On Not Using the Jews to Make Catholic Points (Corrected)

February 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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In the forty-odd years that I’ve been writing for publication, I’ve developed a few rules for myself. Several of them involve the Jews and Judaism. One is never to say anything about the state of Israel. Another is that I never compare anyone to Hitler, or anything to the Holocaust.  Despite my strong feelings about the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s, in which a million people starved to death, I will never call it a holocaust.

Anybody who knows anything about the history of Christianity will grasp why I follow these rules. Crusades. Pogroms. Ghettos. Forced Baptisms. Expulsions. As a Catholic, though, I feel I must be even more scrupulous in this arena. Fact is, Hitler was a baptized Catholic. Sixty per cent of the Nazi army were Catholics. As historian John Connelly reminds us in the February 24 issue of Commonweal, the Vatican’s appeasement of the Nazis was appalling. And while the Protestant theologian Karl Barth fled Germany for his life, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed for his resistance efforts, Karl Rahner, SJ, the great Vatican II theologian and German national, spent the war years safely living in a chancery and never once mentioned the Holocaust in his writings. In the face of all this, when I mention the Jews and Judaism, I do so very, very carefully.

Unfortunately,  for some Catholic writers and spokespeople, the HHS contraceptives mandate is such a life and death threat to religious freedom that none of this matters. They feel perfectly entitled to use the Jews as ammunition in the current war.

First came the manifesto published by Michael Sean Winters in the supposedly liberal National Catholic Reporter soon after the HHS ruling became public.The title of the article, “J’accuse,” uses the first words of a letter the French novelist Emile Zola published in 1898 denouncing the unjust imprisonment of the Franco-Jewish military officer, Alfred Dreyfus. Winters uses this allusion to argue that the HHS mandate, like the Dreyfus affair, is a violation of religious freedom.

Unfortunately, the imprisonment of Captain Dreyfus was the first is a series of virulently anti-semitic events in Christian Europe that culminated in the Holocaust. Mandating religious hospitals, universities, and non-profits to provide free contraceptive services for US women bears the most minute similarity to the Dreyfus affair. The NCR, if not Winters, should have known this.

And then yesterday, in his testimony before Congress, Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, used the example of requiring all businesses to serve pork, even kosher delicatessens, in his argument against the HHS contraceptive mandate. Now in point of fact, as Mark Silk notes in his Religious News Service article today, Jewish law doesn’t forbid Jews from selling pork–only from eating it. That detail aside, it’s difficult to imagine a more trivializing example than this one. Let’s be clear: four synagogues in North Jersey have been attacked since December, including the fire-bombing of a rabbi’s house, and the best Bishop Lori can do is defend the right of Jewish delis not to sell ham sandwiches.

A few years back, after listening to a noted Catholic feminist theologian condemn the state of Israel, an anti-Zionist Jewish colleague of mine said, “That woman should just shut up.” With regard to the Jews, except in carefully selected instances, so should the rest of us Catholics.

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