Rabbi Michael Lerner and other members of the chic cultural Left have denounced a papal decree on the grounds that it might lead to prayer.
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI issued the letter Summorum Pontificum, which allows for wider use of the Latin Mass. In response, Lerner and The Washington Post unleashed a torrent of hatred, ignorance, and religious bigotry unmatched in recent times (John Edwards’ campaign bloggers.aside).
The most widespread, bilious retort was Susan Jacoby’s screed in yesterday’s faith section of The Washington Post website. Jacoby began by assaulting “the retrograde nature of this pope.” She declaimed his act as “an arrogant step backward” secretly undertaken to encourage the belief that Jews are Christ-killers. After assaulting the Pope as misogynistic and obscurantist, she assaulted Catholicism itself: “[T]he chief effect of the vernacular [Mass] was to interrupt the Sunday-morning naps of Catholics.” Jacoby virtually spat her conclusion: “No one should pay the slightest attention to any pronouncements from this pathetic representative of a credulous, conformist past that preceded the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment and the separation of church and state in the West.”
Other leftists joined Jacoby with columns apparently written in crayon. None, however, matched Michael Lerner for Orwellian overstatement. Lerner is a rabbi in the controversial, New Age-leaning “Jewish Renewal” wing of Reconstructionist Judaism, whose ordinations are not acknowledged by more traditional Jews. The Berkeley radical has spent a lifetime humanizing terrorists and demonizing the United States. (His wedding cake bore the message “Smash Monogamy,” and his wedding ring was made of metal from a downed American aircraft.) Lerner was the preferred representative of God in the Clinton White House and enjoyed a warm relationship with Hillary Clinton. Given the current emphasis on faith in the Democratic Party, one wonders if Rabbi Lerner might be defaming Catholicism from the Lincoln Bedroom in a second Clinton presidency.
For the moment, he is restricted to mass e-mails, but defame he does.
A Reverse Blood Libel
Of course, bashing the pope is not new to Lerner. Upon Pope Benedict XVI’s election in 2005, Lerner called him (with characteristic reserve and tolerance) “a Disaster for the World,” saying B16’s mere election “is a slippery slope toward anti-Semitism, and a return to the chauvinistic and triumphalist views that led the Church, when it had the power to do so, to develop its infamous crusades and inquisitions.” He concluded, “This new Pope does not represent what is most beautiful and sacred in the teachings of Jesus.” He seemingly relished the chance to savage the pontiff anew.
In his first missive, Lerner rages against “this latest assault on interfaith cooperation,” which is “wildly insensitive” and constitutes “a first step on a slippery slope toward the restoration of anti-Semitism in the Church as well as the restoration of authoritarian and feudal ways of thinking that [leftist Catholics] had hoped would be relegated to the garbage bins of history.” Irrationally linking the pope with the Rack, he writes, “Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the division of the Church that had directed the Inquisition before he became Pope Benedict XVI, has taken a powerful step toward the re-introduction of the process of demeaning Jews.” Lerner writes in his typically tortured syntax, “It was this disgraceful legacy that Pope John XXIII sought to rectify in part by eliminating the teacher of hatred that was a central ingredient to the Latin Mass.”
Therein is the central problem of those attacking the modest reintroduction of the Latin Mass: they have no idea what they are talking about.
Their stated objection is alleged anti-Semitism contained in a prayer for Jews. All the commentators – and some mainstream reporters – pretend Roman Catholics will be reciting this prayer at every Mass, that it is, in Lerner’s words, its “a central ingredient.” Jacoby insisted “the pre-Vatican II Latin mass” contained not only this prayer but other “texts that blamed Jews for the ‘crime’ of deicide.”
Tellingly, she quoted no examples. There are none. Not a single prayer in the Mass, nor even the prayer in question, charges the Jews with deicide. Her allegation is itself reverse blood libel, but apparently The Washington Post’s Ombudsman was napping on the job, like the Catholics on Sunday morning….
In point of fact, the prayer in question is not a part of the Latin Mass at all. It occurs exactly once a year, as a minute part of one of the longest church services, the Good Friday Mass of the Presanctified. It is not recited at any other time of the year, much less is it “a central ingredient” of the Sunday Mass.
