I have grown up a devout Catholic. In many regards I would consider myself a traditional conservative Catholic (God forbid — the Mel Gibson breed). In a discussion of the horrendous tragedy that occurred in Europe only sixty years ago, I will be first to admit that the Roman Catholic Church did not do all it could have done to confront the evil that had been brewing on its very doorstep. I will also be first to admit that this lack of action was largely a result of Christian-Jewish tensions and anti-Semitic undertones that extend back to such egregious mistakes as the Inquisition and the Crusades. These are mistakes that the Church must continue to atone for.
I now see a problem, however, in the way many are representing this problem. Authors such as John Cornwell, Gary Wills and James Carroll, who delivered the Slifka Center’s David and Goldie Blanksteen Lecture on March 2, have sought to point to the Church, and no other nations or institutions, as being the primary institution of culpability for the Holocaust along with the Nazis.
In his lecture on March 2, Carroll said, “It is important for Christians to confess, admit, that the roots of anti-Semitism lay in the heart of the Church.” This statement implies a conclusion that Carroll had earlier stated himself: without the history of the Roman Catholic Church, the Nazi massacre of six million could not have occurred. This oversimplification of the causes of one of the most complex and heavily-studied events in history is problematic primarily because it does exactly what Carroll claims to be fighting against; it blames a single group for the wrongs of an entire society.
It should be noted that Carroll is a former Catholic priest, a fact that seems to give him the authority to suggest a number of reforms in the Church. He believes that these reforms should come in the form of a “Vatican III” (see Carroll’s book, “Toward a New Catholic Church: The Promise of Reform”). His suggestions are, indeed, quite progressive. He suggests a “New Biblical Literacy” that would free the Church from “scriptural fundamentalism,” which he blames for much of the history of Christian anti-Semitism. Ultimately, he doesn’t want the Church to take the Gospels quite so literally or seriously.
Most Catholics would disagree with this idea alone, but another of his proposed changes — a New Christology, as Carroll calls it — is even more offensive to devout Catholics like me. He argues that the Church should rethink the way it views Jesus Christ’s mission – no longer as a Savior for believers, but as one who discloses God’s love for all. In essence, he believes the Catholic Church should abandon what has been its central tenet for 2000 years: Jesus Christ is the one and only God, made flesh and sent down as Messiah to suffer for the sins of man. Carroll’s claim is that this change will lessen, as he said in his lecture, “the insistence of Christianity as Christ being the only way to salvation,” which he claims has led to the admittedly unfortunate view held by some Christians that Jews and observers of other faiths cannot reach the Kingdom of God.
I can truly say that my own Catholic upbringing never involved any assertion of eternal damnation for other faiths. I do believe that belief in Jesus Christ is the way to salvation, but I also do not believe in a God who would punish good people who don’t share this belief. Carroll’s unstated goal is essentially the un-Catholicizing of Catholicism. He believes that the institution’s structure and core beliefs are the source of most of the evil that has befallen Jews throughout the last 2000 years. He believes that only by fundamentally changing the Catholic belief system can these supposed wrongs be righted. Here is the basic fact that he fails to acknowledge: simply holding fast to beliefs that differ from those of other groups does not make one bigoted or intolerant of those groups.
I see the same problem in Carroll’s recent Boston Globe review of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, in which he states, “In an act of perverse editing, Gibson has Jesus say, ‘I make all things new’ as his torment approached climax, as if cruel mayhem brings renewal.” This Biblical line, taken from Revelation 21:5, represents another core Christian belief, namely that Christ’s suffering and pain did bring renewal, and His resurrection and ascension were reinforcements of His making “all things new.” Carroll’s criticism of this single part of the film illustrates that his core objection is against Catholic dogma.
Ultimately, Carroll’s proposed reforms would do little to decrease any lingering Catholic anti-Semitism, which I contend is quite minimal. Such overhauls would likely only serve to cause confusion within the Church, driving many away from the faith and creating anger in others, which is the exact opposite of what is needed at a time like this. The best course of action is to avoid placing blame upon any single group for the collective wrongs of the past. As two faiths, we must look to the future. Catholicism must continue to denounce its mistakes of the past, one of which was forgetting that Christ was himself a Jew. These are two religious traditions that are much more closely linked than they are divergent. Together, they can grow, holding fast to their own traditions, while still respecting each other.
Jarod McAteer is a junior in Morse College.