William Grimm, Tokyo
Updated: February 06, 2021 04:11 AM GMT
A Jewish man prays near the menorah monument at Babi Yar in Kiev, Ukraine, where the Nazis shot more than 100,000 Jews between 1941 and 1944, to mark International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day on Jan. 27. (Photo: AFP)
Once upon a time, a speaker at my high school used the phrase “in Christian charity.”
I had a twofold reaction.
My first thought was that it was a trite cliché and not particularly appropriate to an audience that was predominantly non-Christian.
The second was more disturbing, even painful. The speaker’s comment brought boos and hisses from many of my schoolmates.
As a Christian, I was hurt by the vehemence of their reaction to the mention of Christianity, even if that mention was a tasteless or even stupid one.
But as a Christian, I also knew that the hatred the other kids were showing was not unearned.
Many of those kids had parents with numbers tattooed on their arms, lifelong reminders of their time in Nazi concentration camps and reminders as well of millions of others who did not survive.
And I knew that the seeds of the Nazi atrocities against Jews had been planted in soil prepared for them by centuries of Christian attacks on Jews. I knew as well that most of the perpetrators of those atrocities were Christians.
Even as the Nazi “Final Solution” was in operation, the Catholic Church turned from facing it. When Bishop Konrad von Preysing of Berlin tried in 1943 to get his fellow German bishops to at least call for respect for human rights when deporting Jews (no mention of the fate to which they were being deported), the best he could get from his colleagues was a pastoral letter encouraging Catholics to respect the right to life of other races.
The bishop then approached the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo, the personal representative in Germany of Pope Pius XII. His response was, “It is all well and good to love thy neighbor, but the greatest neighborly love consists in avoiding making any difficulties for the Church.”
Israel Zwangel, a 19th-century Zionist, said, “The Jews are a frightened people. Nineteen centuries of Christian love have broken their nerve.”
The treatment of Jews by Christians — Orthodox and Protestant as well as Catholic — is the oldest, most persistent and most treasonous of our sins, both individually and institutionally. It is treasonous because our Lord was a Jew, and the Church began as a movement within Judaism.
In response to a new surge of anti-Semitism in Europe that has seen Jews murdered, their graveyards desecrated, synagogues defaced and a wave of anti-Jewish content on social media, the Catholic Episcopal Conference of France issued a statement that commits the bishops “to fight energetically against all forms of political and religious anti-Semitism.”
A similar situation exists in the United States, but the bishops there are focused on sex-related issues like abortion, the use of fetal stem cells in the development of vaccines, gender identity, same-sex marriage, in-vitro fertilization and other such. These are in varying degrees valid concerns, but an obsession with them has distracted attention from other situations that cry out for a response. Growing anti-Semitism is one of those.
Episcopal statements allow bishops to think they are actually doing something to confront problems, and thus producing documents is a favorite pastime of bishops all over the world. However, people who need to be either comforted or confronted by them do not spend their evenings reading declarations from bishops’ conferences.
Much has been made by some, including some bishops, of “cooperation in evil” regarding the vaccines to counter the pandemic. Those vaccines were developed using stem cells that were harvested from fetuses aborted in the last century. Rigorists claim that receiving such a vaccine somehow makes one a cooperator in the evil of those abortions.
For what it is worth, those rigorists must deal with the fact that Pope Francis (whom they may not like) and his predecessor (whom they may like) have both been vaccinated.
The concept of cooperation in evil should be applied to other issues as well, and specifically to anti-Semitism. And that application must go beyond yet more documents that simply use up paper and ink. What concrete steps will the French bishops actually take as they “fight energetically”?
There have been movements, rallies and such where Nazi and neo-Nazi symbols and slogans have been on display. Being part of such a gathering certainly qualifies as “cooperation in evil” as it swells participation in the activity and thus becomes tacit support for the anti-Semitism that is a very noticeable element of it.
Have bishops told Catholics that they must not join such gatherings and that those who go further and espouse anti-Semitic ideas and actions will be sanctioned?
In 1962, the year of that talk in my school, an American bishop excommunicated three people for opposing racial integration in Catholic schools. What sanctions are there for anti-Semitism? Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders who were baptized Catholics were never excommunicated.
Has anyone seen a bishop forcefully oppose gatherings where anti-Semitism is publicly celebrated by a significant number of participants? Has a bishop or any other Catholics, as Catholics, organized or joined counter-demonstrations?
Is Archbishop Orsenigo still a high representative of the Catholic Church — episcopal, clerical and lay? Must Jews still fear and hate Christian charity?
William Grimm is a missioner and priest in Tokyo and is the publisher of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.