I went to a French Roman Catholic school from K to 8 and then another one from 9 to 12. Not that my parents were devout Catholics.
My father decided on a Catholic education, because of the riots of May 1968, because of the numerous public school teachers' strikes which interrupted, according to him, the necessary momentum of a child's education (tomorrow the French public school teachers will be again on strike, nothing changes!), because he had been sent to a Roman Catholic School in Paris, a guarantee of the best education possible at the time (1930s) for a child whose parents lived in the French West Indies. My father's parents, although baptized, were not, as far as I can recall and as far as I have been told, pious and practicing Catholics.
My mother attended the French public school system from K to 12. However, her family was a practicing and devout Roman Catholic family: my grand-parents attended Sunday Mass and sometimes weekday mass, my grand-father crossed himself before each meal, and my grand-mother's brother was a priest and an abbott. They went on regular pilgrimages to Lourdes and Pibrac, and I still remember my grand-mother's frying pan voice singing a hymn to "Le Petit Jesus" with tearful eyes.
When my mother married my father -a civil wedding only, in front of "Monsieur le Maire", the town mayor- , she entered a very long "traversee du desert" -crossing of the desert. Her spiritual life was emptied of its very essence. She was denied Communion, not allowed to partake of the Eucharist, because her choice for a spouse -my dad-, was a divorcee and divorce is NOT an option in the Roman Catholic Canon Law. This official "shunning" ended in 1991 when, the victim of a car accident that gave her three long agonizing years as a "vegetable" (a "Terri Schiavo", to be more explicit), the priest gave her the last rites, absolving her of all her sins -including having lived maritally with a divorcee- and put a holy host into her mouth. From June 16, 1964 (the day when she married my father) to July 22, 1991 (a couple of months before her actual death, when I asked the priest to come to her bedside on her birthday date), my mother was a "canonical outlaw". She was NOT excommunicated, but in a way it was worse than an official excommunication. She attended Church on Sundays, at least until 1985 when, I think, she lost her faith or at least started to seriously doubt the tenets of her church at the same time as she was entering a tumultuous phase in her life, what we now call MLC (midlife crisis). She took us to Church too, made sure we went through all the required sacraments, at least until we started to rebel, partly out of procrastination (we wanted to sleep in on Sundays), mostly because it downed on my sisters and myself that there was something "not right", something "not fair": Why could we take communion and she could not? Why is divorce a "bad" thing? Where was that "love that endures all"? Where was the God of compassion and forgiveness in this edict?
I did not mean to linger for so long on my family's religious background and adventures. But again, it may be my way of sorting out my concerned "anger", of pursuing my own little war against what I find to be the enduring hypocrisy or lasting "double standard" of the Roman Catholic Church.
When the Church of England decided to ordain women to the priesthood, many married Anglican priests and bishops asked to be restored in the ranks of the Catholic Church. Not only did it happen, but they were welcomed with open arms and given dispensations to derogate to the requirement of celibacy. (As is already the case with the Uniates in Ukraine or the Maronites in Lebanon). Meanwhile, the few Catholic priests, worldwide, who have been lobbying for the right to marry... cannot and will not be able to do so anytime soon (Benedict XVI is fiercely against it). Their alternatives are but a few: to resist the temptation of the flesh (and of love), to not resist the temptation and secretly live in mortal sin (or not so secretly, depending on the parishioners, I suppose), or lastly, to officially renounce the priesthood.
In the last few years since his election to the Holy Seat (pun intended), we have been able to witness again this "double standard" and even "double entendre". At times, it almost feels like a bad rewriting of George Orwell's 1984, especially the chapters where "double think" and "newspeak" are mentioned. Maybe Benedict XVI is an aficionado? True, the guy is a theologian and a philosopher, so playing with words is not a problem for him.
As one can recall, his first blunder dates back to September 12, 2006, in Ratisbonne. His choice of quote infuriated the Muslim world almost as much as the Danish cartoons did (and actually, if I am not mistaken, an Italian nun was murdered in Mogadiscio, Somalia, because of what he said).
On September 23, 2007, he "did it again" when he criticized the Muslims for persecuting Christians (which is unfortunately the case in some countries), or berating them for not allowing conversions to another religion. He did not mean converting from Islam to Judaism or Hinduism, he meant converting from Islam to Christianity, i.e., in his mind, Catholicism. Not that he must be singing Hallelujahs when a Catholic becomes Lutheran, or Jewish, or Muslim...Not that he encourages this either, does he?
With the Jews, Benedict XVI took a less straightforward, less frontal and less confrontational approach... until last week. Was he being facetious, Machiavellian? Was he trying to buy time?
To follow in his Polish predecessor's steps, he visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 2005, then the Juden Platz in Vienna, Austria, in September 2007. He received two of Israel's Great Rabbis in Rome in September 2005, as well as Rome's own Great Rabbi in January 2006.
In April 2008, following an earlier decision to allow the Tridentine Mass to be said in lieu of Vatican 2 Liturgy, should parishioner wish to follow this earlier style in Latin, the relationship between the Vatican and the Jewish community tensed. Indeed, one of the components of the Tridentine Mass is a "Prayer for the Jews" that is a more than probable root and cause of Catholic Antisemitism.
