Saturday, May 16, 2009

Papal abstractions

With Benedict now back in Rome, the verdicts on his Middle East visit are coming in. According to many Israeli commentators, his speech at the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, was a disaster. They have a point and yet Benedict was trying to do something serious.

Here's the speech in English. Benedict picks up on the notion of a "name" and it's a good idea because one objective of the Nazis and their many collaborators was to erase any individuality in their victims. So a memorial specifically dedicated to the names of the millions murdered addresses that aspect of the crime. So far, so good. But then --

The Catholic Church, committed to the teachings of Jesus and intent on imitating his love for all people, feels deep compassion for the victims remembered here. Similarly, she draws close to all those who today are subjected to persecution on account of race, color, condition of life or religion – their sufferings are hers, and hers is their hope for justice.

This is a rhetorical disaster. "Compassion"? They're already dead! "Similarly"? There's something like the Holocaust happening right now? The problem seems to be that he latched on his "name" construction for his speech and then ran out of material and resorted to the cliches.

70 years later, the Holocaust is still something over which decent people should be losing sleep. It's not clear that Benedict, focused on sounding clever, is one of those people.

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