Pope Benedict’s host on Sunday, also expressed hope that the synagogue visit would help combat hostility towards the Jewish world and intolerance of any religion.

Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress