Thursday, February 19. 2009
THE VATICAN AND ISRAEL
Diplomatic Relations, Recognition & Reparations
By Bernard J. Shapiro
Freeman Center For Strategic Studies
As most Jews are preparing to celebrate Israel's 44th year of independence, the Vatican is embroiled in a weighty discussion of whether to recognize the Jewish State. Most of us who have followed this issue over many years placed most of the blame for lack of relations on the Vatican's fear of offending the Arabs who have substantial Christian minorities in their countries.
During Israel's early years, the official Vatican excuse for not establishing relations was Israel's refusal to internationalize Jerusalem. That was a part of the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan the was rejected by the Arab states. The Jordanians who controlled the Christian Holy Places in Jerusalem during that time period also rejected internationalization. In modern times, the Vatican has recognized the impossibility of turning the clock back on Jerusalem, and now insists on a resolution of the Palestinian conflict before establishing relations.
Dr. Michael Kaniel, writing in the Jerusalem Post (April 25, 1992), analyzes the religious origins of the Vatican's anti-Israel policies. He shows how the real reason the Vatican has withheld formal recognition is because the Jewish State represents a vexing contradiction to Catholic theology. When Theodor Herzl met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Merry del Val to request support of the Zionist movement on January 22, 1904, the cardinal said: "as long as the Jews deny the divinity of Christ...how can we agree to their regaining possession of the Holy Land?...They should first have to accept conversion." Three days later Pope Pius X told Herzl: "the Jews have not recognized our Lord; therefore we can not recognize the Jewish people."
The persistence of the Jewish people goes against the Christian teaching that the Church is now the true Israel. Kaniel writes: "However, the foundations for modern antisemitism and the Church's antagonism to Jewish return to their ancestral homeland lies in the implacable contempt for Judaism and the Jewish people felt by all the Fathers of the Church, especially Justin, Augustine and Chrysostom. The Church Fathers taught that Jewish misfortune is Divine punishment for the rejection of Jesus, and that consequently Jews must be kept in degradation as living witnesses to the truth of Christianity - Justin Martry adding that the Land of Israel should be rendered a desert and Jews be forbidden to go to Jerusalem."
Because the Church held such anti-Semitic positions, a wide range of priests, monks, bishops, cardinals, and popes felt justified in almost any act that would injure the Jewish community of their region. Jews were forced to listen to conversion sermons. Blood libels were invented that claimed that Jews killed Christian children and used their blood to make matzo. Needless to day Jews were massacred every Passover to save the children. The masses were frequently encouraged to murder, rape and pillage the Jewish population. All in the name Christianity. The Church blamed the Jews for the Black Death in 1347-9 by claiming that they had poisoned the wells. This resulted in the massacres of Jews in 200 communities in Europe. The Church forcibly converted many Jews and then had the Inquisitor hunt down, torture and burn to death those found to be still practicing Judaism. Jewish populations were expelled in dozens of countries at the whim of the Church (200,000 from Spain alone in 1492). All this was just the precursor to the Holocaust. Hitler told German Bishop Berning and Monsignor Steinman that he was merely going to do to the Jews "what the Church had done for 1500 years
Israel and the Vatican are about to begin a dialogue that would mark the first concrete step forward on the long road to diplomatic relations. Israel radio last week said the Vatican was dispatching a delegation to Jerusalem in May to discuss ties. Both the Israel Foreign Ministry and the Holy See denied the story. Despite the denials, informed sources are pointing to numerous signals and the convergence of some important historical forces that will lead inevitably to such negotiations.
Some signs of the thaw in relations were seen recently when Avi Pazner, Israel's ambassador to Italy was warmly received by Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Vatican's Congregation of Doctrine, came to Israel on what was described as a private Easter visit. Not only was he the most senior Vatican official to visit Israel since 1964, but he also initiated private discussions with Israeli officials concerning tax exemption for Vatican property in Jerusalem.
