An ungenerous reading of Pope Benedict

An ungenerous reading of Pope Benedict

A remarkably forthright entry at Commonweal’s own blog takes the magazine’s recent editorial on the Pope’s Auschwitz visit to task for being “an ungenerous reading” of the Pope’s speeches there. Robert Imbelli fondly recalls the genesis of Cardinal Joseph Bernadin’s “Common Ground Initiative” ten years ago (an initiative I’ve never been all that fond of myself) and says the editorial falls short of one of the ideals enumerated by it.

One in particular seems worthy of recall: “We should put the best possible construction on differing positions, addressing their strongest points rather than seizing upon the most vulnerable aspects in order to discredit them.”

Imbelli accuses the Commonweal editors of doing just that.

First, the editorial speaks of Benedict’s “perplexing and unsatisfactory explanation of the Holocaust.” I wonder where in his anguished meditation the Pope presumes to offer an “explanation?” He knows full well that one does not “explain” evil. One might seek to situate it, to probe its scope, to discern its ramifications. This the Pope attempted to do, pointedly, if not exhaustively. But one does not “explain” the unmitigated evil of the Shoah (a term twice used by Benedict, yet unacknowledged in the editorial).

Second, referring to John Allen’s reflection upon the Pope’s remarks as possibly constituting a “turning point in post-Auschwitz Christian theology,” (a point one might certainly accept or not), the editorial leaps to the crabbed conclusion that “Catholics no longer need be discomforted by the history of the church’s treatment of the Jews.” No sign here that one may seek a more considered theological perspective that does not shun human responsibility and sin, but rather discloses sin’s truly demonic thrust.

Then, even when offering “a more charitable interpretation” of Benedict’s words, the editorial dismisses them as “a tidy theological syllogism.” What a characterization of the Pope’s anguished meditation that is framed by two psalms from the Hebrew scriptures: Psalm 44 and Psalm 23. Benedict, daily immersed in the praying of the Psalter, invokes them, not for the sake of rhetoric, much less logic, but for the sake of mystagogy.

Where is the “syllogism” in the Pope’s associating so intimately the fate of Israel with the very purpose of God that the assault on this people is, in the very nature of things, an assault upon God?

... Finally, the editorial asserts that one does not go to Auschwitz “to defend or to praise God;” and concludes by recommending “a dread silence”—for once citing with approval the Pope’s words.

But Benedict uttered those words at the beginning of his meditation. In the course of it, however, silence gave way to afflicted, yet faith-filled prayer: prayer for fogiveness, reconciliation, and peace (words surprisingly absent from the editorial).

Were such prayer no longer possible, even in Auschwitz, then indeed the Nazis would have won the final victory.

Nice to see that thoughtful liberals still do exist and are willing to call their fellow travelers to account for such mis-steps. Certainly there are plenty of conservatives willing to do that for one another.

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