Reactions to the interview with Pope Benedict

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The new book, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times,” to be released this week, is certainly receiving a lot of attention from the worldwide media. It has also elicited a strong reaction from some Jewish leaders and Holocaust survivors over references in the book concerning Pope Pius XII and his leadership during World War II. Of course most of the attention surrounds Pope Benedict’s comments made during an interview with German journalist Peter Seewald concerning his personal view that condoms may be used in certain limited cases to prevent the spread of AIDS. Using the surprising example of male prostitutes, the pope contends that their use of condoms could represent a first step in assuming moral responsibility “in the intention of reducing the risk of infection.”

While the pope was very clear that he did not believe that condoms are a moral solution to stopping AIDs, he tried to explain that in some situations (such as male prostitutes) their use could lead to a greater good.

The pope met with Peter Seewald for six days during the summer and addressed a number of interesting issues. Seewald raised the question about Pope Benedict’s comments during his African visit when he condemned the use of condoms and remarked that they actually added to the further spread of AIDS. Seewald asked the pope if this stance wasn’t “madness” to forbid condom use to high-risk populations. In response Pope Benedict explained, “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility.”

There were some other very interesting comments the pope made during the interview. He said that if a pope is no longer physically, psychologically or spiritually capable of exercising his ministry, then he has the “right and under some circumstances, an obligation to resign.” On Islam in Europe, he did not favor such moves as France’s banning the burqa or Switzerland’s citizen referendum to forbid topping mosques with minarets. He said, “As for the burqa, I can see no reason for a general ban.” The pope explained that “Christians are tolerant and in that respect they also allow others to have their self-image.” He did add that Muslim majority countries can become intolerant, “making coexistence with Christians very difficult,” but that the church must stay in contact with “all the currents within Islam that are open to and capable of dialogue.”

One of the sore topics for some Jewish leaders and Holocaust survivors were his comments on Pope Pius XII. Pope Pius XII has been accused by some in the Jewish community of being basically silent on the Holocaust during WWII. Some from the Jewish community, as well as some historians, have asked Pope Benedict to put Pope Pius XII canonization process on hold until the Holy See opens up to the public its archival material from his papacy. But the pope said in the interview that an internal “inspection” of those unpublished documents failed to support “negative” allegations against Pope Pius XII. “It is perfectly clear that as soon as he protested publicly, the Germans would have ceased to respect” the Vatican’s extraterritoriality of converts and monasteries who were sheltering Jews from the Nazi occupiers in Rome. “The thousands who had found a safe haven would have been surely deported,” he explained. He added, “The decisive thing is what he did and what he tried to do and on that score we really must acknowledge. I believe that he was one of the great righteous men and that he saved more Jews than anyone else.”

Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said, “Pope Benedict’s comments fill us with pain and sadness and cast a menacing shadow on Vatican-Jewish relations. The assertion that Pius saved more Jews than anyone else during the Holocaust is categorically contradicted by the known historical record. As survivors of the Holocaust we have a solemn obligation to the memory of those murdered to defend the truth of the tragedy till our last breath” he added.

I’m sure we are all anxious to read the full interview. The pope is certainly courageous in sharing his personal opinion on such a variety of topics.