Historically, the Vatican is way out of step. The cold war is over and all the states of the former Soviet bloc including Eastern Europe have already established diplomatic relations with Israel. Both China and India and most of Black Africa have recently established (or in the case of Africa, reestablished) diplomatic relations with the Jewish State. With Arabs and Israelis actually engaged in peace negotiations, the rationalizations and excuses used by Vatican spokespersons in years past seem absurd today.
I would like the Israelis to take pause and not rush too eagerly into relations now that the long awaited talks with the Vatican are approaching. The Vatican needs relations with Israel badly now so that it can have a say concerning the Holy Places in Jerusalem. A topic likely to come up during Arab-Israeli peace talks.
The Jewish people have a long account to settle with the Church and we are within our rights to make a few demands before we grant them diplomatic recognition. The Vatican owes a debt of immense proportions to the Jewish people for its systematic plunder of its property during the last 1700 years. One of the reasons Jews were frequently expelled from European countries, was to allow confiscation of their property and wealth. The Church was not only the instigator of most expulsions but the prime beneficiary. All over Europe there are hundreds of former synagogues which have been stolen by the Church and converted to Christian religious buildings.
The Vatican library and hundreds of churches and monasteries throughout Europe are in possession of thousands of rare Hebrew manuscripts and books stolen from their rightful owners. Jewish ritual art and ceremonial objects of great value are in the hands of the Catholic church. At the very least, Israel must demand the return its manuscripts and Judaic objects. The ancient Jewish burying ground in the catacombs of Rome are still under Vatican control. This must stop.
Dagobert D. Runes in his book DESPOTISM A Pictorial History of Tyranny makes the observation that the Jewish population in ancient times was of such size ( e.g., in the year 70 C.E. Rome was 10% Jewish and Alexandria, Egypt had one million Jews) that through natural population growth could have reached 900 million by modern times. The one thing that interfered with that natural growth was the murder of Jews with the Church as the leading instigator.
I suggest that if it was legitimate to demand of Germany reparations after World War II, it is just a legitimate to demand reparations from the Vatican. Israel should offer the Vatican absolution for a penance of say: $100 billion plus the return of all Jewish property in their possession.
They may not accept such a proposal. They may be offended. But one thing is certain, they will know that we will not be victims anymore. They will know we have long memories. Someday they will have to deal with us.
Bernard J. Shapiro is Chairman of the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies www.freeman.org and Editor of its publications.
[This article was published in the Jewish Herald-Voice on May 14, 1992.]
Catholics and Jews must stand together in the face of Islamism
by WILL HEAVEN
The Jerusalem Post - February 18, 2009
Pope Benedict XVI, center, receives gift from Rabbi Arthur Schneier, senior Rabbi at Park East Synagogue in New York, left, and CoP's Malcolm Hoenlein, on the occasion of an audience with about 60 American Jewish leaders at the Vatican last Thursday.For the first time since the death of Pope John Paul II, Catholic-Jewish relations have become strained. Pope Benedict XVI, in an effort to heal a 20-year-old schism in the Catholic Church, has allowed a high-profile Holocaust denier back into his fold. But must the views of one lunatic bishop put an end to interreligious dialogue? Surely not. Now, more than any other time in our troubled history, Catholics and Jews must stand together against the threat of Islamism.
The Holocaust-denying Bishop Williamson is, by all accounts, a deeply unpleasant and ignorant man. Despite being educated at Cambridge University, he rejects the existence of the gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps. In doing so, he denies the Holocaust as a historical event, claiming that "only" 300,000 Jews perished.
To Roman Catholics, these views are intolerable. The pope has expressed his disapproval in the strongest terms, saying to an American Jewish delegation, "The hatred that was manifested during the Holocaust was a crime against God and humanity. This terrible chapter of our history can never be forgotten." He added, "All of humanity should continue to lament the savage brutality that was shown towards the Jewish people."
His words were of the utmost importance, and Rabbi David Rosen praised the pope's condemnation of Holocaust denial as "absolutely unequivocal." But the Vatican's slow response to the outcry must not escape criticism.
THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA, fresh from attacking Israel's war on Hamas, decided to "restore the balance" by stirring up feelings of anti-Catholicism. But the pathetic advisers to the pope, who were "unaware" of Williamson's renowned anti-Semitism (despite the fact that it was on the front page of The Catholic Herald last year), made it far too easy. After coming dangerously close to rolling back 20 years of progress in Catholic-Jewish relations, they should be sacked.
When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, he was mourned not only by Roman Catholics, but by Jews all over the world. During his 26-year pontificate, the Polish-born Karol Wojtyla had transformed the way the Catholic Church interacted with the Jewish people.
He was the first pope since the days of the early church to enter a synagogue, and was key to the Vatican's establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1994. He publicly acknowledged the failure of many Catholics to act against the Nazis, and apologized on their behalf. In 2000 - during his visit to Israel at age 79 - he personally paid his respects to the victims of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem, even meeting with survivors.
But when dealing with the internal matters of his church, Papa Wojtyla was not so successful. In the late 1980s, he failed to stop a traditionalist movement breaking away from Rome. And despite pleading with the founder of the Society of St. Pius X, four bishops were ordained in defiance of church law, causing them to be immediately excommunicated.
The current pope - then Cardinal Ratzinger - was sent to restore order. In spite of numerous difficulties, he began the long process of reconciliation and attempted to bring the rebel bishops and their followers back to Rome. During his tenure as pope, and particularly since his restoration of traditional Catholic liturgy, this process has moved steadily toward its culmination.
The lifting of the excommunications was an internal matter that resulted, to the pope's obvious distress, in catastrophic external consequences. Although none of the men is allowed to teach in the church, the healing of one rift has very nearly led to the opening of another. The pope and his incompetent advisers have come close to causing a meltdown in Catholic-Jewish relations. This outcome would be disastrous for both sides.
IN 2009, good relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people are more important than ever. The biggest threat to stability in Israel emanates from Iran in the most virulent form of Islamism. Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, and Hizbullah in Lebanon are all under the influence of an Iranian regime that does not recognize Israel's right to exist. And now this regime is moving ever closer to nuclear capability. For Jews, the threat has become existential.
To the secular, political West, religious fundamentalism is an alien phenomenon. When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran stated in 2005 that Israel should cease to exist, then-British prime minister Tony Blair's disbelief was telling: "I have never come across a situation of the president of a country saying they want to wipe out another country." Blair was not even close to understanding the motives of an Islamist dictator. Likewise, the EU offered a statement that condemned Iran for not being "a mature and responsible member of the international community."
The Catholic Church understands all too well that Ahmadinejad's morbid ambition has nothing to do with political maturity. Before the Islamic revolution in 1979, there were some quarter-million Catholics living in Iran. Now there are fewer than 15,000. The intolerance of a bigoted regime has driven Catholics out of Iran in vast numbers. It is that same intolerance that would attempt to rid the Middle East of the Jewish people.
Although attempts have been put forward by the Iranian regime, Benedict has wisely refused to meet Ahmadinejad. He has spoken of Iran's desire to be nuclear-armed as "a matter of great concern" and has urgently called on the Islamist regime to achieve a "peaceful coexistence" with other countries in the Middle East.
More importantly, however, Benedict - in spite of recent events - remains one of the most pro-Israel leaders in the political world. Like his mentor, the previous pope, who called the Jewish people "our elder brothers," Benedict XVI has consistently attempted to express his "full and unquestionable solidarity" with Israel and the Jewish people, as he did when he visited Auschwitz three years ago. When he visits Israel in May, his reception will probably be very different from his predecessor's. But his prayers at the Western Wall will be just as earnest, and the gesture as profound. It is this yearning for cooperation in the face of new and horrible threats to Israel that must remain a priority.
The writer is a contributing editor of the British weekly The Catholic Herald.
This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com /servlet/Satellite?cid=1233304819996&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull
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