Manfred my friend,
I want to thank you personally and also as a member of the Urfeld circle for expressing your clear and brave opinion on the matter of the Vatican and the Holocaust deniers. Truly, until now no expression of remorse came from the Vatican and all explanations only deepened the already open wound.
We were lucky enough to meet you, Manfred, and our friends of the Urfeld circle from Munich, to discover the high moral level and magnanimity that is presented in the way you lead your life. For all these I am grateful.
I would like to start the discussion by a citation from our local newspaper Haaretz (4.2.09):
"The decision of Pope Benedict XVI to reinstate the previously excommunicated holocaust denier bishop Richard Williamson, has brought about sharp criticism from all over the world."
I have asked myself, what stands at the back of this decision? How can such a chain of mistakes around this issue occur, and why were the simple words: "we are sorry we made a mistake" never uttered?
I will present here two sources that are relevant to this matter. One biblical, archaic but actual at the same time; it is a moral ideological stand with clear criteria. The other source is an academic study. Both contribute to the discussion of this issue.
The book of Proverbs gives a clear biblical response to the above questions by stating that only he who complies with the necessary conditions will be mercied: "He that covereth his transgressions shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy" (Proverbs, chapter 28 verse 13). This biblical verse conveys Jewish forgiveness and opens a way for compassion and pardon. In the first part of the verse there is a warning against the covering of misdeeds and in the second it encourages very clearly and even commands to recognize as well as confess to mistakes done. That is to say, it is not enough to recognize the mistakes but there is also a need to abandon the evil.
According to my understanding, the Vatican did not manage to rise and abide by the conditions of this biblical command. Thus its moral universalistic stand on the issue of the holocaust was blemished. And this really hurts!
Prof. Israel Gutman*, a holocaust researcher, tries to give an historical-psychological explanation to this problem. He asks, what is the evil spirit that took hold of the German people that created Nazism? The Nazis stuck to the negative image of the Jew that was encouraged by the church for many years and that brought it to extremes. Thus the Nazis have turned the Jew into someone similar to Satan, someone who is the opposite of a humane human being and declared the Jews to be out of bounds of humanity. This enabled them to conclude that their physical, spiritual and cultural annihilation is necessary for clearing the way to "the redemption of all mankind".
This apocalyptical and unique stand is the reason that the holocaust has turned into an unparalleled historical event because of its totality, ideology, racist fanatic hate, its production line that was planned and carried out composedly and meticulously, not with raging anger, but systematically, in satanical methods and in unprecedented scope. This is the reason, according to Prof. Gutman that it is so difficult to internalize the deep meaning of the holocaust.
Now I want to return to the biblical moral question, can the case we are discussing be "mercied"?
How is it possible that the Vatican, as the representative of God's pure Christian belief, behaves in this way? Is it a basic misunderstanding or inability to internalize the event of the holocaust, as Prof. Gutman suggests, or is it "a moral-spiritual lagoon" that represents the Vatican's weakness? Might it be that the Vatican itself finds it hard to understand and internalize the enormity and unprecedency of this event and therefore it is caught in the peak of its moral ideological weakness?
Personally it is very hard for me to accept the Vatican's mistake. It is an open, bleeding, painful historical wound that puts light on the complexity and intensity of this issue in the past and in the present.
I went into great efforts to write in a careful, nonviolent manner even though I am vehemently angry. I invite members of the Urfeld circle to do the same, but also to take a stand and express their opinion. I see this as a crucial discussion for the Urfeld circle that has put the dialogue with our German friends over the Holocaust as one of its main goals.
* Israel Gutman, Issues in Holocaust Research, 2008.