Though often called the prayer for “perfidious Jews” because of the use of the Latin word perfidies in earlier Latin texts, the term was translated into English as “faithless Jews” before Pope John XXIII struck the word from the prayer altogether in 1959. Since Benedict XVI’s letter authorizes only the use of the Missale Romanum of 1962, that term will not be spoken by anyone in communion with the Holy See.
Lerner further claims this prayer – which he falsely extrapolates to the whole Latin Mass – contains “defamatory language not used in reference to any of the other religions of the world.” This, too, is false. The prayer asks that the Jews be delivered from spiritual “blindness” and “that our God and Lord would remove the veil from their hearts: that they also may acknowledge…the light of Thy truth, which is Christ.”  By contrast, the preceding prayer states that Christian Heretics and Schismatics (Protestants and Eastern Orthodox) have been “led astray by the deceit of the devil” and must “set aside all heretical evil” that “the hearts of those that err may repent.” The following prayer refers to non-Christians from every non-Jewish religious background as “pagans,” imploring God to “remove iniquity from their hearts: that, putting aside their idols, they may be converted to the true and living God.” One may like or dislike this language, but it does not uniquely single out the Jews.
Prayer is Not the Problem: State Force Is
In his second e-mail, Lerner clarifies he has no problem with Catholics praying in Latin: he just begrudges them for believing in the tenets of Christianity. “I do not mean to be weighing against prayer in Latin, but against any mass which calls for the conversion of the Jews.” In this, Lerner has company. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League added he was “extremely disappointed and deeply offended” that the pope would “permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted.” Many secular left-wingers echoed the call to suppress this oration. A mirror image of the mythological Puritans of old, these secularists stay awake at night consumed with the thought that somewhere, someone might be praying.
As long as Christians are only praying, no one has anything to fear. An annual supplication for the conversion of Jews was hardly the motivating force behind Medieval pogroms. A few years ago, secular leftists insisted that distinction belonged to Passion plays like The Passion of the Christ (which, unlike Mel Gibson’s personal views, is blamelessly devoid of anti-Semitism) and predicted a sharp rise in hate crimes. Instead, after seeing the film, a Norwegian neo-Nazi turned himself in for two prior bombings. Nor is the return of the 1962 Missal changing the status quo. Roman Catholics have never stopped praying for the conversion of Jews, or any other non-Christian group. However, the new Mass does so with opaque and philo-Semitic wording. The language is kinder and gentler, but the intent is the same.
If the persecution of Jews had stemmed from praying for their conversion, the pogroms would have never ended. The justification of violence came from a theology that permitted the use of force and coercion in matters of religious choice. St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor,” justified secular authorities putting heretical Christians to death. Today, such notions are repugnant to all forms of mainstream Christianity. Pope Benedict XVI has been outspoken in condemning any outward pressure on the conscience. When he attempted to dialogue with Islam on the matter of forced conversions last September, he sent the Religion of Peace into a frenzy.
Significantly, the last Pontiff opposed nearly all forms of capital punishment, writing justified cases “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” FrontPage Magazine’s Joseph D’Hippolito noted it was none other than Pope Slippery Slope who codified this view: “Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during John Paul’s tenure – and the current Pope Benedict XVI – changed the catechism to reflect the late pope’s view.” Far from instigating a Crusade, the pope wants to see executions all but abolished.
The Church also decisively jettisoned the concept of Deicide. Again, in revising the catechism, Benedict XVI approved a section stating (in bold type) “Jews are not collectively responsible for Jesus' death.” Even the part of the Good Friday Mass of the Presanctified that immediately follows the Prayer for the Jews, known as the Reproaches, equates the faithless Jews are with the Church Militant, who crucified Christ by their sins.
The Roman Catholic Church continues to teach, as it has since Vatican II, that Jews, Muslims, and even atheists can go to Heaven. Specifically, the Church taught, and still teaches, God will save “those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life,” doing God’s will “as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.” Nevertheless, “the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”
With all theological justification gone, it is impossible to imagine an ever-more-secular West launching the last pogrom based upon a Latin root word, since stricken, from one prayer recited once a year in a foreign language in the presence of a remnant of Roman Catholic faithful.
Interestingly, the Pope has guarded even against this possibility. In case prayer does turn out to be a leading cause of hatred rather than an expression of Christian charity, he authorized a review of Summorum Pontificum in three years “if truly serious difficulties come to light.”
