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?

  • Holly in Nebraska

    “howling…like wounded beasts”
    “internal police work”

    Looks like you still have some paranoia issues.

    And your examples of “Catholics telling other Catholic’s what’s what” left out a whole bunch of other examples. Catholics telling Catholics to accept abortion, gay marriage, women priests, you know, things that the Church has always been against and always will.

    If “restoring Catholic identity” means finally putting these ideas to rest, I’m all for it. You can only engage in useless, meaningless, dead-end arguments for so long.

    You can join the Flat Earth Society, engage in their debates and write for their blog. The earth is never going to be flat.

  • Kenneth

    The whole Jewish-Catholic thing could get sorted out in one night if we got some leading rabbis and Mel Gibson together over a few bottles of a decent 18-year old single-malt!

  • Kenneth

    The whole Jewish-Catholic thing could get sorted out in one night if we got some leading rabbis and Mel Gibson together over a few bottles of a decent 18-year old single-malt!

  • Mary

    I admire Papa Wojtyla too, Max and am encouraged by the inter-faith respect and dialogue…Holly sounds a little “cranky”…I didn’t hear any “paranoia issues” in what you wrote…

  • Anonymous

    Holly’s a gadfly — a long way from being a troll. She’s always welcome.

  • Manny

    What a good blog. As someone married to a jewish girl, I have been sensitive for any anti-semitism in the Church too. I have not found any. If it started with JPII, then add that to his incredible long list of accomplishments.

  • Meaghan

    Probably not. Max just has a flair for being melodramatic. That’s his style.

  • Ryan Haber

    Nice post.

    My father’s family is Jewish of Eastern extraction. He was baptized (as an Evangelical Christian) when I was a child. I have a certain sensitivity to antisemitism as well, I believe. Never in my life have a picked up a whiff of it from anyone practicing the Catholic faith. In fact, quite the opposite. These days, I think as an effect of the ressourcement agenda of the Second Vatican Council, Catholics are more likely to be intrigued by “our Jewish roots”. There’s a library full of material there off of the popular Catholic press on just that topic. Hatred of Jews, intuitively enough, is a sign of damaged or absent faith in the Jew in whose name alone men can be saved. It has always been incompatible with Christianity and I think the disappearance of antisemitism among the faithful is a sign that we are shaking off the cultural encrustations that have been griming up Christianity for God knows how many decades or centuries.

    Growing up Catholic my whole life it never occurred to me that hatred could be compatible with my faith, even if both existed in my heart at once. Being reared in a home that prized reason, conspiracy theories have never had much appeal either.

    Except, of course, for the conspiracy theories that are true. Lolol.

  • Diane_kamer

    Not sure that would be a good thing for Mel Gibson. He has, er, an alcohol problem, and drinking seems to bring out the beast in him.

  • davek

    I love reading blogs. You can learn so much about what is going on in live, and about so many items. Thank you for sharing.