Month: May 2006

Pope Benedict XVI, Auschwitz, and the Nature of Anti-Semitism

For comprehensive coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Poland, I refer you to American Papist’s “The Great Poland Post of 2006”.

On Sunday, May 28, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI walked in silence under the iron gate bearing the Nazi slogan, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Makes You Free,” and into the concentration camp of Auschwitz:

As church bells rang in the southern town of Oswiecim — the Polish name for Auschwitz — a solemn Benedict, his hands clasped in prayer, walked in silence the 200 metres to the execution wall wedged between prisoner blocks 10 and 11, where the Nazis summarily shot thousands of prisoners.

His face grave, Benedict stood a few moments in prayer, removing his hat before bowing solemnly and placing a bowl containing a lighted candle before the grim wall.

The pope then greeted a line of 32 camp survivors waiting to meet him. Some grasped his hands warmly, some knelt to kiss his papal ring, many seemed eager to thank him for visiting the camp.

Benedict clasped the hands of the first survivor waiting in line, a woman, wearing the striped scarf that Polish political prisoners wore at the camp.

An elderly Polish man kissed the pope on both cheeks, a gypsy survivor of the camp pressed the pope’s hand to his lips.


Henryk Mandelbaum, 83, wearing the distinctive striped cap of the Sonderkommando — Jewish prisoners who emptied the gas chambers where their fellow Jews perished — kissed the papal ring.

(German-born Pope Benedict XVI in Auschwitz, by Denis Barnett. European Jewish Press May 28, 2006.

Afterward, Benedict visited the cell which housed the Polish Catholic martyr Maximilian Kolbe, executed in 1941 after taking the place of a prisoner sentenced to die by starvation, and recognized as a saint by Pope John Paul II in 1982. He also paused for reflection next to the line of 22 plaques at Birkenau’s International Monument to the Victims of Fascism, established between former crematoria II and III, where — in German — he prayed for peace and reconciliaton.

According to the Deutsche-Welle, Pope Benedict “shattered a taboo in the often-blighted relationship between Christians and Jews by using his native German language” to pray for Jewish-Christian reconciliation:

Throughout his four-day pilgrimage to Poland, a sentimental tribute to his predecessor and mentor John Paul II, Pope Benedict has avoided speaking German, aware that the older generation still regard it as the language of the old oppressor. But, the paper continued, the choice of German in Auschwitz was a deliberate gesture — a recognition that he had come to the camp not just as the Head of the Roman Catholic Church, but as a German and as an individual.

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Few places on this earth rival the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp as a testament to “man’s inhumanity to man” — a pervasive symbol of terror, genocide and the incomparable abomination of the Holocaust. According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Website (auschwitz.org.pl), it is “the site of the greatest mass murder in the history of humanity”:

Auschwitz functioned throughout its existence as a concentration camp, and over time became the largest such Nazi camp. In the first period of the existence of the camp, it was primarily Poles who were sent here by the German occupation authorities […] political, civic, and spiritual leaders, members of the intelligentsia, cultural and scientific figures, and [members of the resistance movement]. Over time, the Nazis also began to send groups of prisoners from other occupied countries to Auschwitz. Beginning in 1942, Jews whom the SS physicians classified as fit for labor were also registered in the camp.

From among all the people deported to Auschwitz, approximately 400,000 people were registered and placed in the camp and its sub-camps (200,000 Jews, more than 140,000 Poles, approximately 20,000 Gypsies from various countries, more than 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and more than 10,000 prisoners of other nationalities).

Over 50% of the registered prisoners died as a result of starvation, labor that exceeded their physical capacity, the terror that raged in the camp, executions, the inhuman living conditions, disease and epidemics, punishment, torture, and criminal medical experiments.

Beginning in 1942, Auschwitz began to function in another way. It became the center of the mass destruction of the European Jews. The Nazis marked all the Jews living in Europe for total extermination, regardless of their age, sex, occupation, citizenship, or political views. They died only because they were Jews. After the selections conducted on the railroad platform, or ramp, newly arrived persons classified by the SS physicians as unfit for labor were sent to the gas chambers: the ill, the elderly, pregnant women, children. In most cases, 70-75% of each transport was sent to immediate death. These people were not entered in the camp records; that is, they received no serial numbers and were not registered. This is why it is possible only to estimate the total number of victims.

Historians estimate that among the people sent to Auschwitz there were at least 1,100,000 Jews from all the countries of occupied Europe, over 140,000 Poles (mostly political prisoners), approximately 20,000 Gypsies from several European countries, over 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and over ten thousand prisoners of other nationalities. The majority of the Jewish deportees died in the gas chambers immediately after arrival.

The overall number of victims of Auschwitz in the years 1940-1945 is estimated at between 1,100,000 and 1,500,000 people. The majority of them, and above all the mass transports of Jews who arrived beginning in 1942, died in the gas chambers.

This was the third time Pope Benedict had visited Auschwitz and the neighboring camp at Birkenau — on June 7, 1979, Benedict, then archbishop of Munich-Freising, was among those bishops who accompanied Pope John Paul II on his visit. He returned a year later, “with a delegation of German bishops, appalled by its evil, yet grateful for the fact that above its dark clouds the star of reconciliation had emerged.”

Pope Benedict’s Birkenau Address

A translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s address at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is provided by Zenit News Service. It is, as the rest of Benedict’s addresses, worth reading in full — particularly before the selective, sound-byte presentations of the media.

Just as his predecessor came as a son of the Polish people, said Benedict, “I come here today as a son of the German people. For this very reason, I can and must echo his words: I could not fail to come here.”:

I had to come. It is a duty before the truth and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of Pope John Paul II and as a son of the German people — a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power.

Yes, I could not fail to come here. On June 7, 1979, I came as the archbishop of Munich-Freising, along with many other bishops who accompanied the Pope, listened to his words and joined in his prayer. In 1980, I came back to this dreadful place with a delegation of German bishops, appalled by its evil, yet grateful for the fact that above its dark clouds the star of reconciliation had emerged.

This is the same reason why I have come here today: to implore the grace of reconciliation — first of all from God, who alone can open and purify our hearts, from the men and women who suffered here, and finally the grace of reconciliation for all those who, at this hour of our history, are suffering in new ways from the power of hatred and the violence which hatred spawns.

A German pope addressing the horrors of National Socialism and the Holocaust is a ripe subject for controversy and misunderstanding, so it is no small wonder that not all in Benedict’s worldwide audience were satisfied by his words.

The New York Times‘ Ian Fisher (A German Pope Confronts a Nazi Past May 29, 2006) criticized Benedict for his failure “[to] beg pardon for the sins of Germans or of the Roman Catholic church during World War II,” and for “[laying] the blame squarely on the Nazi regime, avoiding the painful but now common acknowledgment among many Germans that ordinary citizens also shared responsibility.”

Fisher’s sentiment is echoed by the German newspaper Der Speigel (German Silence in Auschwitz May 29, 2006), which notes that Benedict’s characterization of Germans as recipients of Nazi exploitation “will probably be associated with him for a long time to come.”

Writing for LifeSiteNews.com, Peter J. Smith interprets the Pope’s portrayal of his people in a different light, more as a recognition of what Germany truly lost in succumbing to the worldly promises of National Socialism:

Although John Paul and Benedict experienced the horror of the Nazi ideology, each experienced it from different perspectives, and at Auschwitz these perspectives are united. John Paul experienced the most violent effects of the atheist ideology forged by Hitler, as a clandestine young seminarian in Krakow, where the omnipresent stench of burning flesh from Auschwitz-Birkenau constantly reminded Poles of the death sentence that the Nazis had ordered for the whole people. However, Benedict, who was conscripted forcibly into the German army, and then deserted as a teenager saw from the inside the forces that carried away his countrymen from faith in God to a faith in man that embraced death and wrecked terrible havoc on the world.

The European Jewish Press noted Mixed reactions to Pope’s Birkenau speech by Jewish leaders. On the one hand, Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, found the “accent . . . on the absence of God and not on the silence of man and its responsibilities” problematic, as his characterization of the German people as more the victim “and not on the side of the persecutors.”

On one other hand, Israeli Ambassador David Peleg praised the Pope’s recognition of the distinctiveness of the Holocaust:

“The most important sentence in the speech is that ’the rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel us from the register of peoples.'”

“This is a strong sentence to come from the pope in Birkenau. I think it’s important to remember that in the place where he spoke, 95 percent of those who were murdered — more than one million people — were Jews.”

And Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich — whom the EJP notes was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack only the day before he intoned the Kaddish at the ceremony with Benedict at Birkenau — praised the speech as “a great moment in the process of reconciling” Jews and Christians.”

Although he said the pope “could have said things a bit more strongly … his mere presence here was very important. It was a cry against anti-Semitism.”

Giuseppe Laras, president of Italy’s rabbis, stated on Vatican Radio that “this visit is a warning to humanity and a word of hope and consolation for all those who suffered.” (Jewish Leaders Reflect on Pope’s Auschwitz Visit, May 29, 2006).

And US Rabbi Benjamin Blech described the Pope’s visit as “historic for all Jewish people and for the world”:

Asked if the pope should have apologised for crimes committed by Germany’s Nazis, Blech said: “His very presence here is an apology. It speaks volumes.”

Neither was Blech disturbed, as some Jews had been, over Benedict’s decision to recite a prayer in German at Birkenau. “The pope’s presence speaks a universal language,” he told Agence France Presse.

I found the citation of Blech interesting, and perhaps something more than a coincidence: Rabbi Blech happens to be author of If God is Good, Why is the World so Bad?, a popular book on theodicy conceived as a Jewish corrective to the classic work by Rabbi Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The two rabbis in their own way respond to the question the Holy Father posed in his own address: Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil? (See Blech on Blech Jewsweek Sept. 25, 2003).

* * *

In the Der Speigel article I cited above, Alexander Smoltczyk bemoaned Benedict’s uttering “not a word about anti-semitism” — that he had chosen to speak “about metaphysics” rather than guilt.

Reading the text of Benedict’s address, however, it is hard not to see a more stinging rebuke and condemnation of those who persecute the Jews, or a clearer recognition of what anti-semitism truly is, especially as it was manifested in the horrors of Auschwitz:

Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are eternally valid. If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity and took us to himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone—to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world. By destroying Israel, they ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful.

Benedict’s words called to my mind the closing thoughts of Fr. Edward Flannery, in his classic study The Anguish of the Jews. In his final chapter, on “The Roots of Anti-Semitism,” Fr. Flannery states:

. . . antisemitism is at its deepest root a unified phenomenon and from all angles an anti-religious one. In the pagan racist, it is rooted in a revolt against the acceptance of a transcendental or divine moral order that would limit human freedom,a nd focuses on the Jews as the historical source of moral order. In the Christian, it derives from the same source, but channels the revolt against Christ, the Jewish God who brought the Jewish concept of God’s reign to all nations.

In the perspective of this twofold subliminal revolt the data of history — the contrasting forms of antisemitism and its inexplicable permanence — acquire a measure of coherence and consistency. The positive side of the phenomenon, the attaction the Jews and Judaism have wielded as bearers of God’s word among the nations, and the anti-God impulse in the depths of human consciousness and culture are joined in permanent enmity and conflict. Antisemitism is as much a subjective as an objective fact, as much a conflict within a person as among persons. . . .

