A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair

By Rychlak, Ronald J. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2003 | Go to article overview

A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair


Rychlak, Ronald J., The Catholic Historical Review


A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair. By Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2002. Pp. 352. $25.00.)

A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair is yet another attack on the Catholic Church, focusing on World War II and the Holocaust. This book, however, is noteworthy both for the breathtaking scope of its claims and the air of righteous indignation that infuses it. Not content to argue that Pope Pius XII did less to save the Jews than he should have, the author goes much farther-to attack Pius as an anti-Semite and the Church as an institution thoroughly permeated by anti-Semitism. In fact, he argues that "the main responsibility for producing this alltime leading Western hatred lies with Christianity. More specifically, with the Catholic Church."

Goldhagen claims that the Catholic Church provided the Nazis with a "motive for murder" and should be held to a moral reckoning for its sinful behavior. He argues that the authors of the New Testament inserted anti-Semitic passages into the text decades after the crucifixion in order to serve their own political needs and that these passages should be expunged. As such, Goldhagen's book is not simply an attack on the papacy or the Catholic Church, but on Christianity itself, especially the New Testament, which Goldhagen says is "fictitious" and "not a reliable rendition of facts and events, but legend."

Goldhagen's focus is on those passages of the New Testament that long have been recognized as containing language that can be misunderstood. For in-stance, he cites John, chapter 8. Here Jesus is instructing people on the need to follow him. Jesus tells them to reject Satan and follow him to the Father. "If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." He continues:

You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe me.

Goldhagen argues that these words are anti-Semitic because Jesus is calling "Jews" the "children of the devil."

The Gospel does say that Jesus was talking to a group of Jews, but that-in context-is like saying he was talking to any group of people who were not his followers. In John, chapter 8, he was trying to convince a group of those people to follow him. He was not talking to "all Jews," and his words, as recorded in scripture, were not anti-Semitic!

Goldhagen is also outraged by Matthew 27:24-25, where Jesus is handed over to the Roman authorities, ultimately to face crucifixion. Pontius Pilate offered to free one of the "criminals," and the crowd called for Barabbas. As Matthew reports:

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying,"! am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves."

And all the people answered,"His blood be on us and on our children!" Goldhagen argues that Matthew here falsely attributes blame for the crucifixion to all Jews for all times, that this instilled a hatred of Jews into the European psyche, and that Hitler merely had to exploit this pre-existing attitude to his own perverted ends.

The remedy that Goldhagen proposes includes having Christians agree that Christ is not the only way to salvation and having them (with help from non-Christians) re-write the Gospels to purge offensive, anti-Semitic passages. He goes on to demand that the Catholic Church make reparations to Jews. He says that money reparations are deserved; political reparations are useful; but above all he stresses the need for the Church to admit its moral failings. …

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