A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Little Brown £16.99.
On one side of the cover, a notice reads one not wanted here". On the other, we have a crucifix, of the sort often found at the entrances to German villages. The inference is clear: cross and notice are saying the same thing. The cross is an antiSemitic symbol, because it reminds the world of the libellous claim that the Jews murdered Christ. Here in a nutshell we have Goldhagen's thesis: the Church's teaching was a precondition of the Holocaust; it was not the sole cause, but without Catholic antipathy to the Jews, the Holocaust could not have happened. And now the Church must make restitution.
There is, of course, a case to answer. In 1893 the Jesuit magazine Civilta Cattolica described the Jews as a "nation that does not work, but traffics in the work and property of others ... It is the giant octopus that with its oversized tentacles envelops everything." Whatever the writer's motivation, this sort of thing from a magazine that bears the imprimatur of the Holy See would have made the passing of the racial laws in Italy and Germany that much easier. That is undisputable.
But that Civilta Cattolica should publish it is not surprising. In 1893, the Church saw itself as the repository of the truth and obliged to persecute error wherever it found it — and that meant denying Jews civil rights. The people who advocated emancipating Jews were the anti-clerical liberals, and the exponents of the heresy of indifferentism, those who denied the uniqueness of Christ's sacrifice. In this context, persecution of Jews made a twisted sense, and one can accept Goldhagen's thesis that the pre-Vatican H Church was antiSemitic, while noting that it never persecuted Jewish converts. The antipathy was religious, not racial. The Church made Jews live in a certain way — but it intended them to live. The Nazis did not. That said; the Nan task was easier because the Church unwittingly prepared the ground for it.
Where one finds oneself diverging from Goldhagen is on the question of degree. He sees Catholicism as saturated with anti-Semitism, but at no point does he demonstrate that there is a necessary connection between Catholicism and anti-Semitism. Is anti-Semitism incidental or integral to Christianity? Theology matters, and it is here that Goldhagen is at his weakest.
The Cross isn't an antiJewish symbol, but the opposite: the symbol of God's love for all, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free. Of course the Cross may be abused as a symbol, but that cannot change its God-given meaning. Again, though Goldhagen says so three , times, the Church has never taught that "outside the Church there is no salvation". In fact, such a proposition has been condemned. The Church believes that Christ is the only saviour, but this is a theological statement that requires explication. Goldhagen shows no awareness of the work of Karl Rahner in this field; he is dismissed in one footnote as an anti-Semite, on the basis of a solitary quotation.
Theology is subtle, and Goldhagen is not. Take this: "For the authors of the Christian Bible to understand Jesus on earth as they want, they need a terrestrial Satan, and so they invent and present a Satan in the person of the Jews." The idea that Satan is a necessary being will come as a surprise to Christians; that is the heresy of the Manicheans. This is just one example of Goldhagen attributing to Christians beliefs we do not hold.
And consider this: "In today's Europe, not to mention the rest of the world, tens of millions of people still deem the Jews guilty or accursed for killing Jesus." Where is the evidence for this claim? Why is it that I, a Catholic, have never met a single person who has advanced this view?
Goldhagen is right about one thing. Catholics did lamentably little to help the Jews when they needed it most. The reason is not that they approved of mass murder, but that they were victims of their history. It was simply not possible for people who had peddled an official antiSemitism for so long to turn around quickly when it became apparent where that anti-Semitism was leading.
This book will make some Catholics angry, but that is the wrong response. The Church should welcome this chance to engage with the Jews and abandon its defensive posturings. It is time to start writing a new and better page of history.