An Israeli diplomat’s take on the popes

Serving as Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican must be a mighty tricky post.

The current man is Mordechay Lewy, a veteran Israeli diplomat who has represented his country in Germany, Sweden, Thailand and now at the Holy See. That’s Lewy (yeah, the guy on the right).

The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson recently interviewed Lewy when he was in town to speak at Boston College.

If you’re interested in Catholic-Jewish relations, you should read the whole Q&A.

Here are a few snippets:


Q: You’ve been at the Vatican for a year. What have you learned?
A: From the books you can see that it is an absolute monarchy, but it is not. Far, far from that. Structural absolute monarchy doesn’t mean that the monarch is trying to exercise, on every day basis, his authority. You are reducing your authority if you are using it too often.

Q: There was some criticism of the way he (POPE BENEDICT XVI) characterized the Holocaust.
A: People who were expressing those disappointments, which to my mind were unjustified, were on second or third thought retracting them. It didn’t cast a real shadow on the visit. It was filling the columns in the press for one or two days. The speeches of the pope were of enormous importance to everybody, not only to us, but to everybody. What he contributed at Yad Vashem was a completely different approach which was an enrichment to the culture of memory, and it was almost a wake-up from an unexpected corner for people to think a little bit differently, and not to expect a ritual. This pope is not one who is getting into existing patterns of rituals – it’s not a challenge for him intellectually – so he would like really to set his mind and contribute his own thoughts, which are rather deep thoughts about what Yad Vashem means.

Q: Do you have a position on Pius XII’s historic role?
A: Historically speaking, I think he was neither a hero nor a villain. It is probably the right thing to think of a more balanced view of him. The problem is that we are looking at him through the filter of a post-conciliar church. He is definitely a protagonist of the pre-conciliar church, and the pre-conciliar church has, as its main assignment, to seek all possible means to salvation for its own flock. He is not a pope for the Jews; he is not a pope for the Mohammedans; he is not a pope for everyone who was not Catholic. ‘My main task is to save the souls of the Catholic Church.’ This is why he did a concordat with the Germans. He didn’t make a concordat because he was Hitler’s pope. This is a mistaken concept. He did it in order to survive, to make it happen that the church can survive a godless regime. This was the term that they used. He tried also to make a concordat with the Soviet Union, but the Russian Orthodox Church didn’t like this idea. It is wrong to look for any affinity between him and the Nazis.

It is also wrong to say that he didn’t save Jews. Everybody who knows the history of those who were saved among Roman Jewry knows that they hid in the church, they hid in Roman monasteries, in the Vatican itself people were hidden. To look for written evidence, an order of the pope, well…this is odd. This is not how it works.

Where did the Episcopalians go?

For an assortment of reasons, I haven’t had much time to focus today on Obama’s choice of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Top Court in the Land.

She would be the sixth Catholic on the nine-justice court, which is notable because of what it says about the demise of anti-Catholicism. Who even cares that she’s Catholic?

Except for Catholics, of course.

For many Catholics — especially committed pro-life Catholics — the question may now become: Is Sotomayor Catholic enough?

She’s divorced. No kids. Her record on abortion — from what I understand — is somewhat unclear.

It’s early, but Sotomayor is being portrayed as a “social justice” Catholic.

The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson does a fine job compiling some early reactions from some of the top religion journalism bloggers out there.

He notes about the current Supreme Court: “Two of the justices are Jewish; the resignation of Justice David Souter, who is an Episcopalian, will leave, amazingly given the history of this nation, just one Protestant on the Supreme Court, 89-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens.”

Might we, one of these days, see an all-Catholic court?

I happen to be in the middle of a long profile of Chief Justice John Roberts in this week’s New Yorker. Roberts, of course, is also Catholic. But he probably wouldn’t be described as a “social justice Catholic,” at least by Jeffrey Toobin, the writer and CNN talking head.

Toobin writes this:


In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.

Another Tom Brady fan?

Almost 16,000 people came to Gillette Stadium outside Boston on Saturday to see…not a Patriots mini-camp…but the Dalai Lama.

“You know what the strange thing is? You’ve been to Gillette Stadium before? It’s quiet in there,” Kim Hubert, a nurse, told The Boston Globe. “It’s surreal. Even the kids in there are quiet.”

And you have to love the picture of the Dalai Lama in a Patriots cap.

Sounds like his message was along the lines of what he usually shares in English, at least to American audiences:

“Good afternoon, dear brothers and sisters. Emotionally, mentally, physically, we are same . . . Everyone have the same right to achieve happy life.”

By the way, how scary is it that the New York Times Co. is threatening to file papers today that could lead to the closing of The Boston Globe? This can’t really happen, can it?

(AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)

Bishop Williamson’s views were no secret

So many have wondered how the Vatican could not have known about the Holocaust-denying views of Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X.

All the curia had to do was talk to some of the former seminarians who studied under Williamson at the society’s Ridgefield, Conn., seminary during the 1980s, when Williamson was rector.

The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson reports today that some former seminarians vividly remember their rector making some…odd remarks.

“I have a sizable nose, and he would say to me, ‘Rizzo, are you baptized, or are you a Jew?’ ” the Rev. John Rizzo, a priest based in New Zealand, who left the Society, told Paulson.

Rizzo’s twin brother, Joseph, who left the seminary and was never ordained, said: “He called the Holocaust the biggest theatrics known to mankind – I remember sitting in a conference one time when he said those words, and I couldn’t believe it – he looked around the room and saw the jaws dropping.”

The Microsoft of Altar Bread

Over the years, I’ve read several features about the Cavanagh Company of Smithfield, R.I., which makes something like 80 percent of all the Communion wafers used in the U.S.

Think about that: 80 of the market share.

And they don’t just make wafers for use in Catholic, Episcopal and other churches. They also make white “squares” for use in Southern Baptist churches.

I’d love to visit Smithfield myself one day. But until then, the Boston Globe’s Mark Arsenault has a fine feature on the place in the Sunday paper.

It seems that times are good for the Cavanagh people.

“When times are tough, more people seem to go to church,” Brian Cavanagh, the chief executive officer of Cavanagh Co., tells the Globe.

By comparison, sales were down after the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse crisis unfolded in 2002.

What do you need to know about the Communion wafer biz? The product is “untouched by human hands” before it reaches the altar. Wafers are often sold wholesale to convents, which then re-sell them at a small profit.

A box of 1,000 standard wafers sells retail at $12 or more (about twice the wholesale price).

The company was founded in the 1940s. The Cavanagh family is Catholic, but it’s a business.

“It’s a manufacturing company,” Brian Cavanagh says. “There’s no fake reverence for the product.”

Until Communion, “it’s just bread,” he said.

The wafers are just wheat flour and water. That’s it. No leavening agents.

The remnants of bread that are left over after the wafers are cut are taken by….believe it or not…a local pig farmer. He feeds it to his hogs.

“Holy pigs, we call them,” said Luke Cavanagh, marketing director.

He really has red socks

It’s a tough fall for Yankee fans, watching the hated Red Sox fight for another World Series birth (and against the Rays, another AL East team!)…

omalley-cover-10-me1234409.jpgIf you can take it, though, read this amusing piece in the Boston Globe about the connection between various archbishops of Boston and the Sox.

The current archbishop, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, appears to be a lukewarm baseball fan, but he knows what the Sox mean to the city and he mentions the team’s success when appropriate. He’s even shown up at a couple of recent games.

The Globe’s Michael Paulson writes:

In 2006, when he went to Rome to receive the red hat that signaled his elevation to cardinal, he pulled up his cassock at a news conference to show reporters his cardinalatial red socks and said, “At least nobody can doubt my sports affiliation now, with the Red Sox.”

And in April, as he prepared to attend a papal Mass at Yankee Stadium, he told reporters, “I’ll be wearing my red socks, and if I get a chance I’ll bury them in the outfield.” The cardinal was, of course, referring to an incident in which a construction worker buried a Red Sox jersey in the clubhouse concrete at the new stadium in a supposed effort to bring bad luck to the Yankees.

Archdiocese of NY lashes out at media

There is a buzz building about a statement on page 4 of the new Catholic New York.

It is from Joe Zwilling, the long-time communications director for the Archdiocese of New York. It begins:

“Of late, the Archdiocese has received an unusual number of contacts from reporters who indicate that they are about to write scandalous or damaging information about the Archdiocese or the Archbishop.”

The statement then mentions a report in the Boston Globe about Kerry Kennedy’s new book, in which Judge Anne Burke was critical of Cardinal Egan. I blogged about this a few days ago.

The statement also mentions an article in Vanity Fair about Raffaello Follieri, the Italian con-man who pled guilty this week to conspiracy, money laundering and fraud. The article alleges a relationship between Egan and Follieri that the archdiocese denies.

What I’ve heard a few people ask this afternoon is…Can that be all? Or are other “scandalous or damaging” reports coming?

The statement, by the way, also includes this about the article in the Boston Globe:

“Interestingly, when the reporter heard Mr. Zwilling’s responses and was told that both his questions and the answers would be published in Catholic New York, he pleaded that his name not be mentioned. Evidently, he does know the importance of one’s good name — at least his own.”

It could be me, but I can’t find the statement on the CNY website…