Here’s to our murder-less mystery story, where its religious-ecclesiastical background calls for careful threading, though no issues of faith or belief are involved. I am referring to the Second Vatican Council, (1961–1964), some of its deliberations, the shadowy maneuvers that brought them about, and the implications and consequences for the brethren and the world at large. The Council implemented profound changes, of which many faithful are probably not fully aware, and from which the Catholic Church has perhaps not yet recovered.
But first some background. The late 1950s were a time of critical ideological tension. In Italy, Communist governments, provincial and local, ran and administered large swaths of the country. There was a chance that in the next political elections the Communists could win the majority.
Understandably, America was concerned and had disturbing contingency plans should the enemy win. In this, I think, they misunderstood Italy’s collective psychology. For one, many had already perceived the utopian nature of Marxist egalitarianism and sensed that a Communist state would resemble a convent or a prison. But they also knew that, if the Italian Communists won, they would quickly convert the convent into a brothel and the prison into a discotheque. That is, a change in name but not in substance.
Still, Pope Pius XII, who died in 1958, came from a noble family with a long history of service to the Church. Now policy and the political winds called for a Pope with a different background, a “populist” we would say today — one whose humble origins would implicitly raise favor among the discontent, hope in the disenfranchised and sympathy in the downtrodden.
Pope John XXIII filled the bill, for he was the fourth among thirteen children in a family of sharecroppers. And soon he acquired the byname of “good.” From then on, the masses knew him as “the Good Pope.”
Logic is never a friend of mass psychology, for ‘good’ is a relative term. Good compared to whom? In fact, according to a meaningful section of past and current Catholic thinkers, John XXIII was a disaster.
But I digress. Prior to Vatican II, one the Good Friday’s rituals of the Catholic Church features(d) the reciting of a prayer originated in the fourth century AD. That prayer included the words, “Oremus et pro perfidis Judaeis,” meaning “Let us also pray for (the conversion of) the faithless Jews.”
During his last years, Pope Pius XII had received a visit from Jules Marx Isaac, a prominent French Jew who was also a Mason and a Marxist. Isaac asked the Pope to remove ‘perfidis’ from the prayer. Pius XII declined because, he explained, ‘perfidis’ does not mean ‘perfidious’ but ‘faithless.’ For the Jews do not recognize the divinity of Christ and consequently have no faith. Therefore, ‘faithless’ was not an insult but a statement of fact.
In the turbulent currents of our world, these historic, semi-theological preoccupations seem quaint. For today an obscene Jewish comedienne can claim, on American prime-time TV, that she is glad that the Jews killed Christ. Adding, “If I could, I’d do it again, I’d f…ing” do it again.” And both Catholic and Protestant divines have met such statements (and worse), with a stony yet meaningful silence.
But in the 1950s the Zeitgeist was different. The first signal occurred during the Good Friday rituals of 1959, and we owe this information to Cardinal Bea, right hand of John XXIII. John XXIII reversed the ruling of his predecessor, Pius XII, and ordered the adjective ‘perfidis’ removed from the prayer recited since 400 AD.
Earlier on, in 1937, Pope Pius XI had issued another Encyclical, unusually written in German, and titled “Mit Brennenden Sorge”(With Burning Concern) in which he Pius XI also dealt with the thorny issue of collective Jewish responsibility for the death of Christ. He wrote, “God (the Word) became flesh among a people that one day would crucify him.” In 1959 John XXIII suppressed that sentence from the record of Pius XI’s Encyclical. Nor Internauts will find it by reading the Encyclical online.
There were other meaningful suppressions, for example, in the ritual for the baptism of adults wishing to become Catholics. In the old ritual the priest asked the applicant whether “he held in horror Judean perfidy and superstition.” To which the expected answer from the soon-to-be-Catholic was “yes.” That question-and-answer exchange was removed from the ritual.
John XXIII, like the current Pope, chose gestures over words to express his thoughts. The hierarchy, the subordinates and Catholics at large were to derive, from his gestures, their meaning and implications, as well as the Pope’s objectives and intentions.
On a Saturday in March, 1962 (the Council had begun the previous October), John XXIII made a well-publicized stop, with his car and caravan, in front of the Synagogue of Rome. The stop was timed to occur at the end of a Shabbat, when the Jews came out of the building. And when, from his car, the Pope blessed them.
