Holocaust & Ethnic Cleansing

Reference your recent article on the Church's response to the Holocaust ("Anti-Semitism in Christian History Goes Under the Microscope,” Oct. 26-Nov. 1). Antonio Gaspari seems to have created the equivalent of a governmental White Paper: not quite convincing and certainly not scholarly. At most, I detect a grudging admission that “mistakes were made.” That had become rather obvious by VE day 1945.

I have more than a passing interest in the Holocaust and the Christian response (or lack thereof). When an extreme situation calls forth the best and the worst in humanity, and we get the range of behaviors that we did, we should learn from it. We have not yet done that, as witness the world's tacit acceptance of recent “ethnic cleansing” and other genocidal activity. Obviously one of the things we do best is to avert our eyes and forget quickly.

It is of less consequence to establish whether Pius XII was a moral coward, a dupe, or a hero than it is to establish the truth, draw the appropriate conclusions, and work to prevent new catastrophes. We have an abundance of valid material documenting how and why America fought in Vietnam; when and why, the consequences, and at least some lessons appear to have been learned and applied. The same cannot be said for the Church and the Holocaust. None are so blind as those who will not see; and if we never look we will certainly never see.

Thomas Casey Buffalo, Wyoming

Cardinal H on Anti-Semitism

The article by Berenice Cocciolillo on Catholic anti-Semitism ("John Paul II Calls Anti-Semitism an ‘Offense Against God,'” Nov. 16–22) quotes the primate of Poland, Cardinal [August] Hlond describing Jews as “swindlers, usurers, and exploiters” who “fight against the Church.” This is taken out of context.

On the same occasion Cardinal Hlond also spoke of “the very many Jews who are believers, honest, just, kind, and philanthropic … who are ethically outstanding, noble, and upright.” He went on to say “I am against that moral stance, imported from abroad, that is basically and ruthlessly anti-Jewish. It is contrary to Catholic ethics. One may not hate anyone. It is forbidden to assault, beat up, maim, or slander Jews. One should honor Jews as human beings and neighbors.… Beware of those who are inciting anti-Jewish violence. They serve an evil cause.”

Clearly the cardinal was protesting Nazism in the strongest terms. My source is Father Richard Neuhaus in the October 1997 issue of First Things.

It is scandalous that the Register's editors did not check out this long-since refuted calumny that continues to be used by the enemies of the Catholic Church, most recently in James Carroll's article in The New Yorker. The Holy Father's call to examination of our consciences historically is most appropriate. But that does not mean that every accusation of Catholic anti-Semitism is true. We can expect those who dislike Catholics to repeat unsubstantiated, out-of-context accusations but why should Catholic writers carelessly appear to validate such false accusations?

Dennis Martin Chicago, Illinois

Revelation & Millennium

Stephen Jay Gould's examination of millennial thought as recounted in John Prizer's favorable review ("It's Not the End of the World,” Nov. 9–15) of Gould's Questioning the Millennium: A Rationalist's Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown implicitly divides reality up into the empirically based (like days, months, and years) and the arbitrary and irrational (like weeks and the millennium). Prizer does not seem to notice that the Catholic faith is among the things thereby consigned to the arbitrary and irrational. After all, we Catholics notoriously believe “that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear” (Heb 11, 3): we have weeks because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh; and we accept the account of the millennium in Revelation 20 as God's inspired and inerrant word.

But even on Prizer's laudatory account Gould's performance seems pretty poor. He tries to tie millennial thought to Arabic decimal numeration even though Arabic numbers did not come into common use in Christendom until a millennium after Revelation was written. Furthermore, it is obvious even to my amateur's eye that his account of apocalypticism and speculation on the millennium consists of taking a few names and ideas from one or two secondary sources and faking it the rest of the way. Could it be that the “eminent zoologist” Gould does not consider himself bound by the canons of scientific investigation when debunking the arbitrary irrationalities of religion?

Still more disturbing is Prizer's apparent unawareness that the Catholic understanding of Revelation and the millennium has little to do with when the world will end, or with slicing and dicing history into neat prophetic pieces. In recent years, the Navarre Bible commentary on Revelation has made that understanding readily available, and Catholic former evangelicals have inspired renewed attention to Revelation. These show that far from being an enigma or an embarrassment, Revelation is of the essence in understanding the Catholic Faith. In this connection, I would suggest that it is hard to credit that the Pope's preoccupation with the coming millennium is no more than exploitation of a supposed popular cultural relic—especially since popular Catholicism in fact has been notoriously indifferent to millennial thought. Something more is at work here.

John McFarland Boca Raton, Florida

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