Rabbi Aaron Bergman: Faith and Policy
Pope disappoints by being honest to Middle East foes
A phrase that I always hated as a kid and like even less now is "Wait until your father gets home." It implied that a parent was a potentially threatening figure. It causes the parent to feel unnecessarily authoritarian. And it creates pressure to fix relationships or situations that may not be fixable, causing disappointment and resentment.
Pope Benedict XVI was placed in one of those "Wait until your father gets home" moments when he recently visited the Middle East. It was a no-win situation for the pope -- a title that means father -- but he did better than most could have expected given the volatility of the region and the impossible expectations placed upon him.
Pope Benedict had two challenges. He is primarily an academic by vocation, one of the church's great scholars and theoreticians. Academics, though, tend not to be great diplomats, nor do they tend to inspire great passion. They are measured and careful with their words, and see many sides of an issue.
Benedict's other challenges is that he is the successor to Pope John Paul II, one of the most beloved popes in history by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. John Paul was one of the bravest religious leaders of the 20th century. He became pope at a much younger age than Benedict, showed vigor uncommon in most clerics and a true papa.
So Benedict was guaranteed to leave everyone unsatisfied.
I actually take this as an accomplishment. Every side in the Middle East said Benedict took someone else's side, not theirs. This speaks to Benedict's honesty. He could have been a hero by pandering to a particular audience. Instead, he chose a much more difficult path.
Everyone was waiting to hear key phrases or terms, and were angered when they did not hear them. If you read the transcripts of the pope's comments on the Vatican Web site, you will be surprised by his depth of thought and passion.
I will only speak for my own community, some of whom feel Benedict did not emphasize the bond between the Jewish community and the church as much as they remember John Paul II doing. Here are Benedict's words to the chief rabbis of Israel:
"Today I have the opportunity to repeat that the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to the path chosen at the Second Vatican Council for a genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews. As the 'Declaration Nostra Aetate' makes clear, the church continues to value the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews and desires an ever deeper mutual understanding and respect through biblical and theological studies as well as fraternal dialogues."
This is actually as clear a statement as one could ask for.
I hope Pope Benedict always feels at home at the birthplace of the church as he does at the Vatican, and that his next visit is to a region of peace and fellowship, not a place that is "waiting for father to get home."
Rabbi Aaron Bergman is rabbi of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org