- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2000


During the past 35 years, beginning with the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has made giant gestures of rapprochement toward the Jewish community, going so far as to even change parts of its 2000-year-old theology, something unmatched by other religious faiths.

Most notable has been its vote to absolve Jews of deicide a charge that was often an impetus to pogroms, a proclamation that anti-Semitism is a "sin," a declaration that the Jews' covenant with God is irrevocable, and a reference to Jews as "brothers." These are sweeping changes.

Thanks to Pope John Paul II, Catholics are no longer permitted to seek Jewish conversion. (Ironically, Reform Judaism has now embarked on an "outreach" program designed to "enlighten" non-Jews toward possible conversion to Judaism.) And just last week, John Paul II kicked-off Lent service by asking "God forgiveness for past and present sins against Jews." Cardinals present rose and confessed, in a ritualized atonement ceremony, the aforementioned sin against the Jewish people.

Instead of a gracious acceptance of these humbling acts of forgiveness, many prominent Jewish organizational leaders involved in Catholic-Jewish relations have responded with "disappointment." "It does not go far enough," many said, reminiscent of how media-appointed leaders in the black political community remain unwilling to accept bold and heartfelt efforts by white Americans who have acknowledged the sins of slavery and discrimination and have enacted all sorts of legislation and measures to redress this past. Following the pattern established by the black political class, Jewish leaders will "milk the guilt" felt by many good-willed Catholic representatives for further acts of atonement. But that is simply hucksterism.

As with many black spokesmen Jewish leaders are unwilling to, finally, accept these heartfelt apologies, for by so doing they relinquish the cherished moral high ground that comes through maintaining the aggrieved status. Clearing the slate makes an equal playing field, one that many Jewish and black leaders are unwilling to cede after luxuriating so many years in the moral superiority that victim-status offers.

Furthermore, by accepting an apology, these leaders will no longer be in a position of power power derived by making the seeker of forgiveness continue to fawn and bend over backward for their approval. The game would be over and so would their prominence that comes through it.

For many Jews, nothing would be left of their Judaism if anti-Christianity and anti-Catholicism were removed from their Weltanschauung. By accepting the apology, Christianity loses its demon status. What then keeps Jewishness superior? In fact, Jews might be forced to re-evaluate, in a favorable light, the enemy they love to hate: the Protestant Christian Coalition. If so, why even get up in the morning. There would be no justification for Christian-bashing.

Similarly, many blacks would be left rudderless if the anti-white grievance-anchor was taken from them. The past few decades have created a dependence of many ethnic, religious and racial minorities on finding their meaning through an "anti-ness."

One suspects yet another obstacle will be found by those against final peace and rapprochement, so the familiar and comfortable mantras can continue unabated, namely, that the other side really hasn't changed that much.

Quite often, "aggrieved" parties be they Jewish, black or Arab leaders remain immature since their grievance stands in the way of learning how to be gracious, compromise, accept extended good will and, especially, how to move on. Continued focus on such leaders leads to a myopic self-centeredness and an insatiable appetite for more concessions on their part. We have pampered them and made them spoiled worse, smug.

Some Jewish leaders complain that the Catholic Church should actually condemn Pope Pius XII. But Pius did not perpetrate the Holocaust. These leaders forget it was Adolf Hitler, not Pius. Perhaps Pius could have done more, but omission is not commission. Perhaps Pius was too reticent, in the hope of sparing the community he was entrusted to protect, as has been the case of many leaders including Jewish ones throughout history. Perhaps a study should be made ascertaining how often and how many Jewish people risked their lives by opening their homes to members of attacked ethnic groups during the bloody years in medieval Europe, Asia and the Orient.

It is as if some are expecting that if only the Church would enunciate the "right" mea culpa over Pius the Holocaust would, retroactively, not have happened. But it did happen, and confessions that lay it at the feet of Pius are false and cannot erase what Hitler wrought.

The church has done the right thing. It should now move on. The only thing they've done wrong during the last 20 years in Catholic-Jewish relations is choosing to dialogue with the wrong Jewish leaders. Good will is being thrown away on the preferred altar of self-righteousness.

Sooner or later proud Catholic laymen will become hurt by the rebuffs and negative reaction among many Jewish leaders. If the Catholic Church really cares about the Jewish community, it should, for the sake of their Jewish brothers, end communication with these leaders before Catholic frustration evolves into rightful anger. Meanwhile, in behalf of many, I wish to say to Pope John Paul II and his emissaries: Thank You.

Rabbi Aryeh Spero is president of the National Coalition of Black and Jewish Americans in New York.

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