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Ratzinger is not God’s rebbe

I first met Rabbi Waskow in 2006 and have always found him to combine both grandfatherly kind wisdom with prophetic zeal. Given the recent controversy over Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to reinstate Bishop Richard Williamson (SSPX) in an effort to curry favor with “conservative Catholics,” Rabbi has agreed to share a recent letter.


Some context:

Bishop Williamson, as seen below, continues his history of denying the Holocaust, defining down antisemitism and protesting against politically incorrect speech during a November interview on Swedish television, at the Lefevrist seminary in Bavaria. Significantly, the leader of the Society of St. Pius X notes that a “bishop’s authority pertains only to questions of Faith and Morals, not over ‘historic or other secular questions.'” Apparently genocide isn’t a question involving faith or morality. -Alexander Carpenter


Dear chevra,

When the last Pope died and the head of the Office of Propagation of the Faith (distant descendant of the Inquisition; it doesn’t have enough power any more to burn people to death in order to save their souls) was elected Pope, I expressed deep unhappiness and anger at the elevation of this enemy of liberation theology (the best hope of Christian “renewal” as well as the best hope of the poor in Latin America and elsewhere).

Some of our own renewal community condemned me for criticizing the new “rebbe” of the Roman Catholic church — was this not disrespect for our “confreres” (certainly not our “consoeurs” — he was and is also a bitter opponent of equality for women and gay/lesbian folk, in or out of the church) of a different but cognate religious community? Official Jewry, and some allegedly unofficial Jewry in our own midst, wanted to make nice. I was rude.

Then Pope Ratzinger quoted a medieval Christian scholar calling Islam irrational and violent. My own feeling was that if he had said “sometimes” and at the same time acknowledged the disgusting hyper-violence of the Crusades and the bloody Catholic conquest of Latin America, that might have been reasonable. But of course he didn’t.

Did the organized (or unorganized) Jewish community complain about his pissing on our confreres in Islam? Not so’s you’d notice.

So now he has withdrawn the excommunication of a group of ultra-right-wing ex-ex-Catholic bishops, enemies of Vatican II, among them one who has said that at most 300,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis, and none at all by gas ovens.

And now there is a storm among “the Jews.” Rightly so, but based on what? Deep moral principle? In that case, why did not the poor of Latin America, or the Muslims of the world, or the gay and lesbian folk of all humanity, or the women who make up half the human race and half the church of actual human beings — deserve a better Pope?

When Pope John XXIII died — Giuseppe Roncalli, a gentle, humble mensch in personal life, protector of the Jews in his bailiwick during the Holocaust, the “window-opener” of the dead and dusty church, the instigator of aggorniamento, who called Vatican Council II, who ended the “deicide” charge against the Jews, who issued to all the peoples of the earth the brilliant and prophetic pastoral letter called “Pacem in Terris” about the banning of nuclear weapons — when he died, I walked in tears to the Catholic church nearest me in Washington DC and left a note of sorrow.

Roncalli, livrakha tzaddik zikhrono, was indeed a saint, and one proof that he was is that Ratzinger’s Church will not name him one, just as it won’t name Dorothy Day one. Ratzinger may have been “the rebbe” of that dead assemblage of the Cardinals appointed by his right-wing predecessor. But in our tradition a “rebbe” is sent surely by God, and maybe by the people. Ratzinger was not and is not God’s rebbe. He was a villain before he became Pope, and he is a villain still.

Shalom, salaam, peace.

— Arthur

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director, The Shalom Center, co-author, The Tent of Abraham; author of Godwrestling — Round 2, Down-to-Earth Judaism, and a dozen other books on Jewish thought and practice, as well as books on US public policy. The Shalom Center voices a new prophetic agenda in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. To receive the weekly on-line Shalom Report, click here.

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