MAY 2005

The Pope did great damage to the church, and to countless Catholics

Terry EagletonŠ
Monday April 4, 2005
The Guardian

John Paul II became Pope in 1978, just as the emancipatory 60s were declining into the long political night of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. As the economic downturn of the early 70s began to bite, the western world made a decisive shift to the right, and the transformation of an obscure Polish bishop from Karol Wojtyla to John Paul II was part of this wider transition. The Catholic church had lived through its own brand of flower power in the 60s, known as the Second Vatican Council; and the time was now ripe to rein in leftist monks, clap-happy nuns and Latin American Catholic Marxists. All of this had been set in train by a pope - John XXIII - whom the Catholic conservatives regarded as at best wacky and at worst a Soviet agent.

What was needed for this task was someone well-trained in the techniques of the cold war. As a prelate from Poland, Wojtyla hailed from what was probably the most reactionary national outpost of the Catholic church, full of maudlin Mary-worship, nationalist fervour and ferocious anti-communism. Years of dealing with the Polish communists had turned him and his fellow Polish bishops into consummate political operators. In fact, it turned the Polish church into a set-up that was, at times, not easy to distinguish from the Stalinist bureaucracy. Both institutions were closed, dogmatic, censorious and hierarchical, awash with myth and personality cults. It was just that, like many alter egos, they also happened to be deadly enemies, locked in lethal combat over the soul of the Polish people.

Aware of how little they had won from dialogue with the Polish regime, the bishops were ill-inclined to bend a Rowan-Williams-like ear to both sides of the theological conflict that was raging within the universal church. On a visit to the Vatican before he became Pope, the authoritarian Wojtyla was horrified at the sight of bickering theologians. This was not the way they did things in Warsaw. The conservative wing of the Vatican, which had detested the Vatican Council from the outset and done its utmost to derail it, thus looked to the Poles for salvation. When the throne of Peter fell empty, the conservatives managed to swallow their aversion to a non-Italian pontiff and elected one for the first time since 1522.

Once ensconced in power, John Paul II set about rolling back the liberal achievements of Vatican 2. Prominent liberal theologians were summoned to his throne for a dressing down. One of his prime aims was to restore to papal hands the power that had been decentralised to the local churches. In the early church, laymen and women elected their own bishops. Vatican 2 didn't go as far as that, but it insisted on the doctrine of collegiality - that the Pope was not to be seen as capo di tutti capi, but as first among equals.

John Paul, however, acknowledged equality with nobody. From his early years as a priest, he was notable for his exorbitant belief in his own spiritual and intellectual powers. Graham Greene once dreamed of a newspaper headline reading "John Paul canonises Jesus Christ". Bishops were summoned to Rome to be given their orders, not for fraternal consultation. Loopy far-right mystics and Francoists were honoured, and Latin American political liberationists bawled out. The Pope's authority was so unassailable that the head of a Spanish seminary managed to convince his students that he had the Pope's personal permission to masturbate them.

The result of centring all power in Rome was an infantilisation of the local churches. Clergy found themselves incapable of taking initiatives without nervous glances over their shoulders at the Holy Office. It was at just this point, when the local churches were least capable of handling a crisis maturely, that the child sex abuse scandal broke. John Paul's response was to reward an American cardinal who had assiduously covered up the outrage with a plush posting in Rome.

The greatest crime of his papacy, however, was neither his part in this cover up nor his neanderthal attitude to women. It was the grotesque irony by which the Vatican condemned - as a "culture of death" - condoms, which might have saved countless Catholics in the developing world from an agonising Aids death. The Pope goes to his eternal reward with those deaths on his hands. He was one of the greatest disasters for the Christian church since Charles Darwin.

ˇ Terry Eagleton is professor of cultural theory at Manchester University

Cardinal Bernard F. Law presided over a Mass in mourning for Pope John Paul II on Monday.

Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in 2002 after a judge unsealed court records showing that he and his subordinates had shuffled abusive priests from parish to parish without telling civil authorities or parishioners.

