Visit By Pope to Israel Still Has (Shaky) Green Light

Monday, January 26th, 2009

The Polish daily Rzeczpospolita gave word yesterday: Israel prepares for Pope’s visit, due to occur in May.

You might ask, why wouldn’t Israel start preparing for a visit by Pope Benedict XVI if that is to come in May? Well, just to refresh your memory, just over the weekend the Pope withdrew the previous excommunications of four bishops, one of whom – a certain British-born Richard Williamson – is on record as recently as just last week as denying that millions of Jews were killed in the Nazi gas chambers.

And this is by no means the first incident tending to estrange world Jewry with the Vatican under Benedict XVI’s stewardship. For a couple of years now there has been a dispute over Pius XII, who was Pope during the Second World War. There have been indications from within the Roman Catholic Church that it would like to declare him a saint. On the other hand, his behavior during the war was at the least rather controversial, particularly when it came to his reluctance to take any steps (including mere public denunciations) in response to the reports he received, early and often, about Germany’s murderous actions towards Jews. And then, only earlier this month, the cardinal who is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, a certain Cardinal Renato Martino, publicly termed the Gaza Strip a “big concentration camp” in the wake of the Israeli military offensive there. Now, this weblog is certainly willing to admit that Cardinal Martino’s characterization is probably accurate, but you can also see how it strikes the completely wrong tone with many partisans of Israel. And now it looks like the rabbis in Italy – the highest-profile rabbis when it comes to the Vatican – are withdrawing in protest from certain planned inter-faith celebrations.

If you are aware of this background, then it’s really somewhat surprising that the current Pope’s planned visit to Israel in the Spring is still on. Frankly, this pattern of recent events strongly suggests that there is yet more to come in this baleful syndrome of mutual alienation, so that betting on that visit to go through after all may still not be a wise thing to do. The shine might be off of it already for Benedict XVI; the highlight of John Paul II’s visit to Israel in 2000 was his visit to the famous Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, but Rzeczpospolita reports that the Yad Vashem Institute itself issued an outraged condemnation of Williamson’s return to the Vatican fold, so that same invitation may not be forthcoming in May.

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