According to Fr. Flannery, “the sin of anti-semitism contains many sins, but in the end it is a denial of Christian faith, a failure of Christian hope, and a malady of Christian love.”

Contemplating the horrors of Auschwitz and the inscriptions of the victims — Jew, Polish, German, Russian — the world is confronted by the diagnosis of our Holy Father, and with his prescription as well:

. . . in the words that Sophocles placed on the lips of Antigone, as she contemplated the horror all around her: My nature is not to join in hate but to join in love.”

Related Coverage

  • Pope Benedict’s Auschwitz Prayer, by Jeff Israel. Time May 29, 2006:

    he sight of a German Pope crossing into the death camp beneath the infamously false Nazi sign, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Set You Free), is arguably the most striking image of Benedict’s 14-month-old papacy. Walking alone with his hands clasped in front of him, an utterly grim expression fixed across his face, the 79-year-old pontiff entered as both the leader of the billion-strong Roman Catholic Church, and a World War II-generation German citizen.

  • Joseph Bottum (First Things “On The Square” May 29, 2006):

    It’s as though nearly everyone wants to use the Holocaust for something: to advance some modern political purpose or thicken some contemporary moral claim. The temptation is almost overwhelming—and understandably so, for Auschwitz truly is a lesson, and it seems to demand that we apply that lesson, here and now. It seems to demand that we change our lives, here and now.

    In itself, that ought to be a warning. The examples are endless: A few decades ago, the anti-Western Soviets declared that the Nazi death camps demonstrated Communism’s superiority to the bourgeois West; a few years ago, a popular anti-Christian historian wrote a book claiming that the Holocaust proved that organized Christianity must dissolve itself. If the Holocaust merely confirms you in the stands you already have, then you haven’t learned the lesson of the Holocaust.

  • Attempting to slay God was Auschwitz’s greatest evil, pope says , by John Allen Jr. National Catholic Reporter reporting on Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Poland May 25-28.
  • Pope’s Auschwitz visit unifies faiths, even as Poland battles anti-Semitism, by Dinah A. Spritzer. JTA [Global News Service of the Jewish People]. May 29, 2006.
  • Missed Opportunity – Piotr Kadl?ik, chairman of the Union Of the Jewish Communities in Poland, had attempted to arrange for Benedict to bless Poles who received the title “Just Among the Nations” during his visit to the monument for the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising — such was not to be, as the papal motorcade passed quickly by (just long enough for a a sign of blessing. (European Jewish Press Report).
  • Survivor braves Auschwitz return BBC News. May 25, 2006. Coverage of one survivor’s return to Poland — and memories of Auschwitz.
  • Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photos by Alan Jacobs.
  • Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State. “A Chronological Exploration of the Largest Mass Murder Site in History”, by PBS Television.

Pope Benedict and the Jews – Related Links

Any criticism of Pope Benedict’s address at Auschwitz-Birkenau can only be examined in relation to the ongoing witness of the life, words and actions of Pope Benedict to date:

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Pope Benedict XVI, Auschwitz, and the Nature of Anti-Semitism

For comprehensive coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Poland, I refer you to American Papist’s “The Great Poland Post of 2006”.

On Sunday, May 28, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI walked in silence under the iron gate bearing the Nazi slogan, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Makes You Free,” and into the concentration camp of Auschwitz:

As church bells rang in the southern town of Oswiecim — the Polish name for Auschwitz — a solemn Benedict, his hands clasped in prayer, walked in silence the 200 metres to the execution wall wedged between prisoner blocks 10 and 11, where the Nazis summarily shot thousands of prisoners.

His face grave, Benedict stood a few moments in prayer, removing his hat before bowing solemnly and placing a bowl containing a lighted candle before the grim wall.

The pope then greeted a line of 32 camp survivors waiting to meet him. Some grasped his hands warmly, some knelt to kiss his papal ring, many seemed eager to thank him for visiting the camp.

Benedict clasped the hands of the first survivor waiting in line, a woman, wearing the striped scarf that Polish political prisoners wore at the camp.

An elderly Polish man kissed the pope on both cheeks, a gypsy survivor of the camp pressed the pope’s hand to his lips.


Henryk Mandelbaum, 83, wearing the distinctive striped cap of the Sonderkommando — Jewish prisoners who emptied the gas chambers where their fellow Jews perished — kissed the papal ring.

(German-born Pope Benedict XVI in Auschwitz, by Denis Barnett. European Jewish Press May 28, 2006.

Afterward, Benedict visited the cell which housed the Polish Catholic martyr Maximilian Kolbe, executed in 1941 after taking the place of a prisoner sentenced to die by starvation, and recognized as a saint by Pope John Paul II in 1982. He also paused for reflection next to the line of 22 plaques at Birkenau’s International Monument to the Victims of Fascism, established between former crematoria II and III, where — in German — he prayed for peace and reconciliaton.

According to the Deutsche-Welle, Pope Benedict “shattered a taboo in the often-blighted relationship between Christians and Jews by using his native German language” to pray for Jewish-Christian reconciliation:

Throughout his four-day pilgrimage to Poland, a sentimental tribute to his predecessor and mentor John Paul II, Pope Benedict has avoided speaking German, aware that the older generation still regard it as the language of the old oppressor. But, the paper continued, the choice of German in Auschwitz was a deliberate gesture — a recognition that he had come to the camp not just as the Head of the Roman Catholic Church, but as a German and as an individual.

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Few places on this earth rival the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp as a testament to “man’s inhumanity to man” — a pervasive symbol of terror, genocide and the incomparable abomination of the Holocaust. According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Website (auschwitz.org.pl), it is “the site of the greatest mass murder in the history of humanity”:

Auschwitz functioned throughout its existence as a concentration camp, and over time became the largest such Nazi camp. In the first period of the existence of the camp, it was primarily Poles who were sent here by the German occupation authorities […] political, civic, and spiritual leaders, members of the intelligentsia, cultural and scientific figures, and [members of the resistance movement]. Over time, the Nazis also began to send groups of prisoners from other occupied countries to Auschwitz. Beginning in 1942, Jews whom the SS physicians classified as fit for labor were also registered in the camp.

From among all the people deported to Auschwitz, approximately 400,000 people were registered and placed in the camp and its sub-camps (200,000 Jews, more than 140,000 Poles, approximately 20,000 Gypsies from various countries, more than 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and more than 10,000 prisoners of other nationalities).

Over 50% of the registered prisoners died as a result of starvation, labor that exceeded their physical capacity, the terror that raged in the camp, executions, the inhuman living conditions, disease and epidemics, punishment, torture, and criminal medical experiments.

Beginning in 1942, Auschwitz began to function in another way. It became the center of the mass destruction of the European Jews. The Nazis marked all the Jews living in Europe for total extermination, regardless of their age, sex, occupation, citizenship, or political views. They died only because they were Jews. After the selections conducted on the railroad platform, or ramp, newly arrived persons classified by the SS physicians as unfit for labor were sent to the gas chambers: the ill, the elderly, pregnant women, children. In most cases, 70-75% of each transport was sent to immediate death. These people were not entered in the camp records; that is, they received no serial numbers and were not registered. This is why it is possible only to estimate the total number of victims.

Historians estimate that among the people sent to Auschwitz there were at least 1,100,000 Jews from all the countries of occupied Europe, over 140,000 Poles (mostly political prisoners), approximately 20,000 Gypsies from several European countries, over 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and over ten thousand prisoners of other nationalities. The majority of the Jewish deportees died in the gas chambers immediately after arrival.

The overall number of victims of Auschwitz in the years 1940-1945 is estimated at between 1,100,000 and 1,500,000 people. The majority of them, and above all the mass transports of Jews who arrived beginning in 1942, died in the gas chambers.

This was the third time Pope Benedict had visited Auschwitz and the neighboring camp at Birkenau — on June 7, 1979, Benedict, then archbishop of Munich-Freising, was among those bishops who accompanied Pope John Paul II on his visit. He returned a year later, “with a delegation of German bishops, appalled by its evil, yet grateful for the fact that above its dark clouds the star of reconciliation had emerged.”

Pope Benedict’s Birkenau Address

A translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s address at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is provided by Zenit News Service. It is, as the rest of Benedict’s addresses, worth reading in full — particularly before the selective, sound-byte presentations of the media.

Just as his predecessor came as a son of the Polish people, said Benedict, “I come here today as a son of the German people. For this very reason, I can and must echo his words: I could not fail to come here.”:

I had to come. It is a duty before the truth and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of Pope John Paul II and as a son of the German people — a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power.

Yes, I could not fail to come here. On June 7, 1979, I came as the archbishop of Munich-Freising, along with many other bishops who accompanied the Pope, listened to his words and joined in his prayer. In 1980, I came back to this dreadful place with a delegation of German bishops, appalled by its evil, yet grateful for the fact that above its dark clouds the star of reconciliation had emerged.

This is the same reason why I have come here today: to implore the grace of reconciliation — first of all from God, who alone can open and purify our hearts, from the men and women who suffered here, and finally the grace of reconciliation for all those who, at this hour of our history, are suffering in new ways from the power of hatred and the violence which hatred spawns.

A German pope addressing the horrors of National Socialism and the Holocaust is a ripe subject for controversy and misunderstanding, so it is no small wonder that not all in Benedict’s worldwide audience were satisfied by his words.

The New York Times‘ Ian Fisher (A German Pope Confronts a Nazi Past May 29, 2006) criticized Benedict for his failure “[to] beg pardon for the sins of Germans or of the Roman Catholic church during World War II,” and for “[laying] the blame squarely on the Nazi regime, avoiding the painful but now common acknowledgment among many Germans that ordinary citizens also shared responsibility.”

Fisher’s sentiment is echoed by the German newspaper Der Speigel (German Silence in Auschwitz May 29, 2006), which notes that Benedict’s characterization of Germans as recipients of Nazi exploitation “will probably be associated with him for a long time to come.”

Writing for LifeSiteNews.com, Peter J. Smith interprets the Pope’s portrayal of his people in a different light, more as a recognition of what Germany truly lost in succumbing to the worldly promises of National Socialism:

Although John Paul and Benedict experienced the horror of the Nazi ideology, each experienced it from different perspectives, and at Auschwitz these perspectives are united. John Paul experienced the most violent effects of the atheist ideology forged by Hitler, as a clandestine young seminarian in Krakow, where the omnipresent stench of burning flesh from Auschwitz-Birkenau constantly reminded Poles of the death sentence that the Nazis had ordered for the whole people. However, Benedict, who was conscripted forcibly into the German army, and then deserted as a teenager saw from the inside the forces that carried away his countrymen from faith in God to a faith in man that embraced death and wrecked terrible havoc on the world.

The European Jewish Press noted Mixed reactions to Pope’s Birkenau speech by Jewish leaders. On the one hand, Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, found the “accent . . . on the absence of God and not on the silence of man and its responsibilities” problematic, as his characterization of the German people as more the victim “and not on the side of the persecutors.”