Italian police broke up a peaceful demonstration by two American victims of sex abuse who were protesting the Vatican's choice of Law for the honor. Barbara Blaine of Chicago, president of the 5,000-member Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she flew to Rome because of an "outpouring of outrage in the United States" after the announcement last week that Law would be the only American cardinal to lead one of nine special Masses for the late pope at St. Peter's Basilica.

Vatican officials have said Law was chosen automatically for the Mass because he is head priest of a major church in Rome, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

But documents obtained Monday by The Washington Post from the church's archives show that Law's predecessor as archpriest of Santa Maria Maggiore was not given the same role after the death of the previous pope, John Paul I, in 1978.

Two hours before the Mass, about 50 reporters, photographers and television crew members gathered at the edge of St. Peter's Square, about 200 yards from the basilica, for the victims' protest. Blaine and another member of the Survivors Network, Barbara Dorris, attempted to hand out leaflets calling Law the "poster child of complicit bishops" in the child sex abuse scandal. A dozen Italian police officers ordered the group out from under the shelter of the basilica's colonnade and into a downpour. After the protest resumed in the rain, a police commander directed the participants to move behind a metal barricade. A few minutes later, police moved the jostling knot of protesters, journalists and curious bystanders across a street, finally dispersing the crowd.

The police did not answer questions about why they were breaking up the small protest. Crowd control on the square is handled primarily by Italian civil authorities, not Vatican guards. No force was used by the police, and Blaine continued speaking to reporters as she was ordered to move from place to place.

Just Prior to the election a Blog for

The Wait Is Over: Jews’ Messiah Now Kosher

Says Cardinal Ratzinger — the second most powerful person in the Vatican after the Pope




Vatican affirms Jewish position; scholars scramble to decipher new doctrine.
Eric J. Greenberg – Staff Writer

In 1967, during the early thaw of Catholic-Jewish relations, Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg addressed a Catholic audience about the conflicting Messiah beliefs.

The Orthodox rabbi noted that one difference between Jews and Catholics is whether the Messiah is coming for the first or second time. Christians believe the Messiah — a Jew from Nazareth called Jesus — came 2,000 years ago, and after dying and being resurrected, will someday return to redeem the world.

Jews say the Messiah has yet to arrive — a belief that led to centuries of Christian anti-Semitism and killings of Jews who refused to accept the Christian view.

Rabbi Greenberg suggested the dispute be tabled until the Messiah arrives. When the Messiah comes, Jews and Christians “can ask him if this is his first coming or his second,” finally putting the issue to rest.

But this week, the Messiah debate suddenly took center stage in Jewish-Catholic relations, in an appropriately bizarre and mysterious manner.

It follows the revelation last week that the Vatican’s top biblical scholars recently issued a report that for the first time in nearly 2,000 years apparently validates as legitimate the Jewish wait for the Messiah.

A 210-page document titled “The Jewish People and the Holy Scriptures in the Christian Bible,” by the Pontifical Biblical Commission and authorized by the Vatican’s top theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, reportedly states that “the Jewish messianic wait is not in vain.”

It reportedly says Jews and Christians share their wait for the Messiah, although Jews are waiting for the first coming and Christians for the second.

The new document also reportedly contains an apology to the Jewish people for anti-Semitic passages contained in the New Testament, and also stresses the continuing importance of the Torah for Christians.

The book comes to light as anti-Semitism appears to be increasing around the world from Christian and Muslim sources.

For example, the Associated Press reported this week that Russian prosecutors are investigating an anti-Semitic Russian Orthodox Church priest, Sergei Nilus, who allegedly openly calls Jews the antichrist and enemies of Christianity.

But despite the potential significance of the new Vatican document, it was seemingly buried upon publication, quietly placed in bookstores in Rome last November. There was no press conference or public announcement, unlike many other important Vatican documents such as the 1999 “We Remember” Holocaust report.

In fact, the world was unaware of the new “Messiah doctrine” until last Friday, when The New York Times published a story about it based on a short report two days earlier by the Italian news agency ANSA.

“Everything in the report is now considered part of official Church doctrine,” Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls acknowledged after it became public.

Despite its potential significance, the document still was unavailable in English this week, being translated only in Italian, French and Polish. Further, the Vatican did not post it on its Web site in any language.

