My father is a contrarian, always has been. Family lore has it that my grandmother assured him repeatedly that he would be the end of her. Such was the power of Jewish guilt that when my grandmother died, dad, by then well into his thirties, believed he was responsible. His chutzpah, however, had little to do with the regular beatings he received at school. The pummeling was usually accompanied by the “Christ killer” accusation. I suspect that similar experiences explain why many Jews watched in horror as Father Peter Gumpel, in an interview with the CBC TV, revived this anti-Semitic calumny.
The German Jesuit priest said this: “It is a fact that the Jews have killed Christ. This is an undeniable historical fact.” Father Gumpel proceeded to support his statement with hearsay allegedly uttered by a “Jewish colleague,” who had readily accepted culpability for deicide, or so Father Gumpel’s say-so goes. True, it is almost Easter time. And Easter is historically notorious for inspiring anti-Jewish sentiments. We Jews are long overdue for a little pogrom or blood libel. My visions of Cossacks in 4X4s roaring into Jewish neighborhoods, searching for evidence of the human blood we use for our upcoming Passover rituals, soon gave way to a profound sadness; a sadness for Pope John Paul II.
With his 1998 encyclical, Pope John Paul sounded a lone voice for “Faith and Reason” in the postmodern religious wilderness. Who else has spoken with unhectoring clarity about the errors of relativism in modern thought? Who other than Pope John Paul has pointed to how “a legitimate plurality of positions has yielded to an undifferentiated pluralism”? And who among men of cloth has had the intellectual alacrity to say that inherent in the error of relativism is a rejection of the search for truth, and with it reason. For if we accept that all positions are equal and no one position better than the other, as we do these days, we have forfeited our ability to discern, and forthwith our Judeo-Christian heritage.
Pope John Paul’s philosophical integrity was reiterated this month in another profundity entitled “Memory and Reconciliation: the Church and the faults of the past,” in which he endorses the Jewish concept of teshuva (repentance), and offers an apology for “the hostility or indifference of numerous Christians towards Jews.” This, he concedes “is a sad historical fact.” Neither does he shy away from asking “whether the Nazi persecution of Jews was not made easier by the anti-Jewish prejudices embedded in some Christian minds and hearts.”
An issue that segues into the conduct of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust, and his silence in the face of Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jewish people. It so happens that Father Peter Gumpel has been “designated by the Vatican to oversee the canonization of Pope Pius XII,” and has stated categorically that Pius is deserving of beatification.
It certainly is illuminating that the very priest who will recommend the beatification of Pope Pius XII is also the church official to resurrect the killers-of-Christ accusation. As a historian, Father Gumpel should have been aware of the 35-year-old Nostra Aetate, a document issued by the Church that expressly rejects as a cardinal error the depiction of Jews as Christ killers. “What happened in His passion,” it reads, “cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.”
Ironically, the collective apology extended by the Pope is as incongruous as the collective blame apportioned by Father Gumpel. Can one apologize on behalf of a transgressor? By extension, can we forgive on behalf of the dead? Or can we blame an entire people for the deeds of a few? Pope John Paul does not attempt to fudge these issues. He has stated clearly that “sin is always personal.” Hence it is the sinner who is culpable for wrongdoing, and to ascribe guilt beyond those responsible for the deeds is impossible.
Aware as he is of the pitfalls of an apology by proxy, the Pope has nonetheless issued one as an act of goodwill. Inspired by little grace, on the other hand, Father Gumpel has continued a tradition that has wreaked nothing but pestilence and persecution. He has also undermined a truly magnificent man.
©2000 By ILANA MERCER
The Calgary Herald,