More meaningful gestures were to come. Ariel Toaff, a Jewish professor at Tel Aviv University, has written an interesting book, in French, titled “La Paque des Juifs” (Easter of the Jews). Toaff examined the records of various trials, through the ages, of Jews accused of killing Christian children — murdered to use their blood in some Jewish Easter’s ceremonies. That book was promptly removed from circulation a few days after publishing, due to Jewish reaction and furious pressure. There was, however, a second edition, where the author added statements of sufficient impact as to reduce the ire of his co-religionists.
Among youngsters allegedly killed for the “Paque des Juifs” were Simonino from Trent (Italy), Andrea from Rinn (Austria), Lorenzino from Marostica (Italy) and Dominguito del Val (Spain). They had all been declared “Blessed,” their embalmed bodies had been enclosed in glass tombs, under a main altar or in a chapel dedicated to them.
By the way, the difference between a Blessed (Beatus) and a Saint (Sanctus) has to do with the number of miracles performed and their timing.
In May 1961, John XXIII wrote a secret letter to the religious authorities of the Churches or Abbeys involved, ordering to remove the tombs and all records, works of art, ex-voto, paintings and statues of these Blessed from their respective Churches, and to suppress immediately all related celebrations, festivities and processions.
For example, Andrea from Rinn was born in 1459 and beatified in 1751. At the Abbey of Wilten, in Austria, his chapel was renamed, his paintings and statues removed, and his sarcophagus relegated to a dark corner against a wall. An inscription on the stone masking the sarcophagus asked forgiveness of the Jews, for the veneration of that Blessed had been a cause of anti-Semitism. Finally, in 1985, the Archbishop of Innsbruck had the body removed from the church to a common cemetery — “for his veneration (Andrea-from-Rinn’s) is not substantiated by reliable historical documentation.” Which, in itself, is a remarkable statement, as the proclamation of a ‘Blessed’ follows a lengthy process and trial of canonization.
In fact, after the death of Pope John Paul II, the Vatican PR machinery created the slogan, “Subito Santo” (A Saint Immediately). Where ‘immediately’ infers a break from the traditional years, decades, and at times centuries, required before sanctification. Furthermore, the Blessed cannot be unblessed, depending on the political air of the times, though the Archbishop of Innsbruck clearly thought otherwise.
Back to the Council, where — as per the biography of Cardinal Bea — an important character comes to the stage. He is Nahum Goldmann (1885–1982), a Polish Jew, President of the World Jewish Congress (1951–1978) and editor of the “Encyclopedia Judaica” from 1932 to 1934. Later he was the Representative of the Judean Nation at the United Nations from 1935 to 1940, in Geneva and the US.
From 1939 to 1945 he was the director of the Jewish Spying Service, at a time when the Israel didn’t yet exist, though the Organization was recognized by the US Administration — evidence that the US already considered the state of Israel a fait accompli. In his autobiography, Goldmann writes of having been the first, in 1942, to launch the idea of the Nuremberg Trials. And he is also associated with the notorious Morgenthau Plan which called for the dismantling of all German industrial concerns, mass transfer of all remaining machinery and industrial tools to England as war reparations, prohibition of any industrial activity, the reduction of Germany to the level of a pre-industrial, medieval agricultural society which would have resulted in millions of deaths.
In his memoirs, Goldmann writes that the Second Vatican Council would not have occurred, but for three events,
— the Shoah
— the Nuremberg Trials
— the foundation of the state of Israel.
Nathan Ben Horin, Israel’s Ambassador to the Vatican, writes in his memoirs, that on February 27, 1962 the draft of the Encyclical “Nostra Aetate” (Our Age) produced by the International Judaic Congress, was delivered to Cardinal Bea, for transmittal to John XXIII.
In 1960, John XXIII through his right-hand Cardinal Bea, had invited Nahum Goldmann for a meeting with the Pope. In the meeting (so Goldmann writes), John XXIII said he wanted to propose, at the forthcoming Council, a revision of the relations between Jewry and Catholicism. To do so, the Pope needed for the Jewish Congress to send him a formal request for the reconsideration of Jewish-Catholic relations.
