Insulting the Pope is no joke

These juvenile jests at the Church’s expense are a product of a more general and dangerous secularism


Some Jews may - when the Sunday Telegraph revealed the offensive and infantile suggestions for the Pope's visit to Britain by a bunch of extremely undiplomatic diplomats - have found themselves, for once, on the side of mandarins in the Foreign Office.

What was uppermost in these officials' minds was the Vatican's recent record on issues such as paedophile priests, gay rights, abortion and contraception.

It is a fair bet that what was not on their minds was the attitude of Benedict XVI towards Israel and the Jews. This record is certainly a troubling one.

Benedict's papacy has to be seen in the context of the Vatican's continuing ambivalence towards its Jewish parent.

Jews who might want a world without Christianity are wrong

On the one hand, it did make an effort to confront its endemic theological prejudice with the seminal encyclical Nostra Aetate, which absolved the Jews of collective guilt for the death of Jesus. It also opened diplomatic relations with Israel.

Yet, despite such conciliatory moves, it has continued to display animosity towards Judaism and the Jewish people. Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, attempted to Christianise the Shoah by presenting Auschwitz as a Polish rather than a Jewish holocaust, supporting the building of a convent there and beatifying Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism.

As Sergio Minerbi has noted in the Jewish Political Studies Review, Benedict has built upon John Paul's legacy through his deeply troubling moves to restore to the church the followers of Bishop Marcel Lefebvre, who continue to hold the Jews responsible for the killing of Jesus, and to re-establish the use of the Tridentine Latin Mass.

The latter reaffirms the Church's aim of converting the Jews to Christianity; while the restoration of the Lefebvrians, including a bishop who denies the Shoah, associated the Vatican once again with open Jew-hatred.

In addition, although Benedict visited Israel last year, the Vatican has consistently failed to acknowledge Israel's unique value and central importance for the Jewish people, dwells almost exclusively on the suffering of the Palestinians while blaming Israel for defending itself against Arab terror, and maintains a cordial relationship with Iran.

So it would be less than surprising if Jews raised a small cheer for the insolent officials of the Foreign Office; and if the Pope were suddenly to discover a pressing engagement that prevents him from travelling to Britain after all, few would surely lose any sleep. Yet for all that, the animosity being displayed towards Benedict should make Jews very uneasy.

The threats to arrest the Pope in Britain for the crimes of the Catholic Church arise from the same misuse of human-rights doctrine as the threats to arrest Israelis with a background in military command if they should step off the plane at Heathrow.

It bespeaks a fanatical intolerance and malice which, using the fig-leaves of imagined or real abuses of Israeli military strikes or paedophile priests, actually have in their sights the continued existence of the state of Israel, or the Catholic Church and Christianity itself.

Again, some Jews may think that a world without Christianity, with its animosity towards Judaism, would be a better place. They are wrong.

For all the difficulties Jews have with the churches --- and they are profound and possibly insoluble ---- if Christianity were to disappear from Britain and Europe, the basis of western civilisation would crumble, and our precious liberties and toleration would vanish with it.

Indeed, they are already diminishing under the current onslaught upon Christianity from illiberal and intolerant secular fanatics, whose attitudes suffuse the diplomats' pop at the Pope.

The aim of all this is to eradicate all obstacles in the way of the utopia of the brotherhood of man, obstacles which lie not just in the Vatican, but also in the Jerusalem that Rome itself in turn views with such proprietary presumption.

Melanie Phillips is a Daily Mail columnist

    Last updated: 10:49am, July 9 2010

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