- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 24, 2005

For centuries one of the reverberating issues in contemporary Western civilization has been the relationship between the Vatican and the Jewish people.

In modern times, the issue has revolved around the Holocaust, the extinction of 6 million Jews by command of Adolf Hitler. Did the Vatican, a powerful moral force in the West, do or say anything that might have mitigated this onslaught against a helpless people?

The role of the wartime Pope Pius XII has been much studied and discussed for a half-century. There is Rolf Hochhuth’s 1963 play, “The Deputy,” John Cornwell’s “Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII” and many magazine articles. Little in this literature has exonerated Pius XII let alone praised his papacy. Yet this is what he said on Sept. 6, 1938:

“Mark well that in the Catholic Mass, Abraham is our Patriarch and forefather. Anti-Semitism is incompatible with the lofty thought which that fact expresses. It is a movement with which we Christians can have nothing to do. No, no, I say to you it is impossible for a Christian to take part in anti-Semitism. It is inadmissible. Through Christ and in Christ we are the spiritual progeny of Abraham. Spiritually, we are all Semites.”

What of the new Pope Benedict XVI, once Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger? I have come across a pre-papal interview with a German journalist, Peter Seewald, in a book titled “God and the World,” published in 2000 by Ignatius Press. The first question the Cardinal dealt with was the concept of the Jews as God’s “Chosen People.” He said:

“In the Old Testament the special significance of this choice is emphasized again and again, in Deuteronomy, for instance. God says to thepeople through Moses: I did not choose you because were a great and numerous people, an important people, not because you possess this or that quality; but because I love you I have freely chosen you.”

Cardinal Ratzinger is asked why pharonic Egypt became great and powerful while the people with whom God made his covenant were forced to face centuries of persecution, expulsion and suffering right up to the Holocaust and, one could add, who have now become in Western countries a target of Islamic fundamentalists, as in France and Sweden.

Cardinal Ratzinger replied that being “chosen by God does not mean that He will make you great in worldly terms. He does not turn His people into a great power, but He reveals Himself in small things and works through them.”

He then takes up the question of 2,000 years of Jewish exile yet “their religion has not evaporated … phenomenon still without parallel in the history of mankind,” as the interviewer put it. Does world development have “some mysterious connection with the development of the Jewish people”?

The future pope replied: “God did not make His people into a great power; on the contrary, they became the people who suffered more than any other in the history of the world. But they always kept their identity. Their faith could never die. And likewise it is still like a goad in the very heart of Christianity, which sprang out of the story of Israel and is inseparably bound up with it. … The great powers of that period have all disappeared. Ancient Egypt and Babylon and Assyria no longer exist. Israel remains — and shows us something of the steadfastness of God, something indeed of his mystery.”

There is one puzzling section in this interview and that involved Cardinal Ratzinger and his view of the State of Israel or rather his nonview, when he said: “This tiny people, who no longer have any country, no longer any independent existence, but lead their life scattered throughout the world, yet despite this keep their own religion, keep their own identity; they are still Israel, the way the Jews are still Jews and are still a people even during the 2,000 years when they had no country; this is an absolute riddle.”

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times. His updated biography “Herman Wouk, the Novelist as Social Historian,” was published recently.

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