Pope condemns anti-Semitism

On a trip to western Germany a week and a half ago — his first trip abroad since becoming pope in April — Pope Benedict XVI decried "the rise of new signs of anti-Semitism and various forms of hostility toward strangers."

The pope did not elaborate on his comments, but his trip, which coincided with World Youth Day, continued his papacy's tone of interfaith appeasement. During his trip, the pontiff met with young Muslims and Jews and toured a synagogue. In his roughly five months as pope, Benedict has also expressed an interest in visiting Israel and opening dialogue with the Russian and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Though Pope Bendict XVI did not reveal what the "new signs of anti-Semitism" are, the relationship between Judaism and Catholicism hasn't always been a warm one. Some fault Pope Pius XII, whose papacy spanned World War II, for not doing enough to condemn the Holocaust and aid the Jews of Rome. The Church has also been criticized for being uncooperative in dealing with the Jewish faith.

But much progress has been made in patching up relationships between the two faiths, according to the Rev. Steven Avella, associate professor of history.

"There are sticking points, obviously," he said, but "there has been considerable breaching of the void and distrust."

John Schmitt, associate professor of theology, agrees.

"In general, (relations) have been very positive," he said. "The last pope was really strong on dialogue and understanding, and this pope seems to be continuing that."

The Catholic-Jewish relationship began to thaw after Vatican II in 1964, when the Catholic church adopted a more open and respectful attitude toward other religions, Avella said. The relationship continued to improve under the reign of Pope John Paul II.

Avella cited Pope Benedict XVI's eagerness to reach out to other faiths and interest in visiting Israel as evidence that the Church's relationship with Judaism continues to improve.

As for the role of Pope Pius XII: "That has never been resolved to anyone's satisfaction," Avella said. Many of the documents in the Vatican's archives are not available to the public, including those of Pope Pius XII, and that "continues to be a point of contention."

This article was published in The Marquette Tribune on August 29, 2005.