When Pope Benedict, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and designer John Galliano are all on the front page at the same time, and all for remarks about Jews, people should take notice. Why? Because the three stories all speak to a variety of fears and insecurities among Jews which are paralleled by a variety of unresolved resentments which are still apparently held by many influential non-Jews.
Pope Benedict XVI leaves after delivering his weekly Angelus blessing to the crowd gathered below in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican February 27, 2011. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito
The Pope made the news because his newest book, the second volume of his “Jesus of Nazareth” exonerates the collective Jewish people for killing Jesus. While I appreciate both the rigor of both the theological and scriptural analysis upon which the pope bases himself, I find it odd that repeating what has been official Church doctrine since the 1965 document, Nostra Aetate, would make such headlines.
To be sure, as the spiritual leader of one billion Catholics, what the pope does could always be news. But in actuality, not all papal teaching makes the headlines and certainly one wonders why this item should. While I appreciate that the desire to “seal for a new generation of Catholics,” the churches views on the matter, it seems that something more is going on.
Could it be that the pope chose to reiterate the Church’s rejection of Jewish guilt for the crucifixion, the media’s attention to this story, and the number of Jewish groups that are celebrating this news, all reflect that the matter is still not resolved in the minds of those affected? Could it be that the pope knows that there is far more Catholic-inspired anti-Semitism than the Church would like to admit? Could it be that Jews are far less secure in our relations with the Church and its members than we often say we are?
Were these still not such sensitive issues, I cannot imagine that any of this would be a big deal. The seeming fragility of Jewish-Catholic relations, relations in which the utterance of a single priest or the work of a particular Catholic actor-director such as Mel Gibson, appear to threaten the very relationship itself, all attest to the remaining fears, suspicions and resentments which exist in people’s hearts and minds, if not in the official positions of either the Jewish or the Catholic communities.
Likewise neither the obnoxious and hateful views expressed by John Galliano, nor the bizarre anti-Semitic ranting of Julian Assange actually threaten the Jewish people. So why are they news? Again the fame of the speakers accounts for some, but not all of the intense coverage they are getting.
In this Jan. 21, 2011 file photo, British fashion designer John Galliano appears at the end of his men’s fall-winter 2011/2012 fashion collection presented in Paris. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon, File) (Jacques Brinon – AP)
Like the news generated by the pope’s latest book, both the Galliano story and the Assange episode reflect the public’s great sensitivity to anti-Semitism. They also show how apparently acceptable such views are among some members of the European cultural and intellectual elite. These examples show how far our world has yet to go to really address deep-seated anti-Semitism today.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves Belmarsh Magistrates Court in London in February. (Andrew Winning)
In that sense, all of these are good stories. Each in their own way has the potential to push people who care about these issues to reflect on the fears and resentments that we may still carry inside. We can then decide to what extent we want such fears and resentments to define how we see the world and how we see each other. Admitting that we still carry them, will not destroy us, but failing to address them could. So, in that sense, I guess I am grateful not only to Pope Benedict, but to John Galliano and Julian Assange as well.