FaithWorld

Catholic bishops want practical results from Muslim dialogue

The synod of Roman Catholic bishops that just ended in Rome has reminded the Vatican that it wants concrete issues such as religious freedom for Christians in the Islamic world to be part of any dialogue with Muslims. It’s not as if the Vatican has forgotten this — check out a recent statement by Rev. Christian Troll S.J., a leading Church expert on Islam. All this comes as the Vatican and the Common Word group of Muslim scholars prepare for the Catholic-Islamic Forum due in Rome next week.

The full text of the bishops’ proposal (number 53 of the 55 published only in Italian) reads in English:

“The Church regards with esteem … the Muslims who worship the one God” (Nostra Aetate 3). They refer to Abraham and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. The dialogue with them permits us to know each other better and cooperate in the promotion of ethical and spiritual values.

“In this dialogue, the synod insists on the importance of respect for life, for the human rights of men and women, as well as for the distinction between the socio-political order and the religious order in the promotion of justice and peace in the world. Another important issue in this dialogue will be reciprocity and the freedom of conscience and religion.

“It is suggested that the national bishops’ conferences, where it is deemed useful, create groups to promote dialogue between Christians and Muslims.”

Churches take stock of Christian-Muslim dialogue

Christian churches have been taking stock of where they stand on dialogue with Islam. With so much interfaith discussion going on, they’re not all singing from the same sheet and wonder whether they should (or even could). So about 50 church leaders and experts got together near Geneva last weekend to exchange information on their approach to, and experiences concerning, dialogue with Muslims. “With such a succession of meetings where we get together with Muslims, we wanted to have a meeting among ourselves and ask whether we have 2,000 different answers and what that might say about us,” said Thomas Schirrmacher of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).

The World Council of Churches (WCC) said the idea for the meeting“emerged from an ecumenical process of response to the Common Word”  initiative on Christian-Muslim dialogue. Held outside Geneva, it brought together representatives from the WCC, World Evangelical Alliance, Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, Lutheran World Federation, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, World Methodist Council, several Orthodox churches and other Christian groups. I have spoken to a few of the participants and received some texts since the meeting to get an idea of how their exchange shaped up.

“The idea was that we come together to share our different experiences with Islam and our different theological approaches to Islam to seek an ecumenical understanding,” said Rima Barsoum, the WCC’s person responsible for relations with Muslims. An “ecumenical understanding” does not mean a common understanding, as became clear at the meeting. Participants described various points of view that no two-day meeting could overcome. Orthodox and eastern churches that live as minorities in Muslim countries have a different perspective from those in the West that know Muslims as a minority. The Vatican’s approach is to focus more on the theological questions while the World Evangelical Alliance has stressed the issue of living together peacefully. “My feeling after Geneva is that there is such a wide spectrum of representation that a common stand would be very difficult indeed,” said David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam at the University of Birmingham in Britain.

Who threatens Christians in northern Iraq?

At least 1,500 Christian families have fled the northern Iraqi city of Mosul this month to escape violent attacks against them. About 12 Christians have been reported killed in that period. Protests have come in from the United Nations, the Vatican and other places around the globe. There clearly seems to be a campaign against them, but finding out who is behind it is not that easy, as correspondent Missy Ryan reports from Mosul.

The commander of U.S. forces in Mosul has blamed Sunni Islamist militants. “Others, including many Christians, quietly point a finger at Mosul’s powerful Kurdish minority, which controls the provincial council and makes up a majority in the local army. Kurds, some say, want to show that Mosul cannot be controlled without them,” she writes.

Check out Ryan’s latest reports from Mosul — Mystery shrouds attacks on Iraq’s Christians and Iraq’s Christians “sacrificial lambs” as attacks mount.

First it was about Pius’s silence, now it’s Benedict’s

Pope Benedict in Pompei, 19 Oct 2008/Tony GentileThe dispute over Pope Pius XII’s public silence about the Holocaust (background here) widened over the weekend. At the same time, Pope Benedict came in for criticism for his own silence, this time about organised crime in the Naples area during a visit to nearby Pompei . A local newspaper had (wrongly) reported he would publicly condemn the Camorra, as the local mafia is known. His spokesman insisted the visit to a Marian shrine (the purpose of the trip) was purely spiritual.

