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Catholics, Jews, and Jewish Catholics

Jews and Catholics in the English-speaking world have so much in common that they ought to make common cause more often than they actually do. The friction between them that sometimes catches fire is, as often as not, based on mutual ignorance and mistrust. On the Jewish side, the mistrust is hardly surprising. For nearly two thousand years, the Church preached anti-Judaism in theory and practice. Only after the Holocaust did a small group of Catholic thinkers—most of them converts from Judaism—have any success in persuading the Church to rethink its anti-Jewish doctrine.   

Relevant Links
Neither Hitler's Pope nor a Righteous Gentile  Robert S. Wistrich, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. For Pius XII, a polished diplomat and a passionate Germanophile, the mass murder of Jews was low on the list of priorities. (Interview by Manfred Gerstenfeld)
Jewish-Christian Dialogue Today  Yehudah Mirsky, Jewish Ideas Daily. After the sea-change in Christian theological attitudes toward Judaism, has anti-Jewish bias moved on to another front—namely, Jewish collective existence and the state of Israel?
Jesus for Jews  Eve Levavi Feinstein, Jewish Ideas Daily. If Christianity hadn’t developed as it did, might there have been a place for Jesus in the Jewish tradition? And might there still be one?
Origins of Christian Anti-Judaism  Paula Fredriksen, Boston University. Christian antipathy began when internal Jewish debates became Jewish-Gentile polemics. (PDF)
Brothers Estranged  Adiel Schremer, Oxford University Press. For the rabbis, Rome, not Christianity, was the real “Other.” (PDF)
The Huguenot Connection  Allan Nadler, Jewish Ideas Daily. What do the life and thought of a 16th-century scholar have to do with the French village that saved thousands of Jews in the Holocaust?
The State of Christianity  Elliot Jager, Jewish Ideas Daily. Strangely enough, what’s “good for the Jews”—and the Jewish state—is to see Christianity thriving.

It was a process that culminated in 1965's Nostra Aetate ("In Our Age"), the declaration of the Second Vatican Council that definitively repudiated the ancient accusation against the Jews of deicide.  Further, the Council stated that God's covenant with the Jews remained valid, that they should not be presented as "rejected or accursed by God," and that the Church "decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed at the Jews at any time and by anyone." Breaking with the theology of supersession, Nostra Aetate reminded Catholics of their debt to the Jews, summed up in "the words of the Apostle [Paul] about his [Jewish] kinsmen: 'theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh.'" Thus the Church, which had always seen itself as the new Israel, at last gave the people of Israel its due place in the history of salvation: the duty of Catholics to "Abraham's sons" was not conversion but reconciliation.

This dramatic and disturbing story forms the subject of John Connelly's remarkable new book, From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965. Connelly, who teaches history at Berkeley, has  mastered a vast and obscure literature, much of it hitherto unpublished and most of it in German, in order to establish the contours of what he aptly characterizes as a "revolution" in mid-20th-century Catholic thought.

Connelly's book is largely peopled with "border-crossers": Catholics who had converted or were in the process of converting from Judaism or Protestantism—which meant that they inhabited an uncomfortable no-man's-land, accepted neither by the faith they had adopted nor by the community they had left. Some, such as the later French Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, continued to see themselves as Jews, even when the chief rabbi of Paris Meyer Jays objected that he had turned his back on Judaism. "I was not running away from the Jewish condition," Lustiger wrote. "I have that from my parents and can never lose it. I have it from God and He will never let me lose it." Certainly these Catholic border-crossers were seen as Jews by the Nazis.

