At Newsweek, Christopher Hitchens puts in his two cents on Pope Benedict, and his recent reversal of excommunication on the Antisemitic and Holocaust denying Bishop, Richard Williamson. Hitchens reminds us that the Catholic Church, prior to Vatican II, had a long history of demonization, animosity, and conspiratorial paranoia directed toward Jews, and that the old uber-conservative German Pope, obviously nostalgic for those “good ol’ pre-Vatican II days,” is merely returning the Catholic Church to its more traditional—and pre-modern—“understandings” of the Jews and Judaism:
The old-style Easter sermons, the “Passion Plays” at Oberammergau and elsewhere, and bestselling Catholic devotional books such as the visions of the German nun Anne Catherine Emmerich, are replete with revolted depictions of Jewish mobs reveling in the sufferings of the Nazarene.
When excesses are committed by the religious (something which does indeed seem to happen from time to time), you often hear it argued that these are only perversions of the “true” or “real” or authentic teachings. What makes the present case so alarming is that concessions are being made to Holocaust-deniers and anti-Semites, and that this is not a departure from “original intent” Catholicism but rather part of a return to traditional and old-established preachments. For decades, it has seemed to many incurious outsiders that the Roman Catholic Church had at the very least made a good-faith attempt to acknowledge its historic responsibility for defaming the Jewish people. Suddenly, this achievement doesn’t look so solid. The German representative of the Society of St. Pius X recently lectured German Catholic bishops on the doctrinal need to stress the general responsibility of Jews for deicide. Last month he was an outsider. Now, his faction is back in the papal bosom. “Unity” must mean a lot to Benedict if he is willing to pay this sort of price for it.
The Christian consensus is that Jesus went to Jerusalem on that Passover in the full knowledge that he was going to his death. Ought this not to mean that the Jews and Romans did humanity a favor, by obediently fulfilling prophecy and by spilling the blood that ransomed the world? Evidently not. As a nonbeliever, this is not my problem. But the indulgence of prejudice and paranoia under the cloak of faith is my problem as a citizen. As with Cardinal Bernard Law, the enabler of child-molestation, who is now sheltered by Rome and who was able to vote in the election of Ratzinger as pope, so with those who slander the Jews with innuendo and worse, and who spread the vile libels that blame the democratic United States for the theocratic terrorist attacks upon it. One might think a responsible church would be indignantly arraigning and expelling such people rather than piously seeking reconciliation with them. Apparently, one would be wrong.