Was Pope Benedict’s Asuchwitz speech disastrous?

Was Pope Benedict’s Asuchwitz speech disastrous?

A (non-Catholic?) law blogger reviews Pope Benedict’s speech at Auschwitz and calls it “disastrous.” Now some of Eric Muller’s criticisms can be said to be a difference in emphasis or because he doesn’t understand the Catholic faith. But others are merely tendentious or a blatant misreading of what the Pope said.

For example, the Holy Father referred to the Nazis as a “criminal gang” who “rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people [the Germans] was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power.” Muller thinks its wrong to absolve the German people of responsibility like he believes the Pope does here, but that’s arguable. Yet Muller goes on to take the Pope to task for speaking of the Nazis’ “false promises”. He says, “Would things be different for Josef Ratzinger if the Nazis had managed to make good on their promises of greatness for the German people?” But only a listener with a built-in prejudice would find such a meaning there. The Pope was clearly saying that the Nazis made false promises, playing on the German people’s desire to return to a position of prominence among nations that they lost after World War I. Yet no greatness, the Pope would say, could be build on such evil as the Nazis intended and thus the promise was false.

Was Christianity the real aim of the Holocaust?

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  • Why am I not surprised Goldhagen thinks the Pope is way out of line, especially coming from someone who thinks the Church abandoned the Jews? On the other hand, Goldhagen’s theses have been ably refuted by authors such Ron Rychlak and others besides.

    Goldhagen says:

    At length Benedict wondered about where God was. A churchman’s question. But he conspicuously failed to ask where the church was. Benedict’s appeal to the mysteries of God’s ways thus obscured even the most discussed aspects of the church’s and Pius XII’s conduct during the Holocaust: Why they didn’t speak out. Why they didn’t do more to help Jews.

    Where was the Church? Only saving a half-million Jews. Incidentally that’s the number of trees planted by Israel in the 1950s in honor of Pius XII, one for each Jew saved by the Church.

    Eric, your claims and that of Goldhagen sound suspiciously like stereotyping. Yes, many Germans did not oppose the Nazi program. Was it a majority, a minority, a supermajority? In any case, Benedict’s clear point is that there many people opposed the Nazis. Others who did not were caught up in the Nazi mindset.

    In 100 years, hopefully when our nation has come to its senses and stopped the abortion holocaust, I wonder how we will characterize the 70 percent (or more) of Americans who think abortion should be legal in some circumstances.

  • First, a little proofreading: the Pope’s given name is “Joseph”, not “Josef”.  That fact doesn’t help Mr. Muller in his riff on stereotypes, but that’s the way it is. 

    Muller thinks the Pope views the Nazis’ aim as “theological”, but I think he’s assuming too much.

    In a sense, the theological cannot be avoided: in order to make the new revolutionary man, whether he be Communist, Nazi, or something else, one has to get rid of the Jewish idea that man was made in the image of God, and the Christian idea that God made Himself into the image of man.  But this is no theological conflict for the sake of theology: it’s about power.

    Judaism and Christianity are the historical religions, the transcendent religions that present absolute claims about truth and morality, and they are a permanent obstacle to the lust for power.  Opposing them—indeed, replacing them with mythology—is not necessarily a theological vendetta, but just a matter of destroying whatever stands in the way of the totalitarian party’s will.

  • Is there enough guilt to go around concerning the second world war?  Sure, we are all sinners and we all share in the guilt for the structures of sin that we tolerate, but the guilt is not only on the hands of the German people, but also on the US, France, England, and most of the other countries and peoples of Europe.  The Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI was destined, in the words of Benedict XV, to cause another war.  The failure of the Allies to stand up to Hitler sooner made the death camps possible, as did Stalins double dealing.  The blame game can extend to almost all parties. 

    This is why I think that Benedict’s comments where carefully chosen, not just for historical accuracy but also for the message that he wants to send to the modern world.  Historically the German people were co-opted by the lies of the Nazis.  A small group of elites, and thugs, convinced an entire nation that the end of a “perfect” society justifies all the means used.  Do they share in the guilt for the crimes commited? In a way they do, but Benedict’s message to the people of today is that the people of Germany were a fundamentally good people, who lost their way, their Christian identity, and bowed before the altar of (psudo)science and technology to blaze a new way. Just as most JPII did in Memory and Identity, Benedict is trying to show the analogy between what happend in the 1930s and th people today who are fundamentally good people, and yet daily allow attrocities to occur in the name of Peace, or a better society, or the end of poverty.  Benedict’s message is that when people do not stand up for what is right, horrible evils will occur. 

    To take the simplistic point of view that the Germans were all (equally) guilty, ignores the reality that before the war the german people were thought of as the most civilized and in a sense moral people in Europe.  It disconnects us from a lesson in history, which if we do not learn from we are doomed to repeat.