Perhaps the most important of these Jewish-Catholic border-crossers was John (formerly Johannes) Oesterreicher: having emigrated to the United States, and as the last survivor of the pre-war, he became an advisor to the Vatican Council and helped draft Nostra Aetate. Connelly relies heavily on Oesterreicher's vast correspondence with the rest of this vanguard to unearth the tensions and quarrels, agonies and ecstasies of the struggle for reform. Reflecting on the death of his Jewish parents at the hands of the Nazis, Oesterreicher rediscovered forgotten teachings of the Church, to the effect that all who lived good lives, Jews as well as Christians, could attain salvation, and that the guilt for Jesus's death was shared by all, not just the Jews. While fleeing the Gestapo via Marseilles, he had encountered and been deeply impressed by the French thinker Simone Weil: unbaptized Jews like her were surely saved, he believed. But he quarreled with his friend Karl Thieme, a Protestant convert, who wanted him to represent the Jewish point of view within the Church: "No and a thousand times no! I do what I can to act against the false beliefs about the Jews among Catholics . . . But I see in this real Christian point of view—and not simply a Jewish one." Oesterreicher was still justifying his own baptism.

Yet when it came to the crisis of the Vatican Council, when reactionaries tried to convince Pope Paul VI to temper the declaration on the Jews, Oesterreicher stood firm. At his suggestion, the bishops adopted a text based on words from the prophet Zephaniah: "The Church awaits the day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and 'serve Him shoulder to shoulder.'"  Thus the mission to the Jews came to an end, almost 2,000 years after Paul had warned his newly converted Christians against exalting themselves above Jews: "Remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you."

Among other surprising discoveries, Connelly shows that several major Catholic opponents of anti-Semitism were women, at a time when religious controversy was still very much a male pursuit. Irene Harand founded Gerechtigkeit ("Justice"), a very successful anti-Nazi weekly based in Vienna, until it was suppressed by the Nazis after the Anschluss in 1938. Harand refused to print articles that offered baptism as the solution to anti-Semitism: a devout Catholic, she was ahead of her time in rejecting a program of conversion of the Jews. She escaped the Gestapo and died in New York.

One of the most remarkable of these women was Annie Kraus. A Viennese Jew who was not baptized until 1942, she argued in 1934 that Catholics were much closer to Judaism than Protestants. Catholicism was "resistant" to anti-Semitism because, unlike Protestantism, it refused to separate Old and New Testaments, Torah and Gospel. She claimed that Catholics immunized themselves from anti-Semitism by emphasizing good works, grace, and human freedom, in contrast to the Protestant stress on Original Sin (in German "inherited sin"), which morphed all too easily into racism. Kraus's view of the Church was idealistic, but it helped to inspire others to take the crucial step of rejecting not only anti-Semitism but also anti-Judaism. It was precisely those who had been through the painful process of conversion who led the way in persuading the Church to renounce the conversion of Jews: as Connelly puts it, "mission became ministry."

Connelly's is a tale full of such ironies. Not the least of them is the fact that even today Catholics are in denial about the extent to which leading figures in the Church absorbed the racial ideology that permeated European intellectual life between the wars, and which found expression in an embrace of eugenic pseudo-science and a theological justification of anti-Semitism. This was especially true in the German-speaking world, then still intellectually preeminent on the Continent. Connelly shows that it was not so much the German Church that rebuffed the Nazis as the other way round. Hitler was welcomed by Karl Adam, a theologian whose influence Pope Benedict XVI still acknowledges in his life of Jesus, and by many other Catholics who greeted the Third Reich as the fulfillment of the "salvation mission" of the Holy Roman Empire.

