AUSTRALIAN Jewish leaders have praised outgoing Pope Benedict XVI, who this week announced his decision to stand down at the end the month.
Despite a number of clashes with the global Jewish community during his papacy, Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Danny Lamm said: “Pope Benedict XVI continued the achievements of his predecessor Pope John Paul II in nurturing Catholic-Jewish relations.
“He stressed that the warmth of that relationship has solid theological underpinnings and made a point of meeting with local Jewish community representatives whenever he visited foreign nations.”
Lamm’s sentiment was echoed by Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia president Rabbi Moshe Gutnick.
“Pope Benedict made much progress in the ongoing rapprochement between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.”
Rabbi Gutnick added that he hopes the Cardinals will choose a successor who will continue with even greater vigour. He also encouraged the next pope to deal honestly and transparently with the role of the Vatican during the Holocaust.
Benedict’s support for the beatification of wartime Pope Pius XII, who has been accused of remaining silent in the face of the Holocaust, was one source of conflict with the Jewish community. There was also controversy over his reintroduction of the Good Friday mass that calls for the conversion of Jews, his reinstatement of a Holocaust denying bishop, and his support for Durban II.
Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence of Sydney’s Great Synagogue met with Pope Benedict XVI when he was in Australia for Catholic International World Youth Day in 2008.
“In the main, he committed himself to furthering the strong dialogue and warm relations which had been the hallmark of his predecessor John Paul II,” said Rabbi Lawrence, who welcomed the Pope to Australia on behalf of the Jewish community.
“Nonetheless, under Benedict the papacy also saw rapprochement with elements of the Church who had been outspoken critics of Jews and Israel, and held a more lenient view on the use of liturgy which had long been associated with the repudiation of Judaism and the forcible conversion of Jews.”
Despite the friction, Rabbi Lawrence added, “Relationships between senior rabbis and senior Catholic clergy remain very strong indeed and it is hoped that good relations will continue to be engendered.”
Pope Benedict XVI at Yad Vashem.