Catholic-Jewish relations intertwined with history
By DEBORAH MOON
article created on: 2010-05-03T00:00:00
“The study of Catholic-Jewish relations must be rooted in historic context,” said the Rev. John Pawlikowski, adding that Vatican II “established the church’s position in human history.”
In a talk well supported by numerous quotes from other Catholic scholars and Vatican documents, Pawlikowski, a priest and director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies program at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, opened the first session of presentations at the University of Portland conference on History 1933-1948 by explaining the importance of history to Catholic-Jewish relations.
Pawlikowski is the author/editor of more than 15 books including “The Challenge of the Holocaust for Christian Theology,” “Good and Evil after Auschwitz,” and “Ethics in the Shadow of the Holocaust.”
After the Holocaust, Pawlikowski said the church was forced to re-examine its historical anti-Semetic theology “having witnessed the genocidal action such (theology) could permit.”
That theology taught that Jews had a collective responsibility for the death of Christ and had been expelled from their covenantal relationship with God and replaced by the Catholic Church. He said that Vatican II rejected the notion of collective Jewish guilt and confirmed the Jewish covenantal relationship.
Pawlikowski said that throughout the 1990s numerous Catholic leaders acknowledged the church’s culpability in the Shoah. He read a portion of a 1997 document of repentance penned by French Bishops: “(I)t is a well-proven fact that for centuries, up until Vatican Council II, an anti-Jewish tradition stamped its mark in differing ways on Christian doctrine and teaching…. It was on such ground that the venomous plant of hatred for the Jews was able to flourish. Hence, the heavy inheritance we still bear in our century, with all its consequences which are so difficult to wipe out.”
He also quoted extensively from the 1998 Vatican document “We Remember: A Reflection On The Shoah,” prepared at the request of Pope John Paul II, which followed the conciliatory path of Pope Paul VI, who created the Vatican’s Commission on Relations with the Jews.
While Pawlikowski said that Pope Benedict XVI initially moved along the path of Paul VI and John Paul II, “we see him taking a different road on Christian responsibility during the Holocaust.”
He said Benedict struggles with the conflict between commitment to social justice and “unchanged theological truth.”
“There is little doubt Pope Benedict views the Holocaust as one of the darkest moments in European history,” said Pawlikowski. Yet he added that Benedict has taken a different ecclesiological perspective that sees the church as “unaffected by history” and calls the Shoah a neo-pagan phenomena.
Pawlikowski pointed to Austrian Catholic philosopher Friedrich Heer’s assertion that “the church’s withdrawal from history” was largely responsible for many problems. He said Heer points out the fatalism and despair of that Augustinian principle are a great risk. Today that risk could extend toward failing to deal with nuclear threats and the world’s ecological challenges. Pawlikowski urged a return to the Hebrew Bible’s roots, which see man as God’s creatures and partners.
Pawlikowski said scholars insist “The Holocaust succeeded in a climate impacted by Christians for centuries. … (Christianity) provided a seedbed—at least for acquiesence during the attacks on Jews.”
“To my mind, the greatest challenge posed to Christian-Jewish relations is coming to grips with the history of anti-Semitism,” Pawlikowski said. “The church needs to commit itself to complete self-evaluation.”