The Spine

Leave The Pope Alone

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On September 3, 2000, Pope John Paul II, the Vicar of Christ beloved even by Jews, beatified Pius IX, one of his predecessors who reigned from 1846-1878. He was a nasty anti-Semite who re-established the ghetto in Rome and was instrumental in the kidnapping of a six-year old Jew boy who had been forcibly converted to Catholicism and whom the church itself kept in the Vatican away from his parents. These are not the least of his sins; nor are they the worst. But they contribute richly to his biography as a Jew-hater. David Kertzer has published a searing contextual history of The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara.  James Carroll's encyclopedic and essential Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews devotes useful pages to Pius IX, the longest serving Holy Father in history.

It took decades for the campaign to make him a saint became viable. And its real viability had to wait for John Paul II for whom Pius IX was a hero. It is too complicated to explain here how the idolization of Pius IX for Karol Wojtyla came about. Suffice it to say that it did. But even John Paul realized that he needed cover for this beatification. So he also had John XXIII made "blessed" during the same process and ceremony. And what a progressive pope he was. He violated Pius XII's model of how to behave vis a vis the Nazis: as Apostolic Delegate to Greece and Turkey, he saved many Jews from the slaughter and aided others to go to Palestine. A true saint.

Hey, there are so many popes who hated Jews and were nonetheless--or maybe consequently--elevated to sainthood that one more hardly matters. Anyway, there's another one who has been in the waiting room for some time. And it is Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII. Much has been written about this holy man's venal hatred of the Jews. Some of it in our pages. You can also read about him in Daniel Goldhagen's A Moral Reckoning.  So why would Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, stake so much on the elevation of a truly fascist cleric to sainthood? I do not know.

But, after decades of getting incensed by these indecent actions of the church, I have come to the conclusion that anti-Semitism in its worst and murderous manifestations is, alas, an intrinsic element in Roman Catholic history. They will deal with it as they will, whether Jews bitch or not. Certainly in western countries the relationship between Jews and Catholics is more than cordial, even cooperative and reciprocal. It is harder to say this about eastern Europe. But, then, there are very few Jews living where five million Jews once lived.  

Benedict is no anti-Semite, and he has more grasp of the meaning of Israel to the Jewish people than his predecessors. Let him be. He wants to sanctify that ghostly and ghastly man, let him. We, too, have skeletons in our closet synagogue, some of them alive today.

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