News Flash: Catholics and Jews Still Largely Cool

In one of the Simpsons’ earlier seasons, Marge writes to the producers of Itchy and Scratchy to complain about the show’s rampant and graphic violence. After some finagling she gets what she wants — in spades. A typical episode of the new, socially responsible Itchy and Scratchy finds the former antagonists sitting side-by-side on a creaking porch swing, drinking (probably sugar-free) lemonade.

In National Catholic Reporter, John Allen, Jr. reports that relations between the Vatican and Rome’s chief rabbi have become exactly this collegial. Sketching out the spiritual basis for the upcoming Assisi summit in an article published in l‘Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Kurt Koch, wrote of the Cross as “the permanent and universal Yom Kippur.” Di Segni, who thought he caught a hint of substitution theology in Koch‘s metaphor, wrote another article for l’Osservatore stating so, but politely. In a third article, Koch clarified:

On the one hand, Jews should not have the impression that Christians see their religion as obsolete; on the other, Christians must not renounce any aspect of their faith. Without doubt, that fundamental question will occupy Jewish-Christian dialogue for a long time. Here, it can be mentioned only briefly. In any event, this is certainly not an obstacle to the fact that Christians and Jews, with mutual respect for their respective religious convictions, commit themselves to promote peace and reconciliation and thus to journey together towards Assisi.

This, by gum, is how representatives of different faiths should relate: with a courtier’s politesse and a wonk’s precision that makes the whole dispute unbearably dull. According to Allen, it’s nothing to take for granted. Neither di Segni nor Koch is the type to make an empty conciliatory gesture. The Vatican’s newspaper was not in the habit of running opinion pieces by chief rabbis until Gian Maria Vian took over as editor. That this exchange took place where and how it did marks real progress.

Since I first began preparing to enter the Church, I’ve been on guard for signs of lingering anti-Semitism. I’m delighted to say I haven’t found any. Even the dimple-faced sedevacantist who befriended me has never lectured me on the myth of the Holocaust or the truth in the Protocols of Zion. All she’s done is show me pictures of altars that look as though they were designed by Siegfried and Roy.

If I sound surprised , I must admit with a great deal of chagrin that I am — or, anyway, was. But I did have my reasons. The push for the restoration of Catholic identity has seemed, at times, to stir echoes of pushes to restore various national identities. Historically, when that’s happened — when superpatriots have started hollering about the adulteration of Volk, Geist or Heimat, guess which rootless cosmopolites have gotten their shop windows broken first?

This simply does not seem to be on anyone’s agenda. Last year, when media coverage of clerical sex abuse had many in the Church howling — and not without reason — like wounded beasts, I heard many complaints about the “secular media,” but never did I get the sense that “secular” was a code word for anything else. Or rather, I did once. In his homily, a priest praised William Kristol for “getting it,” — “it” meaning the injustices suffered by the Church — in some column he’d written for the Weekly Standard. Noting Kristol‘s ethnicity in a tone of delighted surprise, he sounded like someone praising a black man for being articulate. But that was a backhanded compliment — small stuff — and need not have been sweated.

Instead, the basic strategy for the reconstruction of Catholic identity seems to be one of internal police work. The criticism of Notre Dame for bestowing an honorary degree on President Obama, the campaign in some quarters to deny Communion to pro-choice politicians, the withdrawal of the Bishops Conference from the Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights — all amount to Catholics telling other Catholics what’s what. This strategy has a down side; it runs a constant risk of turning into fratricide. Still, the basic framework is a mature one — much more so, at any rate, than inventing external enemies and lashing out at them.

The main man to thank here, of course, is the brand-new beatus, Pope John Paul II. His friendly overtures to Jews are too well known to require rehearsal at any length. The point isn’t so much that he made them, but that he, of all people, made them. When the pontiff who issued Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae says he wants to live in brotherly peace with the children of the Covenant, it doesn’t matter how tradition-minded you are — you jolly well listen.

Yeah, I know that’s hardly news. But if Weigel can make a career out of admiring Papa Wojtyla, why can’t I?

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