In an attempt to put to rest one of the most controversial issues in Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI says emphatically in a new book that Jews should not be blamed for the death of Jesus. Elan Steinberg of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants called this "a major step forward" and "a personal repudiation of the theological underpinning of centuries of antisemitism." Pope Benedict's relationship with Jews has been marred by several controversies, including his lenient treatment of a rebel bishop who minimized the horrors of the Auschwitz death camp during the Holocaust. Will this latest declaration help?
It certainly should: This is huge, says Damian Thompson in The Telegraph. In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, the pope addresses passages in the Gospels of John and Matthew that have fueled anti-Semitism, and explains how they have been distorted. Such arguments have never been made by a "leader of the Catholic Church." This is a fresh and definitive reminder that "the charge of anti-Semitism sometimes leveled at Joseph Ratzinger," as Benedict was known before becoming pope, "is a gross libel."
"Jews not to blame for death of Christ, says Pope"
This will not eliminate anti-Semitism: Pope Benedict says the "Temple leadership" was responsible for Jesus' death, "not Jews as a whole," says Dan Amira at New York. Pointing out that "plenty of Jews were off doing other things at the time" is unlikely to unravel centuries of anti-Semitism. "If some people out there are still holding a grudge after nearly two thousand years, they're probably beyond convincing at this point."
"The pope doesn't blame the Jews for killing Jesus"
Give the pope credit: The "false charge of 'deicide'" led to "the church's persecution of Jews over the centuries," says the Rev. James Martin in The Huffington Post, and it persists in "a few quarters" of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict's "personal stamp" on the issue is welcome, because it makes it more clear where the Vatican really stands. And anything that helps put the hateful matter to rest is good for Jews and Catholics alike.
"Why the pope's words on the Jewish people matter"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why Texas' abortion rates aren't falling as quickly as everyone expected
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- The 6 best low-cost smartphones
- What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex
- Paul Ryan's anti-poverty plan is another sign of life in the GOP
- Why all drugs should be legal. (Yes, even heroin.)
- 7 ideas from ancient thinkers that will improve your modern life
Subscribe to the Week