Such prudence will not satisfy Lerner, as his objections aren’t really about prayer at all; they’re about politics.
(The Wrong) Big Brother is Coming
Lerner frets that the Roman Catholic Church is pro-life, and in this he sees a totalitarian future. In fact, he believes the first hint of the new Crusades came when “the Church chose in 2004 to take strong stands that essentially forbade Catholics from voting for anyone who supported choice in matters of abortion…putting the matter of abortion ahead of the matter of ending the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.” Lerner cannot imagine the Pope’s concern with millions of abortions, but his imagination is less impeded in other realms: “Though some may not be able to imagine it, Jews can easily imagine a time when the Church might put its policy of needing to convert the Jews ahead of many other political considerations, and therefore play a role in re-enforcing any societal anti-Semitism that might develop.” (He then blames anti-Semitism on Israel.)
Anti-Catholic Canard Redux
To gin up this mill, Lerner blames the Roman Catholic Church – and Christianity in general – for the anti-Semitism that fueled Hitler and Stalin, perhaps unaware of the millions of bishops, priests, and laity these monsters exterminated. Resurrecting the myth of “Hitler’s Pope,” Lerner opines the legacy of Christian hatred “was all-too-manifest in the Concordat that Pope Pius XII made with Hitler, and the failure of the Church to call upon its priests and laity to offer protection and assistance to Jews who were being hunted down and murdered in the millions.”
However, Pope Pius XII’s condemnation of Nazism and response to the plight of European Jews has filled books. He denounced “the superstition of a race and blood cult” in 1935, while still Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli. In his 1942 Christmas address Pope Pius XII laid out five principles of a just society, the first of which stated every true Christian “should oppose the excessive herding of men, as if they were a mass without a soul.” More important than rhetoric, it is estimated he saved between 700,000 and 860,000 Jews during the Holocaust, calling on religious to shelter Jews in monasteries and convents. He helped stop the deportation of Hungarian Jews and saved more than one-sixth of Italy’s Jewish population in 1943. Nor was he alone. His predecessor, Pope Pius XI, took the extraordinary step of writing an encyclical condemning Nazi ideals, Mit Brennender Sorge, in German. (Papal encyclicals are invariably written in Latin, the language of the Church.) Similarly, Angelo Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII, saved Jews and later removed liturgical remnants Jews found offensive.
A Revolutionary “Faith”
Lerner does not seem to have an aversion to religious persecution, under the right circumstances. The Berkeley radical tips his hand when he expresses “concerns that this new pope, like the one before him, would continue the assault on Catholic liberation theology.” Liberation Theology is baptized Marxism that substitutes political activism for religious devotion. Liberation theologians played a role in Communist guerrilla movements throughout Latin America, though their creed violates the core of Catholic teaching. Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), in the first year of his papacy, issued an encyclical against socialism. Pope Pius XI wrote, “No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true Socialist.” Ultimately, religious opposition to socialism traces itself back to that Siniatic commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.”
Lerner sees this as a building block of his Revolution. “[E]very religious and secular tradition of thought and action must be reshaped to make possible the survival of the planet and the human race.” This revolutionary vision, he writes, “must become the guide to politics as well as to theology.” (Emphasis added.) So, Rabbi Lerner has no trouble harnessing the power of the Messianic State to promote theology – as long as it’s his own leftist dystopia.
Discounting Genuine Bigotry
The Washington Post’s over-the-top allegations and Lerner’s politically inspired ravings deflect outrage from legitimate prejudice and bigotry. Lerner has dedicated his life to seeing that fanatical Middle Eastern Islamist terrorists get a fair shake; in return, Muslim groups protested until International ANSWER blackballed him from an “antiwar” rally, because he does not believe all Israelis should be run into the sea. Cindy Sheehan has written more overtly anti-Semitic things than Pope Benedict has ever dreamed, has had warm relations with White Supremacists, and has earned the praise of David Duke. Lerner invited her to address his congregation. Yet he, Susan Jacoby, and the mainstream media save their wrath for aged Roman Catholics.
After all, it is easier for them to imagine all the world’s evils emanating from a white, Christian, celibate, pro-life, anti-Communist male and those who share his belief in the Transcendent.
ENDNOTES:1. The reference to a veil on their hearts is taken from II Corinthians 3:15.