Defending Pope Benedict XVI from Sungenis's Latest Attack

In a recent article addressing “the conversion of the Jews”, Bob publicly chastised the Pope for supposedly advancing an “error” that constitutes an unprecedented, “titanic shift in Catholic missionary activity” in his book, Jesus of Nazareth Part II (JNPII). According to Bob, the Holy Father “does not think it necessary to seek the conversion of the Jews at the present time because God is apparently going to save the Jews sometime in the future”.  Later, he cautioned, “I would suggest that if Mr. Forrest wants to use Cardinal Ratzinger’s interpretation as the benchmark, he should also cease trying to convert his Jewish friends since Ratzinger also says that it is useless to try to convert them now.

But this is just another case of Bob reading carelessly and also adopting the most negative interpretation.

Reading the relevant passages of JNPII, it seems clear to me that the Holy Father was not addressing the issue of individual Jews who convert to the Catholic faith.  He was addressing the eschatological expectation of the corporate conversion of the Jews – as a people (click here and here to see a compilation of quotes from Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, Popes and other magisterial statements about the "conversion of the Jews").  The entire context of his comments was within an eschatological framework.  Nothing in JNPII  leads me to conclude that Benedict XVI opposes inviting individual Jews to become Catholic.  Such a notion would fly in the face of what he wrote while head of the CDF:


“God has willed that the Church founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity. . .If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.  Because she believes in God’s universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary…Indeed, the Church…must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all the people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God…Thus, the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish, but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Dominus Iesus, no. 22) 

And on 25 March 2012 while in Mexico, Pope Benedict XVI said the following in a homily:


I encourage you to continue to share freely the treasures of the Gospel, so that they can become a powerful source of hope, freedom and salvation for everyone (cf. Rom 1:16)  (Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI)

And what does Romans 1:16 state?

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel.  It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, then the Greek.

And, certainly, a scholar of Benedict XVI’s caliber is well aware of Jewish converts like Eugenio Zolli (former head rabbi of Rome), the Lehmann brothers (who became priests), the Ratisbonne brothers (who also became a priests) and Cardinal Lustiger.  And the man he appointed as head of the Church’s highest canonical court (Cardinal Burke) is an advocate of and advisor to the Association of Hebrew Catholics (an interesting interview between the president of the AHC and Cardinal Burke may be viewed by clicking here).

In JNPII, one will note that immediately before the Holy Father presented the quotes from Hildegard Brem and St. Bernard of Clairveaux, he wrote of “Israel’s mission” – thereby identifying Jews in a corporate, rather than individual, manner.  This statement echoes what he wrote in “God and the World”: 

“…Israel still has a mission to accomplish today.  We are in fact waiting for the moment when Israel, too, will say Yes to Christ, but we also know that while history still runs its course even this standing at the door fulfills a mission, one that is important for the world.  In that way this people still has a special place in God’s plans.”  (God and the World, pp 149-150)

Note again the eschatological context and the corporate reference to the Jewish people as a group.

The quotes the Holy Father cited from Hildegard Brem and St. Bernard of Clairveaux refer to “the Jews” – again, a corporate identification – and “the conversion of the Jews” – an eschatological reference to their expected corporate conversion (click here and here to see a compilation of quotes from Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, Popes and other magisterial statements on this issue).   Immediately following, the Holy Father wrote, “Israel is in the hands of God, who will save it ‘as a whole’ at the proper time, when the number of the Gentiles is complete” – yet another clear eschatological reference to the Jews, corporately, not individually.

As such, taken in full context (including his other writings), it seems plain to me that the Holy Father was maintaining the current pastoral approach to Jewish conversion - a recognition that previous “campaigns” to target “the Jews” have had negative consequences and should therefore should remain abandoned.  God will bring about the "conversion of the Jews", as a people, in His time and in His way.  However, I see no justification at all to conclude that the Holy Father is against inviting individual Jews to become Catholic in the mean time.  Again, it seems that Bob is simply choosing the most negative, problematic interpretation.  Unfortunately, this is a pattern routinely found in Bob’s writings involving Jews.


Michael Forrest