By Fr. George Welzbacher
May 24, 2009
The pope and the bishops are in the cross hairs today. Witness the ridicule and the undeserved censure to which one of the most intelligent men on the planet (and a kindly and humble man, too)-Pope Benedict-is regularly subjected. And witness the latest (May 10th) in a series of attacks on Archbishop Nienstedt for which our local newspapers have provided a forum.
First let's consider the acrimonious reaction to Pope Benedict's visit to Israel as reported in the Israeli and international press. And then let's tighten our focus to zoom in on our own local situation.
As reported by Aaron Klein from the World Net Daily's Jerusalem bureau (May 12, 2009), Pope Benedict, on disembarking at Israel's international airport, offered a public prayer that Israelis and Palestinians "may live in peace in a homeland of their own within secure and internationally recognized borders." (The Palestinian Arabs, after all, do have rights; their presence in the lands which they currently occupy dates back more than 1300 years to the seventh century A.D.) And what was the reaction of the chairman of the Rabbinical Congress for Peace, Joseph Gerlitzky, to the pope's prayer? These are his words: "I suggest that he [the pope] divide Rome. The Holy Land was promised to the Jewish people and absolutely no human being on this earth has a right to relinquish even one inch of this land." Later at the Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum) Pope Benedict had this to say: "I have come to stand in silence before the monument erected to honor the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah [the Holocaust]. They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names. These are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again. I reaffirm-like my predecessors-that the Church is committed to praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred will NEVER reign in the hearts of men again. AS WE STAND here in silence, THEIR CRY ECHOES IN OUR HEARTS . It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence. It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood. I am deeply grateful to God and to you for the opportunity to stand here in silence: a silence to remember, a silence to pray, a silence to hope."
In a radio interview Knesset Speaker (Speaker of the Parliament) Reuven Riviin offered this assessment of the pope's words: "I come to the memorial ... as a Jew, hoping to hear an APOLOGY and a request for FORGIVENESS from those who CAUSED our tragedy, and among them, the Germans AND THE CHURCH. But to my sadness') I did not bear any such thing," [Emphasis added]. (So the Church "caused" the Holocaust? Great!). This outrageous slander of an institution that did far more to rescue Jews during the Holocaust than everyone else combined-apart from the allied armies who smashed the German military might that had alone made the Holocaust possible-is a topic to which I will return soon in this Pastor's Page.
Dion Nissenbaum of the McClatchy Newspapers added these details, as reprinted in the Pioneer Press on May 12th. "In his closely scrutinized afternoon visit to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, the one-time Hitler Youth conscript disappointed prominent Jewish leaders by voicing what they said was insufficient compassion for Holocaust victims .... [though] Benedict called the Holocaust a 'horrific tragedy' and expressed 'deep compassion' for its millions of Jewish victims... [and] said the suffering of Jewish victims should never he 'denied, belittled or forgotten'... it wasn't enough for leaders of Yad Vashem... Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau ... Tel Aviv's chief rabbi, called Benedict's speech 'devoid of any compassion, any regret, any pain over the horrible tragedy of the 6 million victims. What was missing was: I'm sorry for the tragedy that befell you .... If not an apology [sic], at least an expression of remorse.' You be the judge as to whether Rabbi Lau's assessment of Pope Benedict's statement is fair.
Summing up the general reaction in Israel to the papal visit the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Yigal Palmor, had this to say: "The controversies were totally predictable: a German pope with a past like he has [!!!] going to Yad Vashem. What do you expect?" [quoted in the Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2009].
Perhaps embarrassed by the insulting reception that Pope Benedict received from many Israeli public figures-President Shimon Peres' warm welcome was a praiseworthy exception-Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein offered this comment on the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal for May 16.
The Pope's Israel Trip Was a Success
By Yechiel Eckstein
Most Israelis seem to agree that the pope's just concluded trip to Israel wasn't a raving success. Far from healing wounds, his address at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum garnered harsh criticism for failing to adequately address the horrors memorialized there.
I see the visit in a much more positive light....
This week he arrived in Israel for the first papal visit in nine years. I was part of a delegation that greeted him in a special ceremony at the airport. Sadly, a number of Israeli political and religious leaders refused to participate.
Had they attended, they would have heard the head of the church speak of the terrible suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, their biblical rights to the land of Israel, and the deep bonds between the Christian and Jewish faiths. Had they joined him on his journey, they would have heard him lash out against Holocaust denial, condemn anti- Semilism-past and present-and seen him pray at the Western Wall.
They would have witnessed him meeting with rabbis, political leaders and even the parents of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still being held hostage in Gaza. These are just a FEW of the acts of solidarity and gestures of reconciliation the critics would have witnessed during the pope's pilgrimage.
As someone who has dedicated the past 35 years to fostering respect between Jews and Christians, I was deeply ENCOURAGED by the pope's visit and believe that it has contributed significantly toward supplanting the dark and violent history between Jews and the Church.
The world desperately needs this model of reconciliation. I pray that it extends to our Muslim cousins too, so that ALL the children of Abraham might find peace with one another." [Emphasis added].
* * * * *Let's shift our gaze now to the Twin Cities. Two Sundays ago (May the tenth) the "Opinion Exchange" segment of the Star Tribune carried an Op-Ed essay denouncing Archbishop Nienstedt for his persistent and highly vocal opposition to abortion. I submitted a reply, and I was gratified to see that the Star Tribune printed it in its May 17th edition. If you are not a reader of the Star Tribune, here is the Op-Ed attacking Archbishop Nienstedt and subjoined to it is my defense of the Archbishop's unwearying campaigning for the pro-Life cause. La lutia continua!
