This article will explore the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews from the middle of the previous century until the present day. It will focus on how the Catholic Church has dealt with memory of the Shoah and how this has affected the Church's relations with the Jews. It will look at the most recent developments in dialogue between the Church and the Jews under Pope Benedict XVI and the impact of his visit to Israel in May 2009.
The Shadow of Pius XII
Pope Benedict XVI had decided to return to Israel in the year 2008, but his trip was delayed by a number of obstacles. In September 2008, the question of the beatification of Pius XII was discussed in Castelgandolfo, the summer residence of the Pope, at a symposium organized by the Jewish organization "Pave the Way" and its founder and president Gary Krupp.
On 18 September 2008 Benedict XVI publicly defended for the first time Pius XIFs wartime record. However he put on hold the issue of beatification, and established a commission to study archive material about Pius' papacy and the possible effects of his beatification on Catholic- Jewish relations. Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, the relator1 of the cause for beatification, which began in the year 1967, did not succeed in convincing any of the ruling popes since that year - Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI - to sign the decree necessary in order to embark on the long journey toward beatification. Gumpel blamed the Jews for the fresh delay in September 2008, saying that the "real problem" is the controversy over the Jews' perception of Pius XII.2
Krupp 's main purpose in organizing the symposium was to cause Yad Vashem to change the caption under the picture of Pius XII in its Jerusalem museum. However, no convincing evidence was brought to the symposium in Castelgandolfo and therefore Benedict XVI decided to take a pause of reflection and did not sign the decree.3
1965-2005: Dialogue with the Jews and the Struggle over the Shoah Memory
When the declaration Nostra Aetate - literally In Our Age, the declaration on the relationship of the Church with Non-Christian religions - was published in 1965 in the framework of Council Vatican II (the Second Vatican Council), Catholic and Jewish scholars alike praised the big step apparently taken by the Church in reducing the Catholic Church's anti-Semitism, sometimes called anti- Judaism.4
With the Nostra Aetate the Church did not absolve those Jews who allegedly killed Jesus. Rather, it limited the blame for allegedly murdering Jesus to those Jews of that time who were responsible for it rather than accusing all Jews of all times.5 It also stated that "the Church... decries hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism." This declaration remains the only theological step forward toward Jews since the Gospels.
The Nostra Aetate was consecutively followed by the Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate (1974)6 and the Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church (1985).7 The Notes is the first Church document to affirm "the existence of the State of Israel" on the basis of "the common principles of international law."
At the same time as these steps were being made, an attempt was underway to Christianize the Shoah. John Paul IFs intentions in this respect and his desire to transform the Shoah into a Catholic Polish event were apparent while he was still Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. In 1970, at the ceremony for the beatification of Maximilien Kolbe in Rome, he distributed ashes from Auschwitz to the bishops present.8 This distribution of part of the ashes of hundreds of thousands of Jews, as well as of smaller numbers of Christians and Gypsies, indicated his desire to view Auschwitz as first and foremost a site of Christian memory. One must assume that he was aware of the affront to Jews which would result from the touching, removing, and distributing of the remains of Jews' dead bodies - actions considered by Judaism to be nothing less than desecration of the dead. …