Connelly contrasts German Catholic prelates—marginalized by the Protestant majority for generations and in hock to fashionable racist and eugenicist ideology—with their American counterparts, who were confident enough to follow the logic of the Judeo-Christian belief that all human beings are created in God's image. Rabbi James Rudin reinforces this point in a short but illuminating study of three leading American Catholics: Cushing, Spellman, O'Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations. Rudin shows how the American cardinals influenced the Vatican Council to make sure that Nostra Aetate made a clean break with the anti-Judaism of the past. In a nation of immigrants such as the United States, Catholics and Jews were more likely to make common cause than in the Old World. Catholics, like others in mid-20th-century America, were not immune to anti-Semitism, but the Catholic hierarchy was determined to embrace an open, cosmopolitan society in which religious pluralism was taken for granted and discrimination was gradually outlawed. The Vatican initially treated "Americanism" as a dangerous heresy, but after the ordeal of Fascist, Nazi, or Communist rule, the American model, with its strict separation of church and state, grew more attractive to Catholics elsewhere. The influence of the American cardinals was mobilized for the Jewish cause after 1945 to considerable effect. Without their support, Rudin argues, neither Israel's election to the United Nations in 1949, nor Nostra Aetate in 1965, nor the breakthrough in diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel would have been possible. Thanks to pressure from John O'Connor, Pope John Paul II did not allow the then Austrian President Kurt Waldheim to accompany him on a high-profile visit to the site of Mauthausen concentration camp in 1987.

These interventions by Spellman, Cushing, and O'Connor took place at the level of international diplomacy, both secular and ecclesiastical. Princes of the Church, however, rarely operate at the level of deep thought where the evolution of doctrine takes place. It is this change in the theological climate that is Connelly's main subject. In From Enemy to Brother, however, he does not attempt to resolve the vexed question of Pope Pius XII's "silence" on the Holocaust.

This does not save Connelly from finding himself on the receiving end of an intemperate attack from another Catholic writer, Justus George Lawler. In Were the Popes Against the Jews? Lawler goes out of his way to denounce Connelly for having signed a petition to the present Pope, Benedict XVI, appealing against the canonization of Pius XII. He then rehashes a somewhat arid disputation, conducted in the pages of the Catholic journal Commonweal, over whether or not Connelly "doctored" a quotation from Pius XII's first encyclical in order to accuse the pope of racism. The most that can be said is that Connelly took a single ambiguous papal utterance out of context. But this is as nothing compared to Lawler's dubious attempt to link Israel and its Catholic defenders with the historical question of Pius XII and the Church's conduct in the Holocaust. Lawler not only exonerates Pius ("the greatest pope in . . . four hundred years") of culpable silence and the Church of theological supersessionism (indeed he rejects the very term), but endorses the "commonsense goals . . . of such an organization as J Street" and accuses Israel of "the political ruination of its neighbors' home."  Lawler comes close to accusing Israelis of treating Palestinians as badly as anti-Semites (including Christians) have treated Jews.      

Such incongruous comparisons are of course all too common in public discourse today, but that does not make them any less odious. Lawler claims that it is not only permissible but incumbent on Catholics to denounce Israel, and that such denunciations do not lessen the obligation to accept responsibility for the Christian role in the Holocaust. Yet his own polemics give the lie to this claim: his sole concern is to vindicate the Church and its leaders, as if papal infallibility applied not merely to arcane decisions about doctrine, but to political decisions too.

We can never know what might have happened if Pius XII had spoken out more forcefully and acted more vigorously on behalf of the Jewish people. What Connelly's book shows is that the small network of Catholics who were actively seeking to change attitudes toward and teaching on the Jews, several of whom were themselves baptized Jews, at the time believed that Pius XII could and should have done more. They were acutely aware of the risk of inviting Nazi persecution of Jewish Catholics, of the kind that did take place in the Netherlands after the Dutch bishops spoke out, in which the great philosopher and saint Edith Stein was dragged from her convent and sent to die in Auschwitz. The crude caricature of "Hitler's Pope" that had its origins in Soviet Cold War propaganda is as false as the uncritical dogmatism of those who want Pius XII canonized without a proper scrutiny of the evidence, still only partially open to scholars. Connelly's book, while it has no direct bearing on the papal controversy, hugely enriches its historical context. He shows that there were Catholics who held the Church to account while the Holocaust was taking place, demanded that it abandon the teaching of contempt, and eventually persuaded their coreligionists to adopt a new understanding of the Jewish role in history. Catholics and Jews alike should welcome such a scholarly reappraisal of the most painful chapter in the history of their relationship.

Daniel Johnson is the editor of Standpoint.

