Breaking News Stories
These are news stories breaking after the publishing of this Word
– Twenty-First Century Crusades?
An increase in anti-Semitism.
A Cold Wind from
By Claus Christian Malzahn in Berlin
The argument between the Vatican and Israel is a nasty step back to the
days of animosity between Judaism and Christianity. All the trust
between the religions which John Paul II spent two decades building up,
is now being shattered by his successor.
|The differences between
the current head of the Catholic Church and his predecessor
[who established a relationship with the
are only now beginning to emerge.
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope, a little over 100 days
ago, the generally accepted idea was that his reign would amount to
nothing more than an extension of John Paul II's period in office. As
someone who fundamentally shared the previous pope's conservative
theological belief system, it was widely assumed that Ratzinger, with
his Catholic consistency, would continue to ensure that the Church of
Rome stuck to its path. The general feeling was that this German
intellectual from a small Bavarian village would provide a directionless
society with meaning, that he would uphold spiritual values in an age of
But enthusiasm for the German pontiff is dwindling rapidly. Benedict XVI
is not a conservative pope. He is a reactionary who is leading his
church into a spiritual fortress, rather than sending it confidently out
into the field. The criticisms expressed by Jews and Israelis have not
been taken on board by the Vatican. The fact that Benedict XVI refuses
to say that terrorism against Israel is actually terrorism, proves that
he is following in the spiritual tradition of Pius XII more than that of
John Paul II. Pius was also a pope who acted according to the rule book
and viewed dogma as more important than true life and political reality.
The differences between the current head of the Catholic Church and his
predecessor are only now beginning to emerge. John Paul II was strict
when dealing with internal matters, but was always ready to compromise
when it came to dealing with people outside of the Church. In fact,
despite his insistence on theological dogma John Paul II had in many
ways very liberal attitudes. His contribution to Poland's fight for
freedom, indeed that of all countries annexed by the Soviet empire,
should never be underestimated. No pope before him has ever done so much
for dialogue and conciliation between the world's major religions. And
this he achieved without ever opting for a spiritual relativism which
would compromise the Church's true principles. Principles which included
taking a critical view of Catholicism's past.
John Paul II owned up to the Church's crimes, even if some of his
statements didn't go far enough. He was the first pope to enter a
synagogue, an event which had taken 2000 years to happen. John Paul II
felt that mutual understanding and compromise formed part of his
Christian duty. When anti-Semitic murmurings in his home Church in
Poland started becoming audible, he intervened more than once by meting
out harsh punishments to the priests involved. Not surprising, in view
of the fact that -- growing in southern pre-war Poland, side-by-side
with Jewish neighbors -- John Paul had experienced the Holocaust at
first hand. The village where he grew up is not far from Auschwitz. As a
Pole he saw the murderous effects of the 20th century, and he made it
his personal aim to exorcise the ghosts which totalitarianism has left
Ratzinger isn't interested in dialogue
When Benedict XVI was elected, the British tabloids quickly worked
themselves into a lather, caustically recalling Ratzinger's past, when
he worked in Nazi Germany's anti-aircraft defense industry. German
papers spiritedly joined the war of words and fired back. But the war
over Ratzinger's youth now seems banal. Today, the differences between
his past and that of his Polish predecessor have become important.
This is mainly because Benedict XVI has barely needed 100 days to
trample over the infant seedling of trust between Jews and Christians
that John Paul II planted. The relationship between Israel and the
Vatican was never characterized by heartfelt friendship. On the
contrary. It was thanks to John Paul II that the Vatican recognized
Israel for the first time. So it is impossible to imagine the current
pope's predecessor ever having allowed such a devastating, anti-Israel
statement to go through. John Paul II did, to be sure, criticize Israeli
military operations on occasion. But he understood the context and he
knew the proper tone to use.
Ratzinger's politics, on the other hand, are over the top. And he's not
just risking a return to a kind of cold war with Israel and the Jews.
Even his dealings with Germany's Protestant Church so far have been an
affront. Indeed, at first Protestants weren't even invited to World
Youth Day -- scheduled to take place in Cologne in August. It was only
after the Protestants publicly expressed their astonishment that the
Vatican managed to sheepishly issue the invitation.
Such bull-in-a-china-shop tactics cannot be considered dialogue. But
then, Ratzinger doesn't want dialogue. The German pope wants to be
right. His predecessor, on the other hand, battled for faith, and was
successful. What a difference.