On one other hand, Israeli Ambassador David Peleg praised the Pope’s recognition of the distinctiveness of the Holocaust:

“The most important sentence in the speech is that ’the rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel us from the register of peoples.'”

“This is a strong sentence to come from the pope in Birkenau. I think it’s important to remember that in the place where he spoke, 95 percent of those who were murdered — more than one million people — were Jews.”

And Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich — whom the EJP notes was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack only the day before he intoned the Kaddish at the ceremony with Benedict at Birkenau — praised the speech as “a great moment in the process of reconciling” Jews and Christians.”

Although he said the pope “could have said things a bit more strongly … his mere presence here was very important. It was a cry against anti-Semitism.”

Giuseppe Laras, president of Italy’s rabbis, stated on Vatican Radio that “this visit is a warning to humanity and a word of hope and consolation for all those who suffered.” (Jewish Leaders Reflect on Pope’s Auschwitz Visit, May 29, 2006).

And US Rabbi Benjamin Blech described the Pope’s visit as “historic for all Jewish people and for the world”:

Asked if the pope should have apologised for crimes committed by Germany’s Nazis, Blech said: “His very presence here is an apology. It speaks volumes.”

Neither was Blech disturbed, as some Jews had been, over Benedict’s decision to recite a prayer in German at Birkenau. “The pope’s presence speaks a universal language,” he told Agence France Presse.

I found the citation of Blech interesting, and perhaps something more than a coincidence: Rabbi Blech happens to be author of If God is Good, Why is the World so Bad?, a popular book on theodicy conceived as a Jewish corrective to the classic work by Rabbi Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The two rabbis in their own way respond to the question the Holy Father posed in his own address: Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil? (See Blech on Blech Jewsweek Sept. 25, 2003).

* * *

In the Der Speigel article I cited above, Alexander Smoltczyk bemoaned Benedict’s uttering “not a word about anti-semitism” — that he had chosen to speak “about metaphysics” rather than guilt.

Reading the text of Benedict’s address, however, it is hard not to see a more stinging rebuke and condemnation of those who persecute the Jews, or a clearer recognition of what anti-semitism truly is, especially as it was manifested in the horrors of Auschwitz:

Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are eternally valid. If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity and took us to himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone—to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world. By destroying Israel, they ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful.

Benedict’s words called to my mind the closing thoughts of Fr. Edward Flannery, in his classic study The Anguish of the Jews. In his final chapter, on “The Roots of Anti-Semitism,” Fr. Flannery states:

. . . antisemitism is at its deepest root a unified phenomenon and from all angles an anti-religious one. In the pagan racist, it is rooted in a revolt against the acceptance of a transcendental or divine moral order that would limit human freedom,a nd focuses on the Jews as the historical source of moral order. In the Christian, it derives from the same source, but channels the revolt against Christ, the Jewish God who brought the Jewish concept of God’s reign to all nations.

In the perspective of this twofold subliminal revolt the data of history — the contrasting forms of antisemitism and its inexplicable permanence — acquire a measure of coherence and consistency. The positive side of the phenomenon, the attaction the Jews and Judaism have wielded as bearers of God’s word among the nations, and the anti-God impulse in the depths of human consciousness and culture are joined in permanent enmity and conflict. Antisemitism is as much a subjective as an objective fact, as much a conflict within a person as among persons. . . .

According to Fr. Flannery, “the sin of anti-semitism contains many sins, but in the end it is a denial of Christian faith, a failure of Christian hope, and a malady of Christian love.”

Contemplating the horrors of Auschwitz and the inscriptions of the victims — Jew, Polish, German, Russian — the world is confronted by the diagnosis of our Holy Father, and with his prescription as well:

. . . in the words that Sophocles placed on the lips of Antigone, as she contemplated the horror all around her: My nature is not to join in hate but to join in love.”

Related Coverage

  • Pope Benedict’s Auschwitz Prayer, by Jeff Israel. Time May 29, 2006:

    he sight of a German Pope crossing into the death camp beneath the infamously false Nazi sign, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Set You Free), is arguably the most striking image of Benedict’s 14-month-old papacy. Walking alone with his hands clasped in front of him, an utterly grim expression fixed across his face, the 79-year-old pontiff entered as both the leader of the billion-strong Roman Catholic Church, and a World War II-generation German citizen.

  • Joseph Bottum (First Things “On The Square” May 29, 2006):

    It’s as though nearly everyone wants to use the Holocaust for something: to advance some modern political purpose or thicken some contemporary moral claim. The temptation is almost overwhelming—and understandably so, for Auschwitz truly is a lesson, and it seems to demand that we apply that lesson, here and now. It seems to demand that we change our lives, here and now.

    In itself, that ought to be a warning. The examples are endless: A few decades ago, the anti-Western Soviets declared that the Nazi death camps demonstrated Communism’s superiority to the bourgeois West; a few years ago, a popular anti-Christian historian wrote a book claiming that the Holocaust proved that organized Christianity must dissolve itself. If the Holocaust merely confirms you in the stands you already have, then you haven’t learned the lesson of the Holocaust.

  • Attempting to slay God was Auschwitz’s greatest evil, pope says , by John Allen Jr. National Catholic Reporter reporting on Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Poland May 25-28.
  • Pope’s Auschwitz visit unifies faiths, even as Poland battles anti-Semitism, by Dinah A. Spritzer. JTA [Global News Service of the Jewish People]. May 29, 2006.
  • Missed Opportunity – Piotr Kadl?ik, chairman of the Union Of the Jewish Communities in Poland, had attempted to arrange for Benedict to bless Poles who received the title “Just Among the Nations” during his visit to the monument for the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising — such was not to be, as the papal motorcade passed quickly by (just long enough for a a sign of blessing. (European Jewish Press Report).
  • Survivor braves Auschwitz return BBC News. May 25, 2006. Coverage of one survivor’s return to Poland — and memories of Auschwitz.
  • Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photos by Alan Jacobs.
  • Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State. “A Chronological Exploration of the Largest Mass Murder Site in History”, by PBS Television.

Pope Benedict and the Jews – Related Links

Any criticism of Pope Benedict’s address at Auschwitz-Birkenau can only be examined in relation to the ongoing witness of the life, words and actions of Pope Benedict to date:

Memorial Day 2006


The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

“Bivouac of the Dead”, Theodore O’Hara.

  • [From last year]: Their service came not as a burden but as a duty. The Daily Demarche on the origins of Memorial Day:

    In 1918 Moina Michael penned “We Shall Keep the Faith” in response to John McCrae’s “In Flanders Field” (both poems can be found at the end of this post) launching the idea of wearing a poppy on the 30th of May in remembrance of our fallen warriors. While Memorial Day has existed as a federal holiday since only 1966, the practice of honoring America’s war dead dates to at least the Civil War . . .

  • “Ma’am, We Regret To Inform You …” – Mark Gordon reminds us “This Memorial Day weekend, don’t forget to pause and think about the loved and lost who died defending our country. And please don’t fail to include in your prayers those they left behind,” — and provides several examples of how we can commemorate those who gave their lives i service to our country.
  • Rafael Peralta – Home of the Brave, Mudville Gazette posts an excerpt from Home of the Brave : Honoring the Unsung Heroes in the War on Terror, by Caspar Weinberger and Wynton C. Hall. The story of Sgt Rafael Peralta is one of many such tales contained therein.
  • Remembering Frankie National Review May 26, 2006. James S. Robbins “says goodbye to a man I never knew.”
  • Remembering Michael StokeleyMudville Gazette receives an email from the father of SGT Michael “Mike” James Stokely. KIA 8/16/05 Yusufiyah Iraq E Troop 108th CAV 48th Brigade GA NATL GUARD US ARMY.
  • Victor Davis Hanson looks back at Iraq National Review May 26, 2006.
  • “I am going to die well” Mudville Gazette salutes those who died in Vietnam, particularly members of the 1st Cavalry Division departed Ft Benning, Georgia, who fought the first major battle between the American Army and the People’s Army of Vietnam.
  • Stirring Memorial Day – Video Tributes to several heroes from BlackFive. Here is another Memorial Day Video Tribute — take a moment to watch and reflect.
  • The Visit May 22, 2006. Combat artist Michael Fey (Fire and Ice) tells the tale of a fallen soldier, and a visit from his grieving father.
  • Cindy Hicks, whose only child, SSgt. Jason Ramsmeyer, was killed in an IED explosion last month in Haditha, sent this letter to President Bush as a reminder that every time two Marines knock on a front door, the fabric of the family who lives there will be irrevocably changed. (Via Marine Corps Moms).
  • “Victors, Not Victims” (Wall Street Journal May 26, 2006) asks us to think about the way we regard those veterans who do return from a war. The blogger “Neo-Neocon” expresses similar thoughts in her Memorial Day reflection, Freedom Isn’t Free:

    I am virtually certain that all of my friends feel sorrow at the death of young men and women in the military–they are not cold-hearted, far from it. But I think they see them as victims, not as people who freely chose to do this, knowing that the possible cost might be their very lives. And yes, I know that not all in the military, especially those in the Guard, thought all of this through when they signed up. But I believe that the majority of those in the military were well aware of the risks when they enlisted. . . .

  • Legacy.com: In Remembrance – to remember and honor American service members lost in Afghanistan and Iraq. Currently, 2,744 service members are honored on this site.

  • Finally, Stars and Stripes lists some ways to support servicemembers, with links to many charities and services for our veterans. (See also Blackfive’s compilation of groups who work dilligently to support our military personnel in many different and positive ways).

Today’s roundup goes out to all of our brave men and women serving our nation in all branches of our Armed Forces. And especially to my young brother Nathan (US Navy) and to my grandfather, Maas Vanderbilt (U.S. Army).

The great French preacher Lacordaire once said the vocation of a soldier is next in dignity to the priesthood, not only because it commissioned him to defend justice on the field of battle and order on the field of peace, but also because it called him to the spirit and intention of sacrifice.

From Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s Wartime Prayerbook
(Sophia Institute Press, 2003)

* * *

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, let thy protection be upon all those who are in the service of our country; guard them from all harm and danger of body and soul; sustain and comfort those as home, especially in their hours of loneliness, anxiety, and sorrow; prepare the dying for death and the living for your service; give success to our arms on land and sea and in the air; and grant unto us and all nations a speedy, just and lasting peace. Amen.

— Prayer in Time of War

Fr. Todd Reitmeyer May 13, 1969 – May 24, 2006

The Catholic diocese of Sioux Falls, SD lost a devoted and excellent priest this past Thursday, when Fr. Todd Reitmeyer was killed in a jet ski accident while vacationing in Texas. Fellow Catholic bloggers remember him as the author of “A Son Becomes a Father”.

Father Reitmeyer is a native of the Austin, Texas area who was ordained a priest here in 2003. He was currently home to visit family and friends during his vacation. The accident occurred on Lake Travis near Austin.