Allowing the Tridentine Mass in itself is nothing to raise a ruckus for: again, everyone should worship and pray in the words that suit one best. For the most part of it, Catholic Antisemitism
arose amongst populations that were either barely educated (the Spaniards at the time of the Reconquista), or not at all (the Polish peasantry, for example) or who felt threatened because times were "a-changin'" too quickly for their taste (Dreyfuss Affair in France in the late 19th century, and later on in economically depressed Europe between 1929 and 1939). The Jew was the ideal scapegoat: accused of ritual crime at Easter (a rumor that started in Catholic Eastern Europe and spread into Germanic Central Europe), of holding the reins of power -albeit secretly- (the Protocols of Sion, -a known fake- is still Gospel for others), of money, etc. And the Christian texts presented him as Christ's murderer, while at the same time forgetting that Christ... was Jewish!... until 1965 when the Vatican officially removed the burden of Christ's death from the shoulders of the Jews.
Still, what is at stake in the decision to allow the Tridentine Mass is the very fact that it contains a pre-Vatican 2 "Prayer for the Jews" for the Good Friday Liturgy, of a more conservative tone than its 1970 rewriting by Pope Paul VI.
Here is the text from 1960, rewritten by Pope John XXIII. The word "faithless" is shown between ['''] because it is the one word that John XXIII removed. In the Latin original, it is "perfidis" which was unfortunately often translated by "perfidious", which is probably the cause of the antisemitic image of "the perfidious Jew". A better translation of the Latin would have been "faithless".
"Let us pray also for the [faithless] Jews: that almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us pray. Let us kneel. Arise. Almighty and eternal God, who dost also not exclude from thy mercy the Jews: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people; that acknowledging the light of thy Truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from their darkness. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen."
The text rewritten in 1970 by Pope Paul VI is very different in essence:
"Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant. Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen."
If the aim of the message is basically the same -the conversion of the Jews-, the means to get there and the presentation of the people to be converted is very different. The pre-Vatican 2 prayer is based on Pauline texts, and probably on Paul's own experience. If my memory is good, he was "blinded" on the way to Damascus, when he met Christ.
The 1970 text follows in the steps of the 1965 pontifical encyclic letter, Nostra Aestate, in as much as it recognizes the precedence of Judaism and indeed, acknowledges that there would be no Christianity without Judaism, since Abraham's descendants are both Jews and Gentiles (Isaac and Ismael).
Did Benedict XVI allow the return of the Tridentine Mass only as an "offering of peace" and as a first step towards reconciliation with the Integrist fringe of the Catholic faith? Did he not take the full measure of the words of the Good Friday prayer? Why does he think his version is even better than that of Pope Paul VI? Here is Benedict's version, dated February 2008:
"Let us also pray for the Jews that God our Lord should illuminate their hearts, so that they will recognize Jesus Christ, the Savior of all men. Let us pray. Let us genuflect. Rise. All-powerful and eternal God, you who wish that all men be saved and come to the recognition of truth, graciously grant that when the fullness of peoples enters your Church all of Israel will be saved."
The conversion of the Jews is again the goal, but gone is Pope Paul VI's recognizance of the Judaic faith as preceding the Christian, gone is the acknowledgment of Abraham and his descendance, gone is the acceptation that some may reach God's Love by other means than the Catholic faith, and back is the allusion to the "blindness" under the euphemism of the verb "illuminate".
Which brings me back to the latest step in the ongoing "counter-Vatican 2" guerilla, and the most recent "twist" in the Judeo-Christian relationships.
A few days ago Benedict XVI welcomed back into the Roman Catholic Church four bishops from the Integrist fringe known as the Society of Saint Pius X, created by French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who opposed the Vatican 2 reforms, ordained his own bishops and was henceforward excommunicated by Pope John Paul II. Amongst the four reinstated bishops, negationnist British Richard Williamson who denies the scope and the veracity of the Holocaust. I am including the YouTube.com video excerpt of his interview with Swedish radio/TV.
I was appalled at what I heard, the total denial of the gas chambers, the refusal to believe that 6 million Jews died, the charge of economical conspiracy. He ends his interview by asking the journalist not to show this on German TV because "[speaking like I do is] against the law in Germany." Well, it is also against the law in many other European countries...
How could Benedict XVI knowingly welcome back such a bishop? Notwithstanding the fact that the leader of the ultra-conservative fringe, Mgr Fellay, asked for forgiveness for what Mgr Williamson said, it is a known fact that Integrist Catholics are strongly influenced by Charles Maurras and the early XX century Christian Antisemitism, that the most reactionary Catholicism alive today can be found either in contemporary Spain (which never gave up Franco as lost) and Poland (which enjoys a resurgence of Catholic Antisemitism since the fall of communism).
Indeed, forgiveness is one of Jesus's commandments and the Prodigal Son was forgiven and celebrated back in the fold of his father's family and abode. However, he was repentant. Mgr Williamson is NOT repentant and has no intention to apologize for his statement. He is, after all, only following in the steps of the late Marcel Lefebvre's very own words, those words pronounced in the latter's Easter 1986 Homily, in Econe, or his article in Fideliter #49, Jan-Feb, 1986 (see the Index Thematique under Liberte religieuse)
The Forum Catholique website (if you read French, enjoy!)
http://www.leforumcatholique.org/message.php?num=461813 is also a great source of information about the ordinary Catholic worshipper and his or her position on the topics of Judaism, Holocaust and the recent developments with Mgr Williamson's statement and Benedict XVI's official reconciliation with, -who knows?-, his own personal demons. He was enrolled in the Hitler Jugend, wasn't he? He still is very conservative and getting more and more so, isn't he?
Or should I conclude using Jesus's very own words: "Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do?"