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Twenty-First Century Crusades?

                                                Story 15
                      Prediction 3:
An increase in anti-Semitism.

A Cold Wind from Rome
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 Jews] 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 rampant materialism.

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.

Differences emerging

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 behind.

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.

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