Father Reitmeyer was born on May 13, 1969 to David and Phyllis Reitmeyer in Virginia. His father was in the military so the family moved some, but eventually settled in the Austin, Texas area. His father suffered a stroke and died in 1992. He graduated from Texas A&M, and earned a Masters degree in counseling from Northwest Missouri State. His discernment of his vocation led him to meet Bishop Robert Carlson, and eventually Todd moved to South Dakota, living in Faulkton with then pastor Father Terry Anderson for several months before entering the seminary. He attended St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, MN before studying Theology at North American College in Rome.

He was ordained on June 13, 2003 at St. Joseph Cathedral by Bishop Robert Carlson. His first assignment was as associate pastor at St. Michael, Sioux Falls. He then became administrator of St. Michael, Herreid, St. Anthony, Selby and St. Joseph, Eureka where he served from January of 2004 until June of 2005. For the past year he has served as administrator at St. Thomas, Faulkton and St. Boniface, Seneca, as well as sacramental minister for St. Joseph, Orient. He served as spiritual director for St. Margaret Fellowship, the association of Catholic home school families since August 2003.

“I think we all need to be ready spiritually and we have to keep it in our minds that we know not the day nor the hour. I have been thinking a lot about death personally and I want to teach people more about it …”

Fr. Todd Reitmeyer (“A Son Becomes a Father” January 2006 )

Eternal rest grant to Him, O Lord, and let perpetual Light shine upon him.

Pope Benedict XVI Roundup!

Benedict XVI’s First Year

Pope Benedict XVI presides over his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square - CREDIT: Associated Press On April 27, 2006, Pope Benedict used his Wednesday general audience as an opportunity to reflect on the first anniversary of his pontificate:

How quickly time passes! A year has already elapsed since the cardinals gathered in conclave and, in a way I found absolutely unexpected and surprising, desired to choose my poor self to succeed the late and beloved Servant of God, the great Pope John Paul II. I remember with emotion my first impact with the faithful gathered in this same square, from the central loggia of the basilica, immediately after my election.

That meeting is still impressed upon my mind and heart. It was followed by many others that have given me an opportunity to experience the deep truth of my words at the solemn concelebration with which I formally began to exercise my Petrine ministry: “I too can say with renewed conviction: I am not alone. I do not have to carry alone what in truth I could never carry alone” (L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, April 27, 2005, p. 2).

And I feel more and more that alone I could not carry out this task, this mission. But I also feel that you are carrying it with me: Thus, I am in a great communion and together we can go ahead with the Lord’s mission. The heavenly protection of God and of the saints is an irreplaceable support to me and I am comforted by your closeness, dear friends, who do not let me do without the gift of your indulgence and your love. I offer very warm thanks to all those who in various ways support me from close at hand or follow me from afar in spirit with their affection and their prayers. I ask each one to continue to support me, praying to God to grant that I may be a gentle and firm Pastor of his Church. . . .

Courtesy of the Vatican, you can watch video of Pope John Paul II’s funeral, the Conclave, and the election of Pope Benedict XVI. . . . Ratzenfreude, anyone?

* * *

Catholic bloggers, pundits and the world continue to assess the one-year anniversary of Benedict XVI’s pontificate and his election on April 19, 2005.

In our April 2006 Benedict Roundup, we took a look at some rather mediocre (hence, disappointing) reviews by the likes of Stephen Crittenden, John Cornwell and Hans Kung — with USA Today’s Eric Lyman distinguishing himself by being able to mention JPII and B16 in the same paragraph without succumbing to the urge to lambast John Paul II’s teaching on sexuality. This time around we’ll see what some of our Catholic pundits and members of St. Blog’s Parish have to say.

  • Is B16 nasty enough?, by Michael Liccione (Sacramentum Vitae April 20, 2006):

    The Pope appears unlikely to clean house by showing the door to unruly family members. As I’ve often suggested before, demographics are at least as likely to winnow the chaff as juridical measures and would be far less costly. Instead, Benedict proposes the true, the good, and the beautiful; he calls the false, the evil, and the ugly by their right names; and he invites all, by example as well as word, to conversion of heart. Unlike some of my fellow conservative Catholics, I’ve come to believe that, for the moment at least, that’s about as nasty as he needs to be.

  • One year later, by Amy Welborn (Open Book April 19, 2006):

    That day a year ago is impossible to forget. It was thrilling and mystifying. Why were we all so fascinated, even the secular media? I was watching one of the nets and an anchor said, “I’m getting chills” – it’s sobering, really, to think about it – that the election of a Pope could produce so much interest in what we thought was such a cynical world. . . .

    Great recollections of that amazing day, together with some great memories from her readers.

  • Remarking on the tendency of many pundits to note that the Pope turned out to be not what they had expected — which is to say, a far cry from his former incarnation as “God’s Rottweiler,” Guy Selvester (Shouts in the Piazza) wonders Who is different?”
  • ” Pope and Abbot”, by Christopher Ruddy. America Vol. 194 No. 19. May 29, 2006:

    . . . If his pontificate remains embryonic, a clear portrait of the man has begun to emerge: Pope Benedict the abbot. If John Paul II was above all a witness, carrying the truth about Christ and humanity to all peoples and places, I suggest that Benedict can be summed up as an abbot concerned with leading his community to a deeper encounter with God through prayer and service. Where John Paul was a “sender,” concerned primarily with the church’s mission, Benedict is a “gatherer,” concerned primarily with its communion.

  • Illustration by Marco Ventura - TIME April 2006Pope Benedict made it into Time Magazine‘s “100 People Who Shape Our World”, with contributions by Jeff Israely (The Pope’s First Year: How He Simplified His Role) and Peggy Noonan (Pope Benedict XVI: The New Pontiff Finds His Voice):

    This is God’s Rottweiler? John Paul’s enforcer? The man who bluntly told the Cardinals last year that they must clean the stables of the “filth” that had entered the church? According to those who have followed the work and life of Joseph Ratzinger—now Pope Benedict—this is the real him: the teacher, the thinker, the ponderer of deepest meanings.

    See also Time‘s impressive Photo Essay: The Pope’s First Year.

  • Benedict XVI, One Year Later: What’s New, by Sandro Magister. L’Espresso April 18, 2006:

    Among the novelties he has introduced during his first year as pope – which comes to completion this Easter week – there is one that Joseph Ratzinger has a special fondness for. So much so that has repeated it several times.

    It is the practice of public discussions in question and answer format. Benedict XVI arrives and greets those present, but doesn’t speak from a prepared text. He simply fields questions. And he responds to each of them, spontaneously. . . .

    Magister posts the text of five answers to the five questions posed to him by the young people in St. Peter’s Square on April 6, and links to other “spontaneous Q&A sessions” — with priests of the diocese of Rome, on March 3, 2006; children who had received first communion, in St. Peter’s Square on October 5, 2005; and priests of the diocese of Aosta, July 25, 2005.

  • Zenit News Service has published numerous interviews with various members of the clergy and the press, on their impressions of the Pope’s first year, including journalist Marco Tosatti of the Italian newspaper La Stampa, on “Benedict XVI’s Analytical-Rational Style” April 24, 2006; Salesian Sister Marcellina Farina of the Educational Sciences Auxilium on “Benedict XVI and the Dignity of Women” (April 25, 2006) and Bishop Luigi Negri on “Benedict XVI’s Greatest Strength” (May 7, 2006).
  • Habemus Papam! – a nice photo presentation from Argent by the Tiber.
  • Pope Benedict XVI’s Rookie Year?, by Mark Brumley (Insight Scoop ) — a convenient roundup of “the deluge of articles” from the mainstream media.
  • Assessing the first year of Pope Benedict XVI – ReligionLink.org provides a helpful “cheat sheet” for pundits covering the issue, with an overview of the major events and issues in B16’s first year, a list of the books on Benedict XVI published during his first year, and a contact list of Catholic pundits and talking heads.

  • Finally, an appraisal of Benedict’s First Twelve Months by Lee Hudson Teslik of the Council on Foreign Relations turns out to be (unintentionally) amusing/disturbing, assessing Benedict’s pontificate with chief attention given to the Church’s stance on contraception and condom-use in Africa.

In Other News . . .

  • By way of the Houston Catholic Worker, May-June 2006 issue comes Benedict’s Deus Caritas Est: The Way of Love in the Church’s Mission to the World, by David Schindler, Dean and Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology, Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family (Catholic University of America).

    Joseph Ratzinger, as expert for the Vatican II Ecumenical Council, in a photo from autumn of 1964

  • From the March 2006 issue of 30 Giorni [30 Days], Tradition and freedom: the lectures of the young Joseph, by Gianni Valente, on “the first years of Professor Ratzinger’s teaching in Bonn and Münster, as remembered by his students”:

    In his autobiography Ratzinger depicts the first months of teaching in Bonn as “a feast of first love”. All his students from that time well remember the undergraduate grapevine that made them crowd to the lessons of the enfant prodige theologian. The scholar of Judaism Peter Kuhn, who was to become assistant lecturer under Professor Ratzinger in the years of teaching at Tubingen, says:

    “I was then a twenty-year-old Lutheran. I was attending the Evangelical Theological Faculty, after following the lessons of Karl Barth in Basle. I knew the Bavarian Vinzenz Pfnür, who had followed Ratzinger straight from Freising. He told me: listen, we have an interesting professor, he’s worth the trouble of listening to, even if you are a Protestant. At the first seminar, I thought immediately: this man is really not like the other Catholic teachers I know.”

    In his manuscript Horst Ferdinand goes on:

    “The lectures were prepared down to the millimeter. He gave them by paraphrasing the text that he’d prepared with formulations that at times seemed to fit together like a mosaic, with a wealth of images that reminded me of Romano Guardini. In some lectures, as in the pauses in a concert, you could have heard a pin drop”

    The Redemptorist Viktor Hahn, who was the first student to “doctor” himself with Ratzinger, adds:

    “The room was always packed, the students adored him. He had a beautiful and simple language. The language of a believer”.

    What was it that so gripped the students in those lessons given out in a soft, concentrated tone, without theatrical gestures? It’s clear that what the young professor had to say was not of his making. That he was not the protagonist. “I have never sought,” Ratzinger himself explains in the book-interview The Salt of the Earth, “to create a system of my own, my own particular theology. If one really wants to speak of specificity, it’s a matter simply of the fact that I set myself to think together with the faith of the Church, and that means thinking above all with the great thinkers of the faith.”

  • The March 2006 issue of the Communion & Liberation periodical Traces includes a special section on Deus Caritas Est, reprinting the encyclical in full along with several supplements: “The Splendor of Charity”, commentary on the second part of the encyclical by Massimo Camisasca (see also his commentary on part I: “The Humanity of Faith”); “Gratuitousness in action”, a collection of comments from C&L members inspired by the encyclical; From Evangelization to Education, by Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete. (Thanks to Fred of Deep Furrows).
  • Vocation in the mystery of the Church, May 7, 2006. A Penitent Blogger posts the Message of the Holy Father for the 43rd World Day of Prayer for Vocations, accompanied by some appropriate and moving images.
  • Pope Benedict XVI, Mozart and the Quest of Beauty, AD2000 Vol 19 No 3 (April 2006). “His music is by no means just entertainment; it contains the whole tragedy of human existence.” Mark Freer, organist and choirmaster for the Latin Mass at Holy Name Church in Adelaide, Australia, discusses the classical composer held in mutual esteem by Benedict XVI, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Benedict’s brother Georg.