The Pius dispute heated up when Rev. Peter Gumpel, the German Jesuit who is the postulator for the late pope’s cause for sainthood, told the Italian news agency ANSA on Saturday that Benedict was delaying the beatification of Pius because it would harm relations with Jews. He also said Benedict could not visit Israel until a caption under a photograph of Pius at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial was changed. The caption said Pius “abstained from signing the Allied declaration condemning the extermination of the Jews”. The Vatican denies that charge and says Pius did all he could to save Jews.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi denied the caption was holding up any papal visit to Israel. Without naming them, he also told both Gumpel and Pius’s critics to lay off Benedict. “In this situation, it is not opportune to exercise pressure on him from one side or the other,” he said.

Pius polemics persist — more due next month?

Pope Pius XII/The Holy SeeReasonable people can agree to disagree on lots of issues, but some are so polarising that even reasonable people will hunker down in opposing trenches whenever debate about them flares up. The long-standing Catholic-Jewish dispute over Pope Pius XII and his role during the Holocaust is one of those issues. The 50th anniversary of Eugenio Pacelli’s death on Oct. 9, 1958 has recently mobilised both his defenders and detractors. After several pro-Pius comments from the Vatican and its friends and a firm but polite rebuttal by an Israeli rabbi, the umbrella group of French Jewish organisations, CRIF, has issued a stinging denunciation of Pius and warning that beatifying him would strike a “severe blow” to Catholic-Jewish relations.

CRIF logoThe statement (here in French) is clearly sharper than the latest call by the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) urging the Vatican to open its last wartime records to historians’ scrutiny before deciding to proceed with Pius’s beatification and eventual canonisation as a Roman Catholic saint. CRIF is the public spokesman for France’s 600,000-strong Jewish community, which is Europe’s largest. It regularly denounces anti-Semitism in France Anti-Defamation League logoand upholds the memory of the Holocaust, but has not been as active as the ADL in engaging the Vatican in the debate over whether Pius did as much as he could have to save Jews during the Holocaust.

A quick look at the timetable of the latest dispute puts the CRIF statement in perspective. Shear-Yashuv Cohen, chief rabbi of Haifa in Israeli, became the first Jew to address a bishops’ synod in Rome on Oct. 6. Catholic-Jewish relations have improved markedly in recent decades and Cohen accepted the invitation in that spirit. But when in Rome he realised the meeting would also be commemorating Pius’s death, he told our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella he might not have attended if he had known that. During his address, he told the bishops that Jews “cannot forgive and forget” that some major religious leaders during World War Two did not speak out against the Holocaust. He separately told reporters Pius “should not be seen as a model and he should not be beatified”.

U.S. Catholic Democrats and the “party of death” charge

Catholic Democrats logoWith the charge about the “party of death” still ringing in its ears, a group called Catholic Democrats has issued a Q&A on abortion setting out its case that faithful Roman Catholics can vote for Barack Obama despite his consistent pro-choice record. Catholic Democrats makes the same argument as the Matthew 25 network, i.e. that Democratic policies would actually reduce the abortion rate, which spiked under Republicans in the 1980s, fell during the Clinton administration and have leveled off — and may have begun rising again — in the Bush administration.

Archbishop Raymond Burke/Archdiocese of St. LouisFormer St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who is now prefect of the Vatican’s Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, told an Italian newspaper two weeks ago that the Democrats risked becoming the “party of death” for their support for abortion rights. Other U.S. bishops have criticised two prominent Catholic Democrats — vice presidential candidate Joe Biden and House speaker Nancy Pelosi — for suggesting the Catholic Church was anything but totally against abortion.

Catholic Democrats cites the bishops’ own guidebook, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” to stress that Catholics should not be one-issue voters and could vote for a candidate if his overall platform is morally good, despite a pro-choice plank that the Church regards as intrinsically evil. “If the only difference between two candidates is that one is pro-life and the other is pro-choice, then a pro-life voter should obviously vote for a pro-life candidate,” Catholic Democrats says. “However, elections are never so clear cut. Republican and Democratic candidates differ on many issues: healthcare, the war, the economy.”

Pope hopes Nazi-era predecessor moves toward sainthood

Pope Benedict at mass for Pius XII, 9 Oct 2008//Tony Gentile

In the latest step in the discussion about Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust, Pope Benedict has issued a ringing defence of his wartime predecessor and said he hoped his beatification “can proceed happily.” To critics who say Pius should have spoken out publicly against the Nazi slaughter of European Jews, Benedict said Pius’s “secret and silent way” was the right approach.

“Given the real situations of that complex moment in history, he realized that only in this manner could the worst be avoided and greatest number of Jews be saved,” the German-born pontiff said at a mass commemorating the 50th anniversary of Pius’s death.