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Len Moskowitz on June 18, 2012 at 8:38 am (Reply)
This is a fascinating review.

He writes: "...the duty of Catholics to "Abraham's sons" was not conversion but reconciliation."

While it's important to acknowledge how the Roman Catholic Church has changed its attitude toward the Jews, it's also important to note what has not changed.

The Church has not moved, and probably will never move to accepting a "dual covenant" theory, where Jews are accepted as saved by our covenants with God. For the Church, salvation comes only through the Church.

The proof of this is found in their Catechism, which is used to educate the laity about what the Church believes. Regarding salvation, the Catechism has not changed: salvation comes only through the Church.

In other words, for Jews to be saved the Church still believes that we have to eventually convert. In the meantime, those Jews who die unconverted are not saved, except perhaps - and this is significant - by God's extraordinary mercy and grace.

And while the Church no longer has a separate Mission to the Jews, it has re-instituted its Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews: "Let us also pray for the Jews: that our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men."
    P. Sydney Herbert on August 8, 2012 at 5:52 pm (Reply)
    I don't know...a Catholic priest, named Fr Feeney, was excomunicated in Boston, MAss for preaching and teaching that there is no salvation outside the Church. I learned of this in 1955 when I heard him raving on Boston Common and planning to lead a demonstration at Brandeis University to "protect" the Blessed Sacrament from desecration (because there were 3 chapels at the university).
Hersh Adlerstein on June 18, 2012 at 8:48 am (Reply)
Excellent article, but ignores the other side of American Roman Catholic antisemitism, the Father Coughlin pro-Hitlerism so pervasive in the pre-Holocaust era. I would recommend reading CONSTANTINE's SWORD. James Carroll's magnificent history of the RC's centuries of hatred. Perhaps the Vatican has the right to choose a hate-filled Pius X for sainthood, but even if Pius XII was not as horrible, choosing Pius X is a revival of Judenhass by the current pope.
Orlando Hernandez-Soto on June 18, 2012 at 3:40 pm (Reply)
An excellent article this is. Let's not forget the history of the Marranos/Crypto Jews, I being one, and the intolerance towards us by the Catholic Church, even to this day in English-speaking countries.
    Joel on June 28, 2012 at 5:58 pm (Reply)
    What (or perhaps-who) are Marranos/Crypto Jews?

    I am Jewish, and went to a Catholic college, and never heard the term.

    Thank you.
P. Sydney Herbert on June 18, 2012 at 4:45 pm (Reply)
Please elaborate on intolerance toward Crypto Jews even to this day.
DF on June 18, 2012 at 4:50 pm (Reply)
The article is most interesting, but the comments, at least the first one, are even more interesting. According to the writer, salvation still comes only through the Church, and unconverted Jews will not be "saved". Presumably the writer believes this to be a sign that the Church has not changed and is still anti-semitic. If so, I wonder what the writer feels about what Judaism has to say about Christianity. Whether in the Bible or in the Talmud, I dont think I need point out that it hardly extends to them a cheery hello.

Takeaway point: It is unfair and unrealistic to expect a relgion to recant its chauvinistic beliefs. Christianity has the right to believe all non-believers go to hell, just as Judaism has the right to believe its adherents are chosen by God for a special relationship. The test of a good relationship is in living and let living, not in what gets taught in the seminary or beis midrash.
Len Moskowitz on June 18, 2012 at 5:29 pm (Reply)
DF wrote:

> Presumably the writer believes this to be a sign that the Church has not changed and is still anti-semitic.

No, that's not the case.

Just as Judaism has its limits to what can change and what can't in how the two religions relate to each other, so does the RC Church. Salvation being only through the Church is one of those things that can't change.

It doesn't have to be perceived as being anti-Jewish, as long as the day-to-day relationship is a respectful and cooperative one.

