Saturday, May 8, 2010

Assessing the pontificate of Benedict XVI - Israeli-Vatican Relations

Zenit News Agency, an assessment of the pontificate of Benedict XVI from the perspective of the Church's relations with the Jewish people:
“[Benedict XVI] is a great Pope with a very strong personality but maybe people don’t understand the depth of his thought,” said the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni -- someone who has been highly critical of the Church during recent disputes. “We have a complicated relationship with him because relations between Catholics and Jews are complicated on their own, but now we have to deal with a theologian, so you cannot avoid these problems.”

Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, said Israel considers the Holy Father to be a strong friend and that “we are not deluded by the mishaps -- I won’t call them controversies -- which are due to the machinery, but not to him.” He said Benedict XVI is “well meaning” but that the “machine," meaning the Roman Curia, “has some obvious difficulties." Indeed there is a strong belief in Israel that the Curia has not been fully behind him, on this and other issues. “It’s a difficult tenure for him -- really,” Lewy said.

Di Segni particularly admires the way the Pope is an honest broker -- “he is what he seems," he said. He hoped the Pius XII controversy will settle down but he’s not confident that it will. However, he was pleased with the Pope’s visit to Rome’s synagogue in January. It showed, he said, that this pontificate is not departing from an established path. “We needed this sign otherwise all the polemics, all the stories, would damage the atmosphere,” he said. “This showed us that the Church wants to go on.”

Father Norbert Hofmann, the German secretary of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, pointed out that this Pope has done just what John Paul II did, but over a period of five, not 27, years. “He’s been to Israel, he went to Auschwitz, and he’s visited three synagogues -- no pope has ever been to three, perhaps with the exception of Peter!” he joked. “I know him personally and I know it’s in his heart to improve relations with the Jewish people.”

Father Hofmann also brushed off the well-publicized disputes. “Controversy is part of the package,” he said. “It’s part of the Jewish issue -- without controversy, you can’t have a dialogue with the Jewish people.” But he was particularly pleased with the Pope’s visit to the synagogue in Rome, and stressed that Benedict has just the right “personal qualities” for dialogue. “He’s very clear, sincere, and has a personal way of relating with people that’s very decent and humble,” he said.

As for the future, the Holy Father and Father Hofmann are planning on reaching out to young Catholics and Jews, and Orthodox Christians, encouraging them to work closer together.

The overall picture, therefore, is one of surprising optimism and warmth.

“[Benedict XVI] is the Pope we have to deal with,” said Rabbi Di Segni. “But it’s an honor to deal with him, notwithstanding all the difficulties.”