Emeritus Pope Benedict

Rabbi Folger with Pope Benedict: "A nice, good conversation"

A beautiful, good, content-rich conversation: This is how the Orthodox Viennese Chief Rabbi Arie Folger characterizes the meeting on Wednesday between emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and a small delegation of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany.

Gudrun Sailer - Vatican City [From Vatican News. Unofficial translation.]


Folger said in conversation with us that the Orthodox rabbis could in the future imagine a dialogue with the Catholic side on the point of [God] promising the land to the Jews, as he informed the emeritus Pope.

The meeting at the Abbey of Mater Ecclesiae in the Vatican gardens was in the wake of a published debate over an essay of the Emeritus Pope on the theology of Judaism. In a text published last summer entitled "Grace and vocation without remorse," Joseph Ratzinger asks whether 50 years after Nostra aetate the dialogue with Jews can be theologically deepened and what the theology of the unrevoked Covenant of God with the people of Israel today means. The text was controversial, but also sparked a dialogue.

Does the fact that there is a Jewish State have any religious significance?

"Of course Benedict wants a bigger, stronger, deeper dialogue, and we're holding back, but we've found something to make progress on," Folger said in an interview. Orthodox rabbis are now ready to "speak about things that have emerged in the last few decades," especially on the subject of the land promises, "because it comes from Benedict's writing." The question of interest here is: "What kind of [religious] significance does it have that so many Jews are living in the Holy Land today, that there is a Jewish state that is a secular state, but has a strong Jewish character – does that have a religious meaning? I do not think it is reasonable to say that if the expulsion of Jews has a religious significance that when Jews come back it has no religious significance. "

Of course, Jews and Christians will have disagreements about it, "but now we have an impetus to try to see each other positively," said the Vienna Chief Rabbi. The Catholic Church can and should ask itself how it can "value and support this young energetic Jewish democracy, which consists not only of Jews, and where the rights of minorities, despite all controversies, are strongly protected.”

"Older brothers in faith"?

The term "older brothers in faith" for the Jews, which Pope John Paul II had coined, does not make Folger happy, because "we should talk to each other on equal terms.” The talk of "older brother" and "younger brother" was "actually an inner Christian terminology,” he says "but from a Jewish theological point of view, not so much." The relationship between Christianity and Judaism is "asymmetric" because Judaism is older. However, both religions have many values and ideas in common, "and we also similarly want certain important things for the world and society. That's why we call Catholics partners, brothers, allies in trying to do things for the world. "

"Grace and vocation without remorse"

The article "Grace and vocation without remorse" of emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was originally intended for internal use only by the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. With the approval of the emeritus Pope and a preface by Cardinal Kurt Koch, it appeared in the summer of 2018 in the theological journal co-founded by Joseph Ratzinger, Communio. Jewish as well as Catholic voices were critical of it, especially in Germany. Thus, the essay became the subject of current Jewish-Christian dialogue. The Viennese chief rabbi Arie Folger published a response in the German newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine, which Benedict XVI answered in detail in a personal letter. For his part, Rabbi Folger replied with a letter in which he noted similarities as well as overarching questions requiring clarification. The correspondence again appeared with the consent of the emeritus pope in Communio.

Now Folger has visited the emeritus Pope Benedict, accompanied by the Stuttgart rabbi Yehuda Pushkin and the Darmstadt Rabbi Jehoschua Ahrens. The latter two belong to the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany (ORD); Arie Folger is a member of the Standing Committee of the Conference of European Rabbis and was also a member of the ORD until his move to Vienna.

"Not properly interpreted"

The Jewish side had some discomfort over the publication of the [Ratzinger] essay, recalls Rabbi Pushkin. In published articles, the Ratzinger text was "misinterpreted." "Of course, the public reacted with outrage – the Jewish public, the general public." The episode was confusing and raised questions, about "retreating from Nostra Aetate." During a conversation on Tuesday evening with Cardinal Kurt Koch, who is responsible for relations with Judaism on the Catholic side, these misunderstandings were dispelled. "One can say that we are in any case reassured and can proceed to convey this sense of calm to the Jewish world of Germany."

Jewish-Catholic dialogue: on as good a footing as never before

In general, looking back over the years since Nostra Aetate, there have been ups and downs that are "quite normal," added Yehoshua Ahrens. The young Darmstadt rabbi confirmed that today in 2019 the Jewish-Catholic dialogue has never before been on such a good footing. The relationship has developed ever closer.

"This has also been shown in the Jewish statements about Christianity of recent years, which has not happened by accident. It is also a sign of confidence in the Catholic Church or the Christian churches in general. Even the controversy surrounding emeritus Pope Benedict shows that it goes on constructively and that such disputes leave no scars. There is great appreciation of the dialogue on both sides."

(Vatican News)