    This past April, a “visibly happy” Pope had the opportunity to enjoy a Saturday evening concert featuring music by his favorite composer, courtesy of the mayor of Rome. The program featured arias from Le nozze di Figaro and Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail, after which the Pope spoke briefly on the subject. Kath.net reported the story, and Closed Cafeteria‘s Gerald Augustinus provides a translation.

  • Benedict XVI and Islam, by Samir Khalil Samir, SJ. AsiaNews.it April 26, 2006:

    While the Pope is asking Islam for dialogue based on culture, human rights, the refusal of violence, he is asking the West, at the same time, to go back to a vision of human nature and rationality in which the religious dimension is not excluded. In this way – and perhaps only in this way – a clash of civilizations can be avoided, transforming it instead into a dialogue between civilizations.

  • “Everyone needs love. Everyone desires love. But not everyone understands love. In fact, love is probably the most misunderstood subject in history. . . .” Thanks to Ignatius Press, this problem can be remedied by the publication of a Deluxe Hardcover Collectors’ Edition of Deus Caritas Est.

    Why a deluxe HARDCOVER edition of the encyclical? — American Papist has the answer.

  • German Pope having an impact on his native land Catholic World News. April 27, 2006. Passauer Neue Presse interviewed German journalist Peter Seewald (best known for his book-length interviews with the Pope, Salt of the Earth and God and the World). The article was published on Kath.net and CWNews provides a translation for those of us ignorant of our Holy Father’s native language. =)

    Seewald shares his thoughts on Benedict XVI’s teaching style:

    Ratzinger has found a quite distinctive, very subtle style. Reserved, calm, almost shy, and yet he very firmly goes his own way. There is an air of meekness that you recognize from the Gospels. The new Pope makes himself little– and gives the impression of being that much greater, and as a result his office is all the more accessible. In a certain way Benedict is a born teacher, and what he has started with his new school of faith may be the greatest catechesis since the time of the apostles.

    and goes on to comment on the Pope’s effect on Germany, including the Protestant reaction. See also: Germany Sees Benedict XVI Differently Now Zenit News, May 4, 2006. (On a humorous note, Gerald Augustinus posts some photos of Pope Benedict sweets, made in Marktl am Inn, his birthplace).

  • Canonization and the emerging Benedict XVI, by Dr. Edward Peters. In The Light of the Law April 27, 2006:

    Benedict XVI’s letter to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints seems to me to be one of the most important things he’s done to date. It certainly shows the clearest difference between him and John Paul II to emerge so far. Benedict XVI could have communicated his concerns about the beatification and canonization process in a simple telephone call; instead he wrote a short treatise on the topic. The world was meant to take notice. . . .

  • This year marks the 450th anniversary of the death of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, and the 500th anniversary of the births of his closest companions, St. Francis Xavier and Blessed Peter Faber. On April 22nd, 2006 — “the feast of Mary, Mother of the Society, marking the day in 1541 when the three saints and the other original members of the Jesuits took their solemn vows in Rome” — members of “The Company of Jesus” gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica to commemorate the historical event. [Source: Catholic News Service April 19, 2006]. Mark Mossas, SJ (You Duped Me, Lord) posts the text of Benedict’s address to the Jesuits following the Mass.

  • Bilder : Bildergalerie Pontifikalamt 1999 in Weimar mit Kard. Ratzinger (heute Papst Benedikt XVI.) Participation of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger at a Tridentine Mass in Weimar. 1999.

And on a Lighter Note . . .

Previous Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI Roundups:
4/11/05;
4/15/05;
4/18/05;
4/23/05;
5/01/05;
5/21/05;
6/6/05;
6/25/05;
7/10/05;
7/14/05;
7/25/05;
8/15/05;
9/12/05;
9/27/05;
10/26/05; 11/29/05;
12/21/05;
2/05/06;
3/11/06 and 4/18/06.

Concerning My Involvement in the "Jewish Neocon" ConspiracyA Response to Thomas Herron

On Thomas E. Woods’ The Church and the Market

In March 2005 Thomas E. Woods, Jr. published a book titled The Church and the Market : A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy (Lexington Books). A summary of the book is included in one of Wood’s columns, Capitalism and Catholicism (LewRockwell.com February 14, 2005).

In light of its chosen subject matter and based on a number of reviews I’ve read by some credible sources, I saw fit to include it in my website, The Church and the Liberal Tradition, which focuses in part on the interpretation and application of Catholic social doctrine and Catholic approaches to economics.

Writing for the blog ‘Catholic Neocon Observer’ — dedicated in theory to “a clinical observation of the spread of the neoconservative [re: predominantly Jewish] virus within the Catholic print and electronic media,” but extending in practice to criticism of Catholics who would hardly fit the elusive “neocon” profile — Thomas Herron (Culture Wars) reads something more into my inclusion of Wood’s book.

In his January 2006 post, “Selective Dissent on Catholic Moral Teachings: Economics Department”, Herron states:

It appears that Christopher Blosser the web master of The Church and the Liberal Tradition, has made the acquaintance of Dr. Woods and they have become friends which wouldn’t be surprising as “the Augustinian-Whig tradition” that Blosser talks about apparently is fairly close to the libertarianism that Thomas Woods

In a subsequent March 2006 post, Herron revisits the allegation:

Now apparently Mr. Blosser and Dr. Woods are acquaintances in the New York City Tridentine Mass group and we know that it’s good to give your friends a boost in your web site . . .

That Herron relies entirely on hearsay is evident at this point, as Woods and I have never had the pleasure of meeting in person, in New York city much less at a ‘Tridentine Mass group.’ My friendship with Dr. Woods has not developed beyond a brief exchange of email last year, our discussion limited to his motivation for writing The Church and the Market.

Also, if I may take a moment to correct Mr. Herron, the term isn’t “Augustinian-Whig” but rather “Whig-Thomist” — which refers to Michael Novak and a few other Catholic scholars who are appreciative of the classical liberal tradition. Given Herron’s unfamiliarity with the term and the “Whig-Thomist” / “Augustinian-Thomist” debate, he may want to refer to the very website he has just mentioned, as well as Dr. Tracy Rowland’s two-part interview “Benedict XVI, Thomism, and Liberal Culture” (Zenit, May 27, 2005), and my post Aquinas:”First Whig?” – Novak’s Catholic Whig Tradition (Religion and Liberty September 21, 2005).

Fuming over Fringewatch and My Alleged “Jewish Neocon” Backers

Mr Herron appears to be particularly upset over a February 2006 collaborative investigation into the background of IHS Press and its founders, John Sharpe and Derek Holland: “IHS Press, Potential Fascist & Antisemitic Connections, Etc.: A Chronicle of Disturbing Patterns” (Against the Grain February 27, 2006). This particular post was a summarization of the investigative series FringeWatch, a blog by Matt Anger devoted to “monitoring the attempted neo-fascist and racist infiltration of conservative/traditional Catholicism.”

In the course of his “rebuttal” to the investigation “straining out the gnat, but swallowing the camel”, Herron refers to Dale Vree’s editorial (What is a Neoconservative? And does it Matter? New Oxford Review December 2005), in which Vree mentions an alleged offer of support by a “neocon foundation,” musing

Michael Novak (very pro-Israel) founded Crisis . . . and Fr. Neuhaus (also very pro-Israel) founded First Things, both with huge financial support from neocon foundations. So the neocons found a way to get Catholic and Christian magazines to front for their largely Jewish neocon interests . . . .

Vree’s neocon-conspiracy theorizing prompts Herron to speculate in turn:

Now isn’t it amazing that Mr. Blosser has two web sites dealing with exactly these topics [Just War[?] and The Church and the Liberal Tradition], and it isn’t amazing that the attacks on Dale Vree and New Oxford Review started in earnest in St. Blog’s Parish when he made this revelation? Just wondering, if that Jewish neocon who visited Dale Vree long ago, took the subway out to visit Christopher Blosser in Queens, N.Y.? Mr. Blosser thinks that I’m attacking him and his family for being recent converts to the Catholic Church. Nothing could be further from the truth, I’d just like to know if he has hidden sponsors.

Well, Mr. Herron — nothing could be further from the truth. I have received neither a visitation nor an offer of financial backing by a “Jewish neocon,” and the various online projects I’m engaged in are largely the result of my own inspiration.

Besides, my influence over St. Blog’s parish is largely exaggerated. Criticism of Dale Vree “started in earnest” quite some time ago, and (if I recall) chiefly as a result of Vree’s sniping at Amy Welborn, Mark Shea, Scott Hahn, Dave Morrison, et al, each of whom have their own reasons for taking issue with New Oxford Review.

If Mr. Herron is truly curious about my own criticism, he can read all about it in Dale Vree and the New Oxford Review (Against the Grain February 10, 2006); and my subsequent criticism of Vree’s interpretation of just war reasoning, Toward a Proper Understanding of the Catholic Just War Tradition (May 18, 2006).

The title of Herron’s post, “straining out the gnat, but swallowing the camel”, refers (again) to my willingness to include Dr. Wood’s The Church and the Market, and the fact that I have scrupulously removed books published by IHS Press from my website. Herron asks:

In view of Christopher Blosser’s stated scrupulosity with recommending books on his web site from questionable sources, how does he explain an outright attack on the popes which clearly state that they should not be listened to because they don’t understand the “science” of economics?”

Suffice to say in light of Matt Anger’s investigation of IHS Press and my own confrontation of John Sharpe’s promotion of anti-semitic works by his organization (The Legion of St. Louis), I have strong reservations about linking to this particular publisher. With respect to The Church and the Market, I know enough by way of reviews (and my own familiarity with Woods’ columns on this topic) to give Dr. Woods the benefit of the doubt.

When I was informed of “Catholic Neocon Observer” (and its various allegations about me), I weighed the tedious chore of responding against the likely possibility that, in so doing, I would risk providing Thomas Herron with the online audience he so desperately craves. However, seeing as how Bill Cork has felt compelled to respond to far more serious charges (“From the Fringe …” Built on a Rock May 20, 2006), I decided now was as good an opportunity as any to get it over with.

Inasmuch as my alleged friendship with Dr. Thomas Woods and financial backing by “Jewish neocons” have caused Mr. Herron no small amount of concern, it is my hope that this post will relieve him of his worries.

Related Posts

Discussions within the Catholic Just War Tradition

An Assessment of the Catholic application of just war theory to the U.S. Iraqi Conflict

“Can We Agree to Disagree?”

As readers may recall, the issue of proper discernment in areas of prudential judgement has been the subject of discussion on this blog, especially concerning the application of Catholic social doctrine in economic matters, or statements on the use of military force (as in the debate over the U.S.-Iraqi conflict).

Jimmy AkinThis subject was visited in March of last year by Jimmy Akin in the excellent article “War and Capital Punishment: Can We Agree to Disagree?”, This Rock Vol. 16, No. 3 (March 2005).