“For the time being the document … will not be available [on] the Internet,” the Pontifical Biblical Commission told one American rabbi Monday, adding, “an English translation will be available [in] days.” That left American Jewish and Catholic interfaith leaders scrambling this week for any information.

Initial speculation generally was positive, even as the interfaith leaders stressed that they were speaking without having seen the text. They also all questioned the “strange” behavior of the Vatican in failing to publicize such a significant document.

“The way it was released is extremely strange,” said Father John Pawlikowski, director of the Catholic Jewish Studies Program at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. “Normally they launch these things with fanfare and press conferences. Also the lack of an authorized English translation is particularly disturbing.”

“It’s very strange, “ said Michael Signer, professor of Jewish Thought and Culture at the University of Notre Dame. “This is not the most salutary way this could have been done.”

In Rome, Vatican officials denied they tried to hide the document fearing criticism from right-wing Catholics who oppose theological change.

“There was no intention to hide it,” said a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini.

In the United States, Eugene Fisher, ecumenical director for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, blamed a Vatican leadership that is understaffed and “clueless” about what is important to world interest.

But Fisher, who said he saw an English draft of the text last year, expounded on its importance. He noted that the theologically conservative Cardinal Ratzinger — the second most powerful person in the Vatican after the Pope — signed off on it.

Ironically, it is the same Cardinal Ratzinger who alarmed Jewish leaders last year when he declared that the Church is waiting for the moment when Jews will “say yes to Christ.”

Asked if Jews must, or should, acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, Cardinal Ratzinger told an interviewer, “We believe that. The fact remains, however, that our Christian conviction is that Christ is also the Messiah of Israel.”

How that declaration squares with the new “Messiah document” was a source of much speculation this week. But Fisher contended it’s a major positive development.

“If you put off the moment that Jews will come to recognize Jesus as the Messiah until the end of time, then we don’t need to work or pray for the conversion of Jews to Christianity,” he said. “God already has the salvation of Jews figured out, and they accepted it on Sinai, so they are OK.”

“Jews are already with the Father,” he continued. “We do not have a mission to the Jews, but only a mission with the Jews to the world. The Catholic Church will never again sanction an organization devoted to the conversion of the Jews. That is over, on doctrinal, biblical and pastoral grounds. Finito.”

Signer, also a Reform rabbi said, “What’s really new is the validation of the Jewish position as truth, that the Jewish waiting for the Messiah is a correct theological viewpoint. If the document says what we think, it is another very important theological step in the respect for Judaism as a living tradition.”

“It’s a very important, critical statement,” said Rabbi Jack Bemporad, head of the Center for Interreligious Understanding. “Up until now they were saying Jews are completely and absolutely wrong and we are waiting in vain and blind to the truth.”

Others were more cautious, noting continued significant differences in Messiah beliefs — particularly that Christians believe that their Messiah is Jesus who is also God, while for Jews the Messiah is not a divine being and cannot be Jesus because he died before bringing the redemption.

Rabbi James Rudin, senior interreligious adviser to the American Jewish Committee, raised several concerns.

“Does the new book instruct Catholics to fully accept the fact there is not only theological space in God’s universe for Jews/Judaism, but they must also affirm that the identity of long awaited Messiah, so ardently prayed for by Jews for centuries, is unknown and will remain unknown until the Messiah appears?” he asked.

“That is a clear affirmation of Judaism with no theological strings attached, no Jesus waiting for Jews at the end of the theological day. If this is the book’s message, then it is an important step forward on the part of the Catholic Church.”

Father Pawlikowski stressed that the new document also appears to affirm the importance of the “Jewish Bible,” a new term for the Vatican that he said would be highly significant if it replaces the traditional “Old Testament,” which has a negative implication as being replaced by the “New Testament.”

“The document seems to say that Christians should never deprecate or see the Jewish Bible as inferior, which coming from major Vatican biblical scholars could have profound implications for Catholic religious and educational material,” Father Pawlikowski said.

All the scholars said the next step is for the Vatican to make available the English translation as soon as possible so it can be studied.

“We hope to see it before the Messiah,” quipped one frustrated interfaith expert.