That is, John XXIII wanted a change, but he needed the Jewish Congress to ask for it.
Then, with another important step, John XXIII excluded the Holy Office from making any input on such an important matter as the relationship between the Catholic Church and other religions — which was the essence of the “Nostra Aetate” Encyclical.
This raised a bitter internal feud, for the Holy Office had been for centuries the official organ of analysis and deliberations regarding dogmas and general matters of faith. John XXIII simply ordered Cardinal Ottaviani, head of the Holy Office, to shut up.
John XXIII had several meetings with another influential Rabbi, Abraham Heschel, who also contributed to the writing of the Encyclical — so writes the secretary of Cardinal Bea.
And finally, in an issue of the French Jewish weekly Tribune Juive, Lazare Landau, a Jewish historian, writes,
In a glacial night of the winter 62–63, I was invited to an extraordinary meeting of the “Communitarian Center for Peace,” held at the Synagogue of Strasbourg. At the end of the Shabbat, the Directors received in secret, in a cellar of the building, an envoy of John XXIII, Yves Congar, [a Dominican friar who had a critical influence on the ‘progressive’ measures taken by the Council as a whole.]
There were ten of us. Congar, in name of John XXIII, asked us what we expected from the Catholic Church, as regards the millenarian “Jewish Question.” We said that we wanted the complete re-habilitation of the Jews, as regards the death of Christ. “Nostra Aetate” was a total revolution, as Congar later said to me, in the doctrine of the Church, as regards the Jews.
In fact — so I am told by current practicing Catholics who attend Masses and functions in their churches — some priests praise the greatness of Hebraism, assert that Abraham is our common ancestor and that the Jews are our ‘elder brothers’ of the Bible. Forgetting the polygamy of the patriarchs, the gallantries of David, the seraglio of Solomon, the incest in the Leviticus, and a general Old Testament undertone of hyper-ethnocentrism, fear and loathing of gentiles, the desire to dominate gentiles, and revenge against their enemies.
The same priests sermonize on the rights of Jews to the ancestral land of Israel. On the wars in the Middle East, fought for Israel, and on the slaughter of Palestinians, the word is mum. Though various Popes have at times deplored, and generally lamented that war causes death and suffering, which almost equates to saying that a great cause of the night is lack of sunshine.2
In summary, there is sufficient evidence as to who took the initiative and who were the authors of the Encyclical “Nostra Aetate.”
Nevertheless, the debates at the Council on the issue of the Jews’ involvement in the death of Christ were contentious and combative. After all, according to the Gospels, the Jews had asked for the blood of Christ to fall “on their head and that of their children.” The Gospel of St. John made this clear, and St. Paul had declared that adopting alternative Gospels would be anathema.
The bishops of the Arab world, in particular, objected to the appeasement of the Jews because appeared to be an indirect Catholic endorsement of the rape of Palestine. A de-facto endorsement of Israel occurred in 1965, though formal recognition and exchange of embassies had to wait for John Paul II, in 1993.
In the end there was a compromise. The encyclical “Nostra Aetate” would state that only “some,” not “all,” Jews were responsible for the death of Christ.
This did not prevent the (Catholic) University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, from freeing all Jews of any responsibility related to the issue.
Furthermore, as I hear from Professor E. Michael-Jones, the University hired a Jewish psychologist to teach a seminar on “togetherness” and similar topics, to priests and nuns. This had the foreseeable consequence that a number of priests left the ministry and nuns the convent…. to get married. If there is life after death, Boccaccio will laugh his head off.
To conclude, the Second Vatican Council has puzzled many Catholics. Perhaps John XXIII believed that the stream of time was running in favor of the Jews, with the result that he was forced away from the ancient paths by the rough torrent of occasion.3
But some Catholics would like to know where the Vatican is headed. For, when a revolutionary change of religious belief is imposed from above, strength of conviction is weakened and judgment confounded. Resistance shrinks from revolution of beliefs, even if the prime mover of the insurgency keeps wearing the robes of the Prime Minister of God.
At times, the truth may appear grey, but isn’t. It is black and white, at least in patches. And even the blackness and the whiteness of the patches are often debated and debatable. For nothing is black or white, but thinking makes it so.4
- As You Like It
- King Henry IV, part 2