. . . there are situations where war and the death penalty are moral (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2309, 2267). It is left to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for such matters to determine whether the conditions in a particular case warrant their use. Consequently, to disagree with the Pope on these issues is to disagree with his prudential judgment, not with Church doctrine.

Even though in his position the pope is not charged with decisions about waging war or executing criminals, deference is certainly due to his prudential judgment. But to disagree with his prudential judgment in a particular case does not amount to dissent from Church teaching and does not trigger the provisions of canon law (e.g., CIC 915) that would result in Communion being withheld.

Jimmy begins his article with a citation from Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion — General Principles, the June 2004 communique by Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), initially a confidential memo to Cardinal McCarrick and later leaked to the press (its authenticity confirmed by the Holy See).

The purpose of the memo was to address the response of Catholic leaders to “pro-choice Catholic” legislators, whose obstinate public refusal to submit to Church teaching on abortion, euthanasia and human cloning was a source of persistent scandal. In the course of doing so, Ratzinger briefly addressed what might be called the “seamless garment” approach, and the common rejoinder that Communion should be withheld not only from politicians who dissent from the Church on abortion, but also those who dissent on matters of capital punishment and the war. On the contrary, said Ratzinger:

“Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

How far does this “legitimate diversity of opinion” go? — According to Jimmy, Ratzinger’s recognition of such is predicated on the Church’s assertion that the prudential judgment of those responsible for the decision to use military force rests with the leaders of state, rather than the Church. “Though the pontiff can counsel political leaders on such decisions,” says Jimmy, “it is beyond his mandate to make such decisions, and his opinions in this area do not decisively govern the state’s actions.”

At the same time, disagreement between Catholics (and with the Pope) on matters of war is not to be construed as “anything goes,” but is itself constrained to the criteria of the Catholic Just War Tradition. While there has been no definitive formulation of this criteria, according to Jimmy, it has been conveyed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church [Sections 2309-2314], howbeit in a format that some have judged to be less than adequate:

The Catechism [is not] an exhaustive, technical survey of Catholic teaching. In keeping with the nature of a catechism, it teaches in summary fashion and leaves things out. Some have noted that the Catechism’s formulation of the just-war conditions does not include all of the considerations that the Church has brought to bear on this question.

Nevertheless, the conditions enumerated in the Catechism represent an important formulation of the Church’s just-war doctrine, which is theologically certain, though not definitively phrased. As a result, a fundamental disagreement with these criteria would amount to dissent from Catholic doctrine.

“A politician might quibble with the Catechism’s phrasing of the circumstances or urge something from historical Catholic just-war teaching that the Catechism omits,” says Akin, “to go beyond this and to disagree fundamentally with the criteria would be to go beyond legitimate diversity of opinion and into dissent.”

The points that Jimmy raises in this article are important ones, and worth considering. To this day, it remains a hotly debated issue whether Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus, Michael Novak, George Weigel, Deal Hudson, and others who supported the Bush administration in the U.S.-Iraqi conflict were themselves simply disagreeing over the application of Catholic Just War doctrine, or “disagreeing fundamentally with the criteria” and, in so doing, “going beyond legitimate diversity of opinion into dissent.”

A Matter of Prudential Judgement?

For example, the Catholic writer Russell Shaw — himself a vocal critic against the Bush administration, rose to the defense of Hudson, Novak, and Weigel in an editorial Iraq, Weigel and the Pope (CatholicExchange.com March 31, 2003). “Although I disagreed with them — indeed, perhaps because I disagreed,” said Shaw, “I feel obliged to say that dissenters they most emphatically are not.”

Given the limits of human knowledge, even prudential judgments by prudent people can be mistaken. In the present instance, the pope and Catholics who differed with him — conscientious and informed people like Novak, Weigel and Hudson — based their stands on an assessment of likely consequences of different courses of action. Since the assessments of what was more or less likely to happen in the future were different, so were the conclusions about what course of action to take.

To disagree with the pope in this manner is not dissent. It’s not as if Pope John Paul II had taught a definitive moral principle (e.g., direct attacks on noncombatants are ruled out) which the disagreeing Catholics rejected. They agreed with the principle. They disagreed about something contingent and by no means certain: what the future outcome of complex, competing scenarios was likely to be.

Karl KeatingThe editors of This Rock (Karl Keating’s monthly apologetics periodical) took a similar defence of Weigel, Novak and company:

First the death penalty. Now just war theory. The Pope and bishops offer a prudential judgment about the justice of war with Iraq and some prominent Catholics—Fr. James Schall and George Weigel, for instance—respectfully disagree. Immediately the cries of “cafeteria Catholicism” go up; liberal dissenters from the Church’s teaching on issues like homosexual practice and abortion say, “See! So-called ‘orthodox’ Catholics dissent from the Church’s teaching just as much as we do”—as though in Catholic teaching all that is not forbidden is compulsory.

Uh, not quite. Here’s what the American bishop said about their attempt to read the current world situation in light of just war theory:

    “We offer not definitive conclusions, but rather our serious concerns and questions in the hope of helping all of us to reach sound moral judgments. People of good will may differ on how to apply just war norms in particular cases, especially when events are moving rapidly and the facts are not altogether clear.”

The bishops make it clear that they are not binding the conscience of anybody believer to their opinion, precisely because the possession of specialized knowledge (such as classified intelligence) makes all the difference in the world in assessing the situation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that, among other things, “The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good” (CCC 2309). That means Caesar in the first place, not the bishops, since it is Caesar who is in charge of the public good.

This does not mean, of course, that Caesar is not to abide by just war teaching. Nor does it mean that he has no obligation to pay attention to the input of the bishops in forming his response to military threats. But it is to say that Catholics who are forming their consciences on the matter of war with Iraq are not bound to march in lockstep with the bishops in their opinions. There is no dogma being promulgated here, only a prudential judgment.

(As Though All That Is Not Forbidden Is Compulsory This Rock Vol. 14, No. 5. May-June 2003).

Other authors have disagreed. Mark and Louise Zwick (Houston Catholic Worker) presume Weigel and Neuhaus to be, in the words of the Zwicks, “attempting to develop a new philosophy of just war which would include preemptive strikes against other nations, what might be called a ‘preventive war.'” (“Pope John Paul II calls War a Defeat for Humanity: Neoconservative Iraq Just War Theories Rejected” Houston Catholic Worker Vol. XXIII, No. 4, July-August 2003).

In At Odds with the Pope: Legitimate Authority and Just Wars Commonweal May 23, 2003), William Cavanaugh questions whether the moral authority to go to war properly belongs to the State, asking: “Has the church really handed over its moral decision making on war to the leaders of the secular nation-state?” For Cavanaugh,

The passage in question from the Catechism lays an obligation on civil authorities to consider moral truth, and not merely reasons of state, in deciding issues of lethal force. It nowhere limits the church’s own competence in these matters. The Code of Canon Law (747,2) makes this plain: “The church has the right always and everywhere to proclaim moral principles, even in respect of the social order, and to make judgments about any human matter in so far as this is required by fundamental human rights or the salvation of souls” . . . For the church to defer to the nation-state in making moral judgments on war would be to court disaster.

Lately, another Catholic voice and periodical has gone much, much further in its rebuke of Neuhaus, Novak, Weigel and company; but before we turn to him, I would like to examine these papal pronouncements (by John Paul II and Benedict XVI) on this issue and their differing interpretations.

The Popes and the War

As one might expect, the various sayings of John Paul II and our present Pope are frequently appealed to by both sides in this debate. Just as those supportive of the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq appeal to Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2004 recognition of “a diversity of opinion” in matters of war, anti-war Catholics have laid claim to numerous statements by the present Pope and his predecessor. Regarding war itself, perhaps no phrase is more cited by John Paul II than his January 2000 World Day of Peace address:

The twentieth century bequeaths to us above all else a warning: wars are often the cause of further wars because they fuel deep hatreds, create situations of injustice and trample upon people’s dignity and rights…. War is a defeat for humanity. Only in peace and through peace can respect for human dignity and its inalienable rights be guaranteed.

Pope John Paul IIUpon close examination, many of Pope Benedict XVI’s statements on war (whether on the Iraqi conflict or war in general) appear to take their cue directly from the witness and thought of his predecessor.

On one hand, Cardinal Martino’s March 2003 proclamation that “there is no such thing as just war” in the National Catholic Register (“I think with modern weaponry, there is no proportionality between the offense and the reply. . . . War is so destructive now. It is not just a fight between one person and another”) provoked a furious rebuttal from George Weigel (“No Just War Possible?” The Catholic Difference April 2, 2003). Yet, less then a decade earlier William L. Portier drew similar conclusions upon evaluating the response of John Paul II to the 1991 Gulf war (“Are we really serious when we ask God to deliver us from war? The Catechism and the challenge of Pope John Paul II” (Communio Spring 1996):

Before and during the 1991 Gulf War, much to the consternation of policy makers and moral theologians on both the right and left in the U.S., Pope John Paul II was resolute in his refusal to be drawn into the widespread discussion of the just cause and conduct of what he referred to as the “so-called ‘Gulf War.”‘ Amid debate about whether the U.N. resort to arms in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait met the conditions for a just war, the pope, a near-solitary voice on the international scene, focused instead on the futility of such calculations in the face of modern weapons and the human suffering they cause.

Portier goes on to note the pope’s “striking refusal to discuss international conflict in a framework that distinguishes, as a matter of course, between total war and limited war” and a marked distancing from the just war tradition as normally construed:

The pope seems clearly, in the words of Bryan Hehir, to be
tightening “the moral barriers against the use of force.” If he has not abandoned “just-war” theory (as the editorial of 6 July 1991 urged), he has made the evaluation of its conditions
sufficiently rigorous to move the use of military force close to the periphery of moral discussion. The consternation of both pacifists and proponents of just-war theory at the pope’s recent
statements might be a sign that he has begun to think with the “entirely new mind” urged in Gaudium et Spes (n. 80). Indeed, we could interpret recent papal pronouncements on international conflict as an ongoing attempt to carry forward the project outlined in Chapter V of Gaudium et Spes. While leaving the door open a crack for the serious possibility of “humanitarian intervention,” the pope seems possessed at the same time of a profound evangelical skepticism about using military force as a means of securing justice. . . .

On the one hand, because of his insistence on the legitimacy of self-defense, the pope cannot be called a pacifist. (It might be difficult to construe every “legitimate defense by military force” as the kind of “police” action some pacifists would support.) On the other hand, he has drawn the restrictions on the use of military force with sufficient rigor that proponents of just-war theory, if they wish to take him seriously, must reexamine their assumptions and reorient their discussion about war.

Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVISecond to JPII’s blanket condemnation of war, the two most popular citations from the “peace” movement appear to be a line from Cardinal Ratzinger, circa September 22, 2002: “The concept of a ‘preventive war’ does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (Cardinal Ratzinger Says Unilateral Attack on Iraq Not Justified Zenit News Service), and, in a May 2, 2003 interview with Zenit News, the rather pointed dismissal of the Catholic Just War tradition, which as we can see follows the precedent of John Paul II:

“There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a “just war.”

