Catholic Church's statement draws praise, disappointment Baltimore Jewish leaders express mixed feelings

March 17, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Although some leaders of Baltimore's Jewish community praised yesterday's Vatican statement on the Holocaust as a step forward in interfaith relations, others expressed disappointment that the Roman Catholic Church did not go further.

The statement, which expressed deep regret for the "errors and failures" of Catholics during the Holocaust, nonetheless defended the role of Pope Pius XII, who has been accused of staying silent in the face of the deportation of Jews and their extermination in Nazi death camps.

Rabbi Mark G. Loeb of Beth El Synagogue said the fact that the Catholic Church had issued a soul-searching document was a positive development.

"I think that it's one of the hardest things for any individual, never mind an institution, to own up to its failings," Loeb said. "While I have not studied the document, I am enormously impressed that it was produced at all. My own faith is that coming generations will be able, with less emotional trauma, to examine the period dispassionately and if there is a need for further statements, they will come forth in due time."

Rabbi Herman N. Neuberger, president of Ner Israel Rabbinical College and a leader in the Orthodox community, said he was encouraged by excerpts he read. "This is a very positive statement and I think it should be applauded," he said.

What is most important, Neuberger said, is that the Catholic Church use this examination of its role in history to influence its behavior in the present and the future. "This is the idea: That we recognize that the past has to shape our future, which the pope has eloquently said," he said.

But Rabbi Chaim Landau of the Ner Tamid Congregation said the language on repentance rang hollow to him, especially in the absence of a detailed self-examination of Catholic behavior in the Holocaust, particularly involving the role of Pope Pius XII.

"The Jewish theology of forgiveness is that one can only repent to the person whom one has hurt for it to be effective. In this case, the only ones to whom the Catholic Church allegedly are repenting to are those for whom it is too late to make that repentance," he said.

"The Catholic theology of repentance is being used to clear the slate for the Catholic theology of anti-Semitism that propelled the genocide into existence. It's an apology on Catholic terms only."

Rabbi Joel H. Zaiman of the Chizuk Amuno Congregation, who participated in international interfaith meetings between Catholics and Jews that preceded the drafting of the document released yesterday, said it left him feeling disappointed.

"My initial response to the document is that it simply is not bold enough," said Zaiman, who is leading an interfaith delegation in Rome with Baltimore's Cardinal William H. Keeler.

Zaiman noted that in a 1990 meeting in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, president of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews that produced the document, "said that the church asked for forgiveness for whatever role it may have played in allowing the Holocaust, the Shoah, to have taken place.

"His statement was much more powerful than the statements in this particular document," Zaiman said.

Keeler, who also participated in the meeting in Prague, as well as a 1992 Catholic-Jewish meeting in Baltimore and a 1994 gathering in Jerusalem, said the encounters "helped me to see how very complex [the Holocaust] is and [how] there's no easy way to summarize the various historical aspects of it, because different things happened in different countries. The response of the church was different in different countries."

For example, he said, "One of the more dramatic stories of the Holocaust was what occurred in Holland. There the Nazis rounded up Jewish people in the spring of 1942 and the Christians protested. The Nazis said if you make the protests public, we'll round up people of your faith who have Jewish blood."

The local bishop did, and Catholics with Jewish blood were sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Among those deported and eventually killed was Edith Stein, who was born a Jew, converted to Catholicism and became a Carmelite nun.

Leo Bretholz, a Baltimore resident and concentration camp survivor, said, "Apologies are good, and to make amends and to atone, that is all very good," he said. "It all helps to establish good relations and to mend the misgiving as as far as the future is concerned.

"As far as the past," he said, "It is a little too late."

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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