Catholic-Jewish dialogue in S.F. again turns to pope

Professor Andy Heinze said Giants' opening day traffic made him late for a Catholic-Jewish dialogue last week, but the evening's main focus had an even better excuse for being a no-show — he's been dead for 42 years.

Always a lightning rod in Catholic-Jewish relations, Pope Pius XII, the wartime pope who has been accused of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust, once again occupied center stage in an interfaith dialogue.

Pius XII shared the spotlight with Heinze and San Francisco Archbishop William Levada, both of whom spoke April 11 at the monthly board meeting of the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco.

"We need to let truth be our guide," said Levada, addressing the subject of the controversial pontiff.

Castigating Pius XII constitutes another kind of "historical revisionism," said Levada, who added that Pius XII was highly regarded by the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, and was praised by the New York Times for his role in aiding European Jewry during the Holocaust.

"I suspect history will judge Pius XII pretty well for his role in Jewish relations, as well as for his preservation of the church in the face of communism," Levada said.

Heinze, the director of the Swig Judaic Studies program at the University of San Francisco, agreed that the fate of Pius XII should be left to the scholars, albeit with a few caveats.

"It will be up to the historians to sift through the facts and come to a conclusion," Heinze said. "But it also should be noted that even among individual Catholics, let alone Jews, there is no uniform opinion concerning Pius XII."

Saying that Catholics should be allowed to work out the subject "intramurally," Heinze proceeded to say that Jewish voices on the subject should be heard.

"There is a subtext to this conversation, and that is that Jews are being too noisy and not grateful enough.

"If I imagine myself as Catholic," Heinze continued, "I can see that point, but at the same time, as Jews, we've been trained to raise our voices…and that's what we'll do."

The current pontiff earned higher marks –although the two speakers differed on Pope John Paul II's itinerary during his recent trip to the Mideast.

"When the pope made a trip to Israel, Jordan and Palestine — in what has been called the bloodiest century of humankind — he made a historic statement as the spiritual leader of a billion Roman Catholics," Levada said.

Calling John Paul II a "man of destiny," Levada said the pontiff is uniquely qualified to speak on issues of religious freedom.

"Not only is he the first non-Italian to ascend to the papacy, but he grew up behind the Iron Curtain, and in the shadows of Nazi-occupied Europe.

"This pope has spent a good deal of his life crusading for interfaith understanding," Levada said, "and I think the recent papal apology reflects that."

Heinze didn't quibble with that assessment, but his comments made reference to only the pope's relationship to the Jewish state.

"The pope's statements in Israel highlight the fact that there has been a steady improvement in Jewish-Catholic relationships," said Heinze.

"This process started with the Vatican II Council [which issued the 1965 declaration absolving Jews of killing Jesus, among other things] and has continued tremendously with this papacy.

"Things could be better, but things could be much, much worse," Heinze added.

He also noted that the church functions as the official voice of Catholic people, while Jewish leadership offered a cacophony of opinions.

"I can only speak for myself," Heinze said, "but as a trained historian, I'd venture to say that some of the subjects we're discussing tonight will not be issues in the year 2100."