My original point was that we tend to read "the Council stated that God's covenant with the Jews remained valid" as meaning that the Church accepts that Jews can be saved without the Church. That's a mistake - they don't. Even so, that doesn't mean we can't get along and cooperate day-to-day.
Orlando Hernandez-Soto on June 18, 2012 at 9:27 pm (Reply)
P. Sydney Herbert wrote:

"Please elaborate on intolerance toward Crypto Jews even to this day".

It seems to me Sir, you have already made your own judgment. I have been discriminated and victim of intolerance by the Catholic Church more than once, here in San Diego CA, in the past 10 years. But you can do your own investigation and check with your local ADL organization to inquire further on multiple cases. In addition, you can also do research on the Society of St. Pius X and Legionarios de Cristo and check their former and current members and their actions. Hence, I find the thesis of the article to be true on my own experience as well as others like me!
Yanni on June 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm (Reply)
Could it be all those engravings in European cathedrals of Jews eating pig excrement? There's a famous one in Wittenberg where antisemite Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door.
Fr Luke Joseph on June 18, 2012 at 10:01 pm (Reply)
The Catholic Church still regards herself as bound to preach Christ to the world (Catechism of the Catholic Church n 849). Respect for Jews and Judaism, and a positive outlook in dealings with them does not mean that the Church ceases to desire that all Jews (who are part of "all God's people" and part of "all people") believe in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. One can stress points of difference between various faiths, and one can stress points of similarity. These days the Catholic Church, and many other people and institutions, focuses on what unites and not on what divides. Just as the Catholic Church encourages respect for members of Protestant confessions, and focusses on what is good in Protestantism, without ceasing to preach the fullness of Catholic belief, so with Jews and Judaism. Jews who want to become Catholics are baptized, not told to stay as Jews.
tulsalou on June 18, 2012 at 10:38 pm (Reply)
It is ironic that this article is published at the same time that the New York Times's Bill Keller discusses the hysterical rants of Catholic spokesman Bill Donohue. There is no way in which most Jews can find common cause with the Donohue version of the Catholic Church. On the other hand Jews should support the efforts of those progressive Catholics who are fighting to bring the Church into the 21st Century.
Robin Rosenblatt on June 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm (Reply)
Jews must stop apologizing and justifying themselves to the world to be Jews! We have the right to be Jews and have our own country. So stand up for yourselves. I do, it is easy and yes a little scary.
Nikleatram on June 30, 2012 at 5:52 pm (Reply)
I have no desire to be "saved" so I am not concerned about any churches attitude toward that. The problem I have with Christianity is their concentration on proselytizing. There are so many other religions in the world besides Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jewish, everyone needs to practice respecting other groups and allowing them to have their own choices. Trying to force, attract or encourage people to join one way of thinking religiously is disrespectful and futile, as is banning any kind of religion. There is no need to figure out what is correct or wrong about any religion as long as there is respect and non-interference between all groups.
As a part of the freedoms that people deserve, the right to have religious choices should be included!
Paul Marks on August 8, 2012 at 6:28 am (Reply)
Thousands of Jews were hidden on Church property in Italy.

Had Pope Pius spoken out against the National Socialists in more open terms, it would have been better for his reputation - and the Nazis would have been very unlikely the harm him personally.

However, the thousands of Jews on Church property in Italy (and in the Vatican itself) would have been taken away - and murdered.

One has a moral duty to speak out even at the risk of one's own life. But at the risk of the lives of others?
Justus George Lawler on September 14, 2012 at 11:14 pm (Reply)
I am the writer referred to above whose "sole concern is to vindicate the Church and its leaders, as if papal infallibility applied not merely to arcane decisions about doctrine, but to political decisions too."
I am also the author of the book "Were the Popes AGainst the Jews?" on which the accusations above were allegedly founded.
I invite the reader to consult the website for a complete refutation of these accusations. The link "Justus Denied in Massachusetts" will bring said reader to a completely different understanding of what I wrote.
There is also,via that link, high praise for Jewish Ideas Daily---of which I am a faithful reader. JUSTUS GEORGE LAWLER

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