Read Phil Pullella’s full story from Vatican City here.

While this “full court press” (as John Allen of the National Cathoilc Reporter calls it) may encourage those supporting the beatification and disappoint those — including many Jewish critics — who want the process stopped, Benedict left out a crucial element both sides wanted to know more about. He made no mention of when the benediction should go ahead. An institution that is two millennia old can put off some decisions for a long time, in this case maybe long enough for World War Two to fade out of living memory. But Benedict is not one to take the easy way out, so the omission of any deadline does not mean the issue has been put off indefinitely.

Vatican rejects rabbi’s criticism of Pius XII’s Holocaust record

L’Osservatore Romano, 9 Oct 2008, with editorial in far left columnThe Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano has lost no time in rejecting the criticism of Pope Pius XII’s Holocaust record made by Shear-Yashuv Cohen, the Haifa Chief Rabbi who addressed a synod of bishops on Tuesday. Editor-in-chief Gian Maria Vian wrote a front-page editorial today saying charges that he turned a blind eye to the Nazi massacre of European Jews was a “black legend” not backed up by history.

“He confronted the wartime tragedy like no leader of his time did. Even when faced with the monstrous persecution of the Jews [he worked] in a suffered silence which is understandable and whose aim was an efficient endeavor of charity and undeniable help,” Vian wrote in the editorial “In memoria di Pio XII” (In Memory Of Pius XII).

Vian said Pius had been unfairly accused of being insensitive to the Holocaust and even pro-Nazi. He has also been unfairly contrasted with his successor, the popular Pope John XXIII. The Church had the duty, he said, to uphold the memory of Pius XII and his service to it. Read the whole news story here.

Pius XII biographer raps rabbi for recalling Holocaust role

Cover of Tornielli’s book Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, A Man on the Throne of PeterA leading Italian biographer of Pope Pius XII has sharply criticised Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen for recalling the controversy about the pope’s role in the Holocaust during an unprecedented address to a synod of Roman Catholic bishops at the Vatican. Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican correspondent of the newspaper Il Giornale who has written four books defending the wartime pope, said no cardinal could have ever spoken that way at a major Jewish forum in Jerusalem.

Cohen, the chief rabbi of Haifa in Israel, was the first Jew to address such a synod. In unscripted remarks, he told the bishops that Jews “cannot forget the sad and painful fact of how many, including great religious leaders, didn’t raise their voice in the effort to save our brethren but chose to keep silent and helped secretly.” Defenders of Pius, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, say he did he did his utmost to help Jews during the Holocaust; Pope Benedict repeated this recently in his first public statement on his predecessor. But his critics fault Pius for not publicly challenging the Nazis by denouncing the Holocaust.

Tornielli focused special attention on Cohen’s statement in a Reuters interview prior to his Andrea Torniellisynod speech. The 80-year old rabbi told our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella that he might not have attended the synod if he had known in advance that Pius would be honoured there. The synod will mark the 50th anniversary of his death in 1958 with a special mass on Thursday at which Benedict may announce that Pius will soon be beatified. Tornielli wrote on his blog Sacri Palazzi (Sacred Palaces):

Jews remind Vatican of darker side of Pius XII anniversary

Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen in Rome, 6 Oct 2008/Alessandro BianchiJust as the Vatican is gearing up to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII, two Jews have spoken out to recall the darker side of his papacy. Their tone is neither shrill nor polemical, unlike many articles and books that have appeared over the years accusing Pius of being “Hitler’s Pope” and not doing enough to save Jews from the Holocaust. They do not seem keen to pick an argument with the Vatican just as it is preparing to hold what may be its most open defence of the controversial pontiff. But they raise difficult questions that remain even after Pope Benedict insisted his predecessor “spared no effort” to save Jews during World War Two.

Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen (photo above), the first Jew to address a Vatican synod, told the Roman Catholic bishops there that Jews “cannot forget the sad and painful fact of how many, including great religious leaders, didn’t raise their voice in the effort to save our brethren but chose to keep silent and helped secretly. We cannot forgive and forget it and we hope that you understand.”

The chief rabbi of Haifa in Israel, 80, was less diplomatic a few hours earlier in an interview with our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella: “We feel that the late pope (Pius) should have Cover of Hitler’s Pope, a critical study of Pius XII by John Cornwellspoken up much more strongly than he did … He may have helped in secrecy many of the victims and many of the refugees but the question is ‘could he have raised his voice and would it have helped or not?’ …