Reading the news about the reintegration of a notorious Holocaust denier into the Catholic Church, as well as the open letter of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn to the Chief Rabbi of Austria and the Jewish community on the occasion of Holocaust Memorial Day, reminded me of my boyhood experiences at the elementary school in Baden bei Wien during the 1930s…
By Karl Pfeifer, Z Word Blog, 29.01.2009
When the religion class was taught, I had to leave the classroom. During the break after this lesson, we used to play in the courtyard. I was always abused as “murderer of God” and accused of having “crucified the savior”. I was jostled and pushed around. The catechist stood on the first floor and looked out upon the cheerful children and gave a kindly smile. It was a prologue of what was to come.
Exactly at the time that I was as an eight year old boy abused by boys of my age after their lessons in the Catholic faith, something else happened. “Father Georg Bichlmair, the Jesuit leader of a missionary group for the conversion of Jews called the ‘Paulus-Missionswerke’ declared in a public speech in March 1936 that Jews belonged to a different race that the German people,” writes Bruce F. Pauley in From Prejudice to Persecution: A History of Austrian Anti-Semitism. “Sympathy for the Jews should not blind Christians to the dangerous, contagious effects of the Jewish national character and to the spiritual homelessness of the Jews. Because of their race, Bichlmair believed, Jews remained different from Christians even if they were baptized. He therefore opposed baptized Jews holding any high office in the church hierarchy or the civil service up to the third generation.”
The Austrian Nazis could quote Catholic antisemites to make it clear to the people that they were just continuing what Catholics had proclaimed for many decades. All Nazi outrages were accepted by the official Church in silence: dealing with “the others”, the non-Christians, especially the Jews, Aryanization, the orgy of terror and theft, ostracism of the Jews first from the public then from the private economic sector, and finally deportation. True, a few individual Catholics asserted themselves bravely on behalf of a few Jews. But it is to its eternal shame that the Church did not even save the converted Jews, allowing their deportation instead. Even now, the Church is proud of having provided them with parcels before they were taken to the cattle trains.
Did the Catholic Church come out after their terrible failure during the “Volksgemeinschaft” (national socialist community) with more than verbal condemnations of antisemitism after the liberation 1945? No, on the contrary, Bishops had a soft heart for Nazis and helped war criminals to escape justice.
On March 29, 2008 Cardinal Schönborn published “Judaism’s Way to Salvation” in the Catholic weekly “The Tablet” and favored the conversion of Jews. He reminded the readers about the strengthening of the “positive moments” of relations between Catholics and Jews and wrote: “Tensions have, however, kept cropping up. The discussions concerning Pope Pius XII, the beatification of Pope Pius IX, or the revised wording of the Good Friday Prayer for the 1962 Rite … are a few such examples.”
Cardinal Schönborn is albeit for peaceful persuasion: “On the other hand, it means that this mandate must be carried out in the most sensitive way, cleansed of all un-Christian motives.”
In his open letter to the Chief Rabbi this week, Cardinal Schönborn now writes: “It is shameful and frightening that there are still people who openly deny the Holocaust and question the Jewish People`s right to exist.”
Unfortunately, there is not one word about the Holocaust Denier bishop Richard Williamson, who was just a few days before Holocaust Memorial Day readmitted by Pope Benedict XVI into the Catholic Church.
It is strange. Whenever prominent Austrian Catholics voice crude antisemitism, the church condemns antisemitism in general, but very seldom says a word about its actual manifestations. We experienced that right after the Second World War, when conservative ÖVP politicians denigrated Jews returning to Austria, during the antisemitic campaign of former President Kurt Waldheim and when, in 2001, the late far-right politician Jörg Haider came out with an scathing attack against Ariel Muzicant, president of the Austrian Jewish Communities.
The one exception to the rule was Bishop Reinhold Stecher who forbade the cult of alleged ritual murder of the Christian boy Andreas Rinn in Tyrol. However on this Catholic website, Jews are accused until today of having committed ritual murder.
Cardinal Schönborn says in his letter: “After the horrendous catastrophe of the Shoah, Christians realised that they, too, were burdened with guilt. The declarations of the Second Vatican Council and of the Popes have meanwhile made it clear to all Catholics that awareness of Christianity`s Jewish roots also includes affection for contemporary Judaism. This is all the more important at a time in which the dramatic conflicts in the Middle East continuously bring with them the danger that old anti-Semitic prejudices are once again beginning to spread their pernicious influence in a new form.”
Sadly, such noble words have no influence whatsoever on some Catholic priests and organizations whose favorite pastime is Israel bashing. Meanwhile, Pope Benedict just now made his peace with the traditional anti-Jewish wing of the Church, including the acceptance of Bishop Williamson, who denies the Nazi industrial mass murder by relying on the Neo-Nazi falsifier of history, Fred Leuchter. And Williamson is quoted by Lorenzo Salvia, in article dated January 28th in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera, as repeating his denial of the existence of the gas chambers.
I have no doubt when it comes to the goodwill of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. However, the general condemnation of antisemitism and of Holocaust Denial is inconsistent, to say the least, with the tolerance in the Church for antisemites and Holocaust Deniers. Now is the time for words to become meaningful through deeds.