Pope Benedict’s XVI’s recent visit to Auschwitz, during which he conspicuously failed to voice repentance for the Catholic Church’s nearly two millennia of anti-Semitic teaching, has been welcomed in certain Catholic quarters as a rejection of “political correctness.”
The National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen trumpeted Benedict’s remarks as “a turning point in post-Auschwitz Christian theology, which in the last sixty years has tended to take Christian guilt for complicity in the Holocaust as its point of departure.” The new point of departure, apparently, is that Catholics no longer need be discomforted by the history of the church’s treatment of the Jews.
In his public meditation at Auschwitz, Benedict put forward a perplexing and unsatisfactory explanation of the Holocaust. He informed the world that the Nazi aim “deep down” was not to exterminate the Jews, but to kill God. “By destroying Israel,” the pope said, “[the Nazis] 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.”
Ostensibly designed to draw attention to the church’s Jewish origins, and to embrace the two faiths’ shared love for God, Benedict’s remarks may have the opposite effect. It seems unlikely that many Jews will take consolation from the...