* * * * *Archdiocese Should be Building a Social-Justice Brand
Star Tribune: May 10, 2009
By Eric Schubert
Can the leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis help to diversify and build a stronger, more-inclusive Catholic brand? Recently, as Archbishop John Niepstedt marked his first year in the Twin Cities, a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life highlighted why the brand needs resurrection.
People are faith-based free agents. According to Pew, half of us have changed our religious faiths in adulthood, but Catholicism is the biggest loser. Despite a massive influx of Catholic immigrants, four times as many people are leaving the Catholic Church as are joining it. And fewer than half of those who stay attend church on a regular basis.
DRIVING THIS EXODUS IS many Catholic bishops' incessant, increasingly partisan FOCUS ON ABORTION at the expense of more-inclusive prolife issues we could do something about now, such as health care, education and economic stability for all.
Like Americans as a whole, roughly half of Catholics continually oppose a legal ban an abortion while half support it. Abortion is a stalemate. Yet in a world that's deeply grey, not black and white, other pro-living areas exist for collaboration. Unfortunately, too many Catholic leaders overpower those areas by fueling the great divide and maintaining a single-issue rigidity. This energizes one segment while causing too many others to disengage and disavow.
In his first year here, Bishop Nienstedt's hands have hammered more than healed More than a third of his weekly communiques via the diocesan newspaper have been abortion-related He recently pounded the subject again, publicly denouncing the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Obama, who is prochoice and who garnered most Catholics' votes, to be a commencement speaker.
If one looks hard enough from the bishop's hilltop Summit Avenue residence, one can see a forest through those trees -- a tremendous opportunily for the bishop and more than 650,000 area Catholics and for the greater community. It lies in repositioning the local Catholic brand by reemphasizing the timely, timeless Catholic strengths and tools of social teaching, which the archdiocese's social-justice website labels its "best kept secret," and "buried treasure." It's time to scream the secret and unbury the treasure.
What is social teaching? It's the sweet spot for the Catholic Church in an ultracompetitive marketplace for people, skills and dollars. It is a connector of people and faiths. It is critical thinking. It defies partisanship. It is the doctrine and wisdom that emphasizes human life, the common good and community; empowering people to fully participate in the economic, political and cultural life of society; a human being's right to food, shelter, clothing, employment, health care and education; the harm of excess wealth when others lack basic necessities; stewardship of the earth; essentiality of government, and promotion of peace.
Last year, through Catholic Charities' "Housing First" program, 97 percent of those in the Twin Cities who moved out of shelters and into their own rental housing retained stability for six months or more. Few know that. Imagine what could be done if a leader expanded focus and. engaged 650,000 people in this and other community-building work.
We are individuals, yet we're interconnected and interdependent. Many Twin Cities children are effectively abandoned, growing up with limited food, shelter, clothing, health care or the education to improve their lives and our community. If the Catholic Church expands its brand to emphasize SOCIAL leaching and a BROADER, MORE INCLUSIVE pro-living focus, Catholics will return, and the church will grow. More importantly, more people in this region will engage in solving problems together that we can actually solve.
The best, longest-lasting brands are built ftom the inside out, fostering a vital, healthy alignment between personal and organizational values. With that balance, brand evangelists develop, drawing more people and resources. Today the Catholic Church and its larger membership are badly misaligned. I pray and hope for my church and our community that the archbishop becomes the Twin Cities'very best brand-builder. [Emphasis added].
* * * * *And Herewith the Reply I sent to the Star Tribune.
In the "Opinion Exchange" segment of last Sunday's Star Tribune (May 10, 2009) Eric Schubert shared with the public his view that Archbishop John Nienstedt could do a better job of marketing Catholicism by giving a bit of rest to the Church's teaching that the life of the unborn child is sacred and inviolable. Mr. Schubert proposed as an alternative topic for the Archbishop's public comments any one of a number of themes drawn from "the timely, timeless Catholic strengths and tools of Catholic social teaching". Mr. Schubert implies that speaking out in defense of the unborn when their right to life is under widespread attack is somehow not "timely" and that this whole matter of the rights of the unborn is a Johnny-come-lately issue quite peripheral to the contrasting "timeless" elements in Catholic social teaching. A Catholic's obligation to defend the unborn's right to life is in fact articulated, early and explicitly, in a document from the sub-apostolic age entitled The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles or more simply, from its title in Greek, The Didachoé And the obligation is at least implicitly affirmed in various passages of the New Testament. Indeed more than four hundred years before Christ proclaimed "Whatever you do to the least of my little ones, you do to Me" the pagan Greek founder of the Western medical tradition - Hippocrates - had already recognized and affirmed the unborn child's right to life.
Of special interest to Americans is the fact that what the Catholic Church affirms in this matter is asserted (on the grounds of the natural law) in our own Declaration of Independence. In that document our Founding Fathers proclaimed not that all men are born equal but rather that they are created equal, it being generally perceived, then as now, that the creation or formation of a human being precedes the process of birth and that in consequence the inventory of rights, "unalienable" in their nature, with which our Creator has endowed us is present antecedently to our birth. First and foremost among such rights is the right to life. It's all well and good for Mr. Schubert to extol, as an alternative to campaigning for the unborn infant's right to life, the promotion of a program of "empowering" individuals "to fully participate in the economic, political and cultural life of society". Unfortunately, when you're dead you can't participate.