Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ill prepared, unscripted: quo vadis, papa?

The Catholic Church is one of the largest and best established multinational religious organizations with followers across the world who revere their leader, the bishop of Rome, as the vicar of Christ on earth. This explains why even non-Catholics look up to this man. What he says matters. What he fails to say or to perceive or to prepare for also matters.

Previous blunders of this Pope have already been widely noted. The recent rehabilitation of certain renegade priests consciously or inadvertently overlooked that a significant element of the opposition to Vatican II, the reform council that did away with the millennial curse on the Jews as Christ-killers, was rooted in anti-Semitism. The recent papal visit to Yad Vashem is not likely to make up for this oversight, especially since the Pope eschewed any language that would have hinted at what really matters about the destruction of European Jewry, what sets it apart from other mass atrocities committed in recent memory. What matters is the intentionality and method of the mass annihilation, not its scale or the human tragedies it brought about. By focusing on human tragedy, the Pope sentimentalized rather than directly addressed the complexity of the Holocaust. He catered to what he presumed to be the common humanity between the former German Hitlerjunge and the survivors and descendents of genocide. There is a common humanity here, which is worth emphasizing. But it is not what the Pope as Pope should have focused on.

What followed was an interfaith meeting, disrupted by a known hatemonger. Again, the Pope or his handlers were ill prepared. They did not anticipate the disruption, no interpreter was on hand to explain what this was about. Congratulations to those who thought you could expose the Pope to the actual views of unscripted individuals. Welcome to the unmitigated hatred of the Jews that is so palatable when you travel to Jerusalem.

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