Both quotations by Benedict XVI are cited in Benedict XVI: A New Peace Pope by Michael Griffin of the Catholic Peace Fellowship. May 2003.

It is worth noting that Cardinal Ratzinger’s comment on preventive war in the September 22, 2002 was in fact preceded by his acknowledgement that “political questions are not within his competence” — it is interesting that this acknowledgement is usually left out of citations by the anti-war movement, and we will be discussing this further later on.

The statements from Martino and John Paul II prompted Michael McGurn of the Wall Street Journal to lament:

What we have lost here is a tremendous teaching opportunity. And if the Vatican’s problem is, as Archbishop Martino suggests and the pope’s own words at times imply, not simply Iraq but a larger discomfort with just war in a modern world, it raises even more questions. Namely, how President Bush can be held in breach of moral criteria that (a) are in the process of being radically revised and (b) really can’t be met anyhow.

(War No More? How much of a pacifist is the pope? Wall Street Journal March 2003).

In Whither the ‘Just War’? (America Vol. 188 No. 10. March 24, 2003), Drew Christiansen, S.J. pondered the serious implications of the idea that the just war had “gone the way of the death penalty”:

Just war would be admitted in principle, but hardly ever in practice. Absent the institution of effective alternative conflict-resolution mechanisms and a standby U.N. force, official Catholic teaching would have become functionally pacifist, just as critics like George Weigel have argued for some time. If this were true, much would change for Catholics, from military service to conscientious objection and military chaplaincy. The salience of the church’s use of just-war criteria to prevent and limit war would also be greatly reduced, as would its ability to provide moral commentary on the formation of military policy and the actual conduct of war.

While we can’t go into a greater discussion of the issue at this time, I will add that the appeal to the indiscriminate destructiveness of modern military technology as a rationale for the illegitimacy of just war criteria has been questioned by just war scholar James Turner Johnson and discussed in two posts: “Shock & Awe, Civilian Casualties and Questionable Statistics” Just War? June 17, 2005, and “Pope Benedict, Modern Weaponry and Civilian Casualties” June 18, 2005).

Suffice to say Pope Benedict’s statements on the war will likely cause as much “consternation of policy makers and moral theologians” as those of his predecessor.

Dale Vree vs. “Cafeteria Catholicism” of Pro-War Catholics

In the latest issue of The New Oxford Review (“Another Outbreak of Mater, Si; Magistra, No “ May 2006), editor Dale Vree appears to have thrown down the gauntlet and gone a step further, equating those who disagree with the Pope on the war with “pick-and-choose” Catholics. While he does not mention Neuhaus, Novak or Weigel by name, given the frequent criticisms of Catholic “neoconservatives” by the NOR, one can venture a guess as to who Vree is referring to.

The pronouncements of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, says Vree, are not merely “prudential” judgements, but “have to do with doctrine and morals. War is precisely about morals.” (Strange, as if to suggest that Catholics had up to this point excluded doctrine and morals from the debate over the war?)

Vree proceeds to make his case that the invasion of Iraq was a preventive war, not a pre-emptive war (“an attack initiated on the basis of incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack is imminent,” according to the Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms).

In the invasion of Iraq, there was no “incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack [was] imminent.” A preventive war is an attack initiated on the basis of the possibility of an attack by a potential foe sometime in the future. Since there is no incontrovertible or certain evidence that an imminent attack is planned by the adversary, it is not self-defense. All just wars must be for self-defense, or as the Catechism says, “legitimate defense” (#2309). One of the criteria of a just war is that “the damage inflicted . . . must be lasting, grave, and certain” (Catechism, #2309; italics added). Another criterion of a just war is that it be a last resort: “all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective” (#2309). Both criteria rule out preventive wars. (And all criteria of a just war must be met; if not, it’s an unjust war.)

According to Vree, Catholics should judge that the war in Iraq was not a morally legitimate one. Even if it was not formally condemned in an encyclical (“we’re not aware of any encyclical that said a particular war was unjust, and there wouldn’t have been time to write an encyclical anyway”), by virtue of the fact that the Holy See applied Just War Doctrine to this particular war and deemed it unsatisfactory, condemnation of the war stands as “a teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium” to which all Catholics should render “loyal submission of the will and intellect” (Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, #25).

As if this were not enough, Vree goes on to suggest — “in a roundabout way” — how the condemnation of the invasion of Iraq is infallible [even though it isn’t]. In much the same manner as the Church has infallibly condemned the direct and volunary killing of a human being by abortion and euthanasia, so does Vree assert that our soldiers stand condemned according to their participation in an unjust war:

So, what about unjust wars? In a just war, killing soldiers and killing civilians who get in the way of military targets (collateral damage) is not murder, whereas killing civilians on purpose is murder. But in an unjust war, killing soldiers, killing civilians who get in the way of military targets, and killing civilians on purpose are all murder. An unjust war is the “direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being,” and is in the higher category of infallible teaching. So, yes, the prohibition against unjust wars is infallible. An unjust war is murder, just as abortion is murder.

Shades of Bishop Botean?

In their March 19, 2003 Statement on War with Iraq, USCCB President Bishop Wilton D. Gregory expressed his serious reservations about the decision of the Bush administration and allied nations to go to war, expressing the fear that “The decisions being made about Iraq and the war on terrorism could have historic implications for the use of force, the legitimacy of international institutions, and the role of the United States in the world.” At the same time, he also acknowledged the role of conscience and the responsibility of President Bush:

People of good will may and do disagree on how to interpret just war teaching and how to apply just war norms to the controverted facts of this case. We understand and respect the difficult moral choices that must be made by our President and others who bear the responsibility of making these grave decisions involving our nation’s and the world’s security (Catechism #2309).

“[t]hose who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace” (#2310). . . .

Earlier that month, Bishop John Michael Botean of the Romanian Catholic Diocese of Saint George in Canton, OH, issued a rather more provocative and far-reaching statement against participation in the war with Iraq. In a Lenten message to his flock, he declared:

. . . for the sake of your salvation as well as my own, that any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin. Beyond a reasonable doubt this war is morally incompatible with the Person and Way of Jesus Christ. With moral certainty I say to you it does not meet even the minimal standards of the Catholic just war theory.

Botean’s statement in turn prompted a number of responses, including that of Mark Brumley (Brumley Responds to Botean, Envoy Encore March 21, 2003) and canon lawyer Edward N. Peters (Bishop Boteans’ Lenten Message In the Light of the Law March 18, 2003):

“The eparch’s statement is unprecedented for its clarity and starkness; it simply must be read to appreciate this point, though fair-minded readers can admit that it is not a peacenik, blame-America-first harangue, but is instead a reasoned (though, I think, wrongly) exercise of conscience. It cannot be issued, however, and then forgotten. If Bishop Botean is correct, his argumentation would seem to apply to all Catholics, and only an inexcusable lack of pastoral solicitude on the part of other Eastern and Latin bishops could account for them not following suit immediately. If, on the other hand, Bishop Botean is wrong, then he has placed his faithful in a profound and direct conflict of conscience between their ecclesiastical and civil leaders, which, I suggest only an inexcusable lack of pastoral solicitude would suffer them to remain in.

If we overlook the dripping sarcasm that has become the distinctive trademark of the New Oxford Review, we can see that Vree and Botean are of like mind, striking the same notes, arriving at the same conclusions. And so we are left with the question: how should one understand disagreement with the Pope on the matter of war — and not just any war, but this war?

Examining Vree in light of Cardinal Ratzinger

Now, there are several points made by Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI which seem to me to call into question Vree’s interpretation:

First, while expressing his opinion on the war in September 2002, and his preference that “the United Nations . . . should make the final decision,” the Cardinal nevertheless acknowledged, as reported by Zenit, “that political questions are not within his competence.” In so doing, Ratzinger expresses both his personal judgement and — in his characteristically careful manner — reinforces the understanding that the judgement to use military force necessarily rests upon those leaders entrusted with the responsibility and temporal authority to do so.

Likewise, in a subsequent interview with Zenit News in May 2, 2003, articulating the position of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger again stated [italics mine]:

“Of course, [The Pope] did not impose this position as a doctrine of the Church but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by faith. The Holy Father’s judgment is also convincing from the rational point of view: There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq.”

Again, it would appear that Pope John Paul II’s statements on the war reflect his prudential judgement — while they invite our consideration as faithful Catholics, they should not be construed as a “non-negotiable” mandate requiring obedience.

It would seem that Dale Vree’s criticism of Catholics who supported the war in Iraq would apply just as readily to Catholics who differed with the prudential judgement of the Pope on the application of the death penalty. On this point, it is worth noting that canon lawyer R. Michael Dunnigan, Avery Cardinal Dulles, and Fr. George Rutler have all arrived at similar conclusions with respect to papal statements on the death penalty and how they are to be properly interpreted.

Karl Keating addressed this very issue in his monthly e-letter Must Catholics Oppose Capital Punishment? March 2, 2004. After presenting the views of Dunnigan, Dulles and Rutler, he argues that the Church “does not mandate opposition to the death penalty, nor does she mandate support for it:

Must Catholics adopt a particular view regarding the use (or non-use) or capital punishment? In short: no.

They are free to endorse, as a political policy, the complete abolition of capital punishment, and they are free to endorse the use of capital punishment, even beyond the very narrow limits given in the prudential judgment in section 2267. Contrary to what some people claim, there has been no revolution in Church teaching on the matter.

Cardinal Ratzinger made this same point in Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles, cited by Jimmy Akin, and which recognizes

“[I]f a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war,” says Ratzinger, “he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace. . . it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

The expected rejoinder is that here, Ratzinger is only granting permissibility to take up arms “to repel an aggressor” and speaking within the context of the just war tradition. But the question of who constituted the aggressor in the U.S. Iraq conflict is one of the many questions that are undoubtedly open to debate, the answer to which is by no means certain (“War of Aggression”? Just War? October 12, 2005).

For these reasons, it would appear that Vree’s conclusion concerning the implications of JPII’s pronouncements is contradicted by none other than Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

James Turner Johnson’s Case for Pre-emptive War

Dale Vree’s criticism of Catholics supportive of the overthrow of the Baathist regime — or, in his words, those who “can only think in nationalistic terms”, “consider it patriotic to support whatever wars their nation fights” and are no better than “cafeteria-Catholics” — is largely contingent on the notion that the just war tradition excludes any form of pre-emptive action. While this is ideally a subject for further discussion and may exceed the central topic of this post, I would like to note that James Turner Johnson (a historian and one of the foremost authorities of the just war tradition, religious or secular) has made a good case to the contrary. In The War to Oust Saddam Hussein: The Context, The Debate, The War and the Future, he points out that “the idea that preemption is sometimes justified is far from new,” citing as an example Hugo Grotius: “if my assailant siezes a weapon with an obvious intent on killing me.” A later version of this test would be the amassment of an army on one’s borders, or mobilization of an enemy’s forces. And, “while the Israeli air strike against Egyptian/Syrian air power in the 1967 Middle East war was roundly criticized . . . in the aftermath a consensus seems to have formed that preparation for invasion can be signaled . . . by the clear preparation for an air strike, with obvious intent to attack.” [p. 52]

Regarding the arguments put forth by the Bush administration — that, coupled with evidence of intent, the possession of WMD’s by an enemy serves to justify preemptive use of force, Johnson concludes:

Had their in fact been such weapons, I believe this would have become a new standard test of when preemption is justified. That Iraq did not in fact have these weapons does not dispose of the argument: Is the concrete effort to obtain such weapons itself evidence of malicious intent that justifies the use of force to cancel out that effort?

