13 February 2013

Does the new Pope matter?

Will he be good for the Jews?

By David Guy (@5MFI)

It seems a bit odd for a Jew or an Israeli to concern himself with the election of the new pope, doesn’t it? However, Christians, Catholics and their place in both the wider Middle East and North Africa and Israel/ Palestine will be a major issue for the new pontificate. The Catholic Church is an important landowner and employer in Israel/Palestine and purely domestic relations will pay a part. In addition, Africa and South America, the regions where Catholicism is growing fastest, also have growing and problematic Muslim populations.

However irrational it may seem, if he chooses that direction, the new Pope will not be the first world leader who felt throwing Israel under the bus would help elsewhere. Nor would he be the  first Christian leader, whether from fear, ignorance or power politics, to throw Christians under the bus (see Cognitiva dissonantiam pro Christianis) in this region.

As much as what the Pope does what he says is taken as very credible by millions of the faithful and even outside the faith. Quite a few take it as the word of God, even on issues where he doesn’t claim divine guidance. He matters.

The last one, Benedict XIX

When you are told some goy is the best friend the Jews have ever had, doesn’t a chill run up your spine?  Normally, we leave this claim to American presidents seeking election.

Where does Benedict fit on the scale of Jew/Israel friendliness? By popular acclaim we can place a 10 for Pope John XXIII (1881 – 1963)  for his help to Jews during the Holocaust;  eliminating the description of the Jews as “perfidious” in the Good Friday liturgy and his confession for the Church of the sin of antisemitism through the centuries. The bottom or 0 position is harder because there are so many candidates. Sticking to the more recent popes Five Minutes for Israel proposes Pope Pius IX (1792 – 1878) for his role in the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara.

It seems Benedict was not the best but further away from the worst. On the plus side of the ledger is, together with John Paul II working to end the accusation of the Jews’ murdering the messiah; the entire theological theory that the Christians replaced the Jews and are now the Chosen People and that the New Testament annuls the Old Testament. The Old Testament is still valid, declared the two, and the Jewish people is still God’s chosen and beloved people.” It is not clear how much that caught, even in the Vatican.

Rating Benedict on the minus side is expansion of the use of the Tridentine Mass‡ and the lifting of the excommunication on four bishops from the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX)*. For Israelis his support for the world’s most important source of Jew Hatred, the Palestine cause, gives great cause for concern. His relations with Islam have been strained at times but his abject apology for the ‘misunderstanding’ is also not something to raise confidence††.

Shall we say not the best but not the worst?

The contenders

It seems picking likely, suitable contenders is a game rivaling Fantasy Football. Clearly, I don’t have the expertise or the time to check every potential cardinal for his attitude to Jews and Israel but two frequently mentioned stand out: Cardinals Scola and Turkson

In October 2012 Turkson created some controversy when he showed a YouTube video called “Muslim Demographics”, which critics labelled as alarmist at an international conference for bishops‡‡. As an African he would be very aware of the violent conflict with Islam (think Mali, Nigeria and Kenya) and as a European resident at least since 2009 has seen the destabilising effects of Muslim emigration – and that Israel and the Jews have little or nothing to do with it.

Scola on the other hand is head of a foundation to promote Muslim-Christian understanding. He has known Joseph Ratzinger (later to become Pope Benedict XVI) from at least since the 1970s when he was was the Italian editor of the journal Communio that Ratzinger co-founded. It is quite likely that Benedict’s Palestinian policies that Israel finds so dubious were at least discussed if not recommended by Scola.

No one can say for certain that either man if elected will continue as they did as Cardinals but it can’t be discounted.

The next pope may be neither of these gentlemen. The next pope could be someone with neither knowledge of experience of the Middle East. This raises another issue of who advises the pope. Unfortunately for whatever reason the loud Catholic voices take an active anti Israel line . Persecution of Christians in Gaza and the West Bank? Nothing to see move right along. Whether this is to protect the Christians from what is likely to be an extremely violent Muslim revenge or promoting Arab nationalism to give Christians equality that Islam will never give them is unsure.

Interesting times.

Benedict XVI

Benedict XVI (Germany, 85) 
Palestine – Yes. Islam – oops?

Peter Turkson

Peter Turkson (Ghana, 64)
Islamic critic?

Angelo Scola

Angelo Scola (Italy, 71)
Muslim/Christian understanding?

The pundits say

† Papabile: Italian for suitable to be elected Pope
‡ Tridentine Mass: the Good Friday liturgy according to the Tridentine missal, contains a prayer “For the conversion of the Jews”. The prayer then refers to Jewish “blindness” and prays for them to be “delivered from their darkness.” After protest, the Catholic Church acted by deleting a reference to their “blindness”.
* In particular, Bishop Richard Williamson, an outspoken Holocaust denier.
†† For example, The Vatican’s support for the Palestinians’ successful bid to upgrade their status at the United Nations to the same as the Holy See. The Arutz Sheva article gives a quite comprehensive list of causes for concern.
‡‡ Probably this one. Muslim Demographics

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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