As Johnson notes, this is an especially pertinent question in the case of North Korea or Iran, the latter involved in a furious drive to attain nuclear power under the guise of legitimacy while vowing the wholesale eradication of the nation of Israel.
James Turner Johnson

According to Johnson, “A moralist working within the just war tradition may make clear that there must be justification, but is going beyond this role to pass judgement on the facts of the case so that premption is presented as morally impossible.” Furthermore:

Moral discussion of the question of preemption is complicated — distorted — by the assumptions of the Westphalian system of international order as incorporated into positive international law, where there is a tendency to regard first use of force across an international border as always wrong and second use as always justified. This version of the aggressor-defender distinction does not well fit the case of threats [WMD’s] that, if carried through, have the capacity to annihilate a significant part of the population of the state or even, in the case of a relatively small state, to wipe it out entirely. . . .

For my part, I have gradually moved to the position that there is a serious case for preemption when an avowed enemy has WMD, and all other means of dealing with this threat offer no hope of removing it. . . . [however], given the lack of agreement on clear guidelines for thinking about preemption, it is wrong to focus so exclusively on preemption when thinking about the justification of using armed force against Saddam Hussein.

The Conspicuous Absence of “Humanitarian Intervention”

Contrary historical revisionism of Barbara Boxer, the threat of WMD’s were not the only reason many Christians were in conscience compelled to support the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Professor Johnson has also observed that the issue of humanitarian intervention is conspicuously absent from much of the 2002-2003 anti-war debate, including that of the USCCB:

In 1993 the USCCB declared humanitarian intervention a duty in cases of gross human rights violations [The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace NCCB, Nov. 7, 1993], and observed that claims of sovereignty by those engaged in such violations have no absolute status in Catholic teaching, and accepted use of force as a form that intervention might take. Such voices were not heard in the debate over using force against Saddam Hussein

Dr Johnson inquires:

Were the rights of Iraqis less important than those of Bosnians, Kosovars, and Rwandans? Or did the fact that the U.S. had national interest reasons for moving against Hussein mean that any use of force in this case was immoral? — the moral debate in 2002-2003 failed to address this missing dimension in the just war debate.

In his excellent examination of various approaches to war within Christianity (War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning, Aquinas-Luther Conference October 24-26, 2002), Dr. Philip Blosser discussed the use of moral reasoning and the recognition that the duty of “love to neighbor” might very well compel one nation to rise to the defense of another — as in repelling Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in the first Iraq war, and in responding to Saddam’s persistent aggression against his own people:

Among the other things Christians concluded, over the years, was that they had to ask what Jesus required of them when turning the other cheek would mean failing to defend one’s neighbor or capitulating to the “evil peace” of a repressive aggressor. This was the beginning of the tradition of moral reasoning that began the arduous work of formulating the conditions under which war came to be regarded as sometimes justifiable, sometimes even a duty of love to neighbor and God, as a means of defending or restoring the just peace of a rightly ordered political community. The task of establishing and preserving such a peace was understood, not as a sinful undertaking to sully one’s hands, but as a vocation eminently worthy of the Christian in the interim between Christ’s Resurrection and Second Advent.

(For further discussion of this aspect of the debate, see The Little-Discussed Question of Humanitarian Intervention Just War January 9, 2004).

Conflicting Readings of the Just War Tradition

In The War to Oust Saddam Hussein: The Context, The Debate, The War and the Future, Johnson addresses the “uses and misuses of just war thinking in recent American debate.” According to Johnson, “the recent recovery of the idea of just war and its use in debate . . . has produced an even greater variety of versions of the just war idea. Claims made on behalf of appeals to the idea of just war vary accordingly.”

A target of Johnson’s severe criticism and close scrutiny is Bishop Wilton Gregory’s letter to President Bush (and the subsequent position of the US Catholic Bishops), reliant as they are upon “a moral presumption against the use of armed force” — “an idea that is unique to them and never appeared in Catholic doctrine — or the broader just war tradition — prior to the American bishops’ 1983 pastoral letter Challenge of Peace.” The prevalent interpretation of the just war tradition by the U.S. Bishops, and by many of those who oppose the war, is at variance with what is classically conceived as the just war tradition:

The U.S. Catholic Bishops described just war tradition as beginning with a ‘presumption against war’ and represented the jus ad bellum criteria as guidance for determining whether this presumption should be overruled in particular cases or not. The classical just war tradition, by contrast, had thought of the use of force as morally neutral, good where a war was determined to be just justum bellum, a use of force by the sovereign authority of a political community for a just cause, rather narrowly defined, and with a right intention, defined negatively as the avoidance of a number of wrong motives, including self-aggrandizement, theft, bullying, and action out of hatred of the other simply for being the other, and defined positively as intended to establish and restore peace. To cast the idea of just war as beginning with a general presumption against war was to make it into something different than what the classical idea had been. . . . [p. 26-27]

As the bishops have developed and applied a ‘presumption against war’ in various contexts since 1983, they have transformed the traditional just war categories from moral concerns to guide the practice of statecraft into a series of moral obstacles that, as described and interpreted, are arguments against the use of moral force’s ever being justifiable. The regular advancing of worst-case scenarios as unbiased moral advice underscores the opposition to uses of armed force as such and distorts the application of just war reasoning. The result is functional pacifism, despite the claim that this is what the just war idea requires. [p. 49]

As James Turner Johnson demonstrates in The War to Oust Saddam Hussein, the very application of “just war” criteria varies considerably depending on the party doing so, with the USCCB and some within the Vatican employing a hermeneutic (legitimizing a strictly defensive war to the exclusion of any other) that is clearly at odds with classical just war theory. Dr. Edward Feser (contributor to the blog Right Reason) demonstrated this as well in a three-part presentation, appealing to pre-Vatican II manuals on ethics and moral theology “to show that the war in Iraq is, to repeat, at the very least defensible from the point of view of traditional just war theory, and thus on the basis of premises that paleoconservatives themselves must regard as reasonable.” (“Paleoconservatism and the war in Iraq” Right Reason Part I | Part II | Part III March 2006).

Those who are familiar with George Weigel’s many editorials on this subject will certainly recognize the influence of Professor Johnson. I think it is unfortunate that Professor Johnson’s numerous writings on this subject have rarely played a part in the discussions of the Iraq war I have witnessed between Catholics, the notable exception being the correspondence section of First Things magazine.

If a critical engagement of Prof. Johnson’s book is too much to hope for by Vree or the Zwicks, a condensed version of his position can be found in Just War, As It Was and Is (First Things 149. January 2005: 14-24).

Whither ‘Just War’? — Two Questions

In conclusion, there are two important questions that remain and will persist in the debate over the Iraqi war and its aftermath:

  1. George Weigel and James Turner Johnson, in their evaluation of both the American Catholic Church’s response to the war (as well as numerous voices from the Vatican), have criticised such contemporary Catholic approaches as “functionally pacifist.” Now that Benedict XVI himself has appeared to echo Cardinal Martino’s assertion that “there is no such thing as just war,” should we in fact discard this tradition as an inapplicable theory?

    Or, rather, does the contemporary reality of terrorism (as in September 11, 2001) and the support of terrorism by “rogue states” (such as Iraq and others) call for a necessary evaluation and revision of this tradition? As one reader noted in a response to Drew Christiansen’s “Whither the Just War”:

    “The just war criteria “imminent threat,” the closest relevant moral concept, does not help us respond to an attack like that of September 11, 2001 (or the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962). But just war theory cannot be abandoned because of this temporary conceptual defect. Serious moral reflection will generate over time a reasoned Christian response to this latest necessity.”

    As Christiansen himself concluded: “One thing is clear: The tradition has evolved to the point where authoritative clarification is in order.”

  2. Are papal pronouncements on the war to be considered “prudential judgements,” about which Catholics can disagree and remain in good standing (much like they do with respect to the application of the death penalty or economic matters?)

    Or do they in fact demand “loyal submission of the will and intellect,” as Dale Vree of the New Oxford Review asserts, such that those who disagree could be deemed no better than “cafeteria Catholics” who willfully and publicly dissent on contraception, abortion, gay marriage? Is Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus’ support of the war, for example, to be regarded as equivalent to the “pro-choice” posturing of Senator John Kerry?

    Vree’s rejection of prudential judgement in “Another Outbreak of Mater, Si; Magistra, No “ (New Oxford Review May 2006) and suggestion that Catholic disagreement with the pope on the Iraq war is tantamount to heresy places him at odds not only with Karl Keating and Jimmy Akin, but even fellow anti-war Catholics like Russel Shaw, who recognized:

    “To say that people who concluded that the preponderance of evidence pointed to the rightness of the war were dissenting from papal teaching was absurd. Pope John Paul also was expressing a prudential judgment in condemning the war, and, although he expressed it passionately and frequently, nothing he said suggested anything to the contrary.

    In my opinion, the present position of Dale Vree and the New Oxford Review is symptomatic of just how confused this debate can become, absent any kind of authoritative clarification or correction.

    To put it in the words of Jimmy Akin, “Can We Agree to Disagree?”


Related Articles & Links

  • The Catholic Just War Tradition and the Iraq War – Since the beginning of the deliberations over the use of armed force against Saddam Hussein, I have attempted to compile various articles and essays from both sides (predominantly Catholic) on the question of the application of the Catholic Just War tradition.
  • Iraq and the Moral Judgement, by Richard J. Neuhaus. First Things 156 (October 2005). “Herewith an interview I did with ZENIT, the Rome-based news service, on March 10, 2003, shortly before the invasion of Iraq. Following the interview, I offer reflections on how the situation appears two and a half years later.”
  • A Spectrum of Opinion: Catholics and the War in Iraq, by Russell Shaw. Our Sunday Visitor February 1, 2004. Shaw is a superb model of those who have criticized the war and its supporters while recognizing the prudential nature of the discussion, and striving to keep his own essays free of the “ad hominem sniping, the anti-Americanism, and the other bits of nastiness that often colored the debate.”
  • Preemptive War: What would Aquinas say?, Gregory M. Reichberg. Commonweal January 30, 2004 / Volume CXXXI, Number 2. A fair assessment of both sides of the debate, remarkably free of the usual polemics from the Catholic left.
  • Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace, by George Weigel (Oxford University Press, 1987). This work is hands-down is the best I have read on American Catholic thought on just war reasoning and its present defects. (Here is a review from the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly newsletter). It was written in the 80’s, so it ends with an evaluation of the Bishops 1983 pastoral “The Challenge of Peace”. In my opinion it should be republished — revised and updated with an evaluation of Catholic thought during Gulf wars I and II.

Related Articles on Dale Vree / New Oxford Review, by I. Shawn McElhinney (Rerum Novarum)