VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has made a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus Christ, tackling a controversial issue in Christianity in his new book.
In “Jesus of Nazareth-Part II’’ excerpts released yesterday, Benedict explains why there is no theological basis in Scripture for the argument that the Jewish people were responsible for Jesus’ death.
Interpretations to the contrary have been used for centuries to justify the persecution of Jews.
While the Catholic Church has for five decades taught that Jews weren’t collectively responsible, Jewish scholars said yesterday that the argument laid out by the German-born pontiff, who has had his share of mishaps with Jews, was a landmark statement from a pope that would help fight anti-Semitism.
“Holocaust survivors know only too well how the centuries-long charge of ‘Christ killer’ against the Jews created a poisonous climate of hate that was the foundation of anti-Semitic persecution whose ultimate expression was realized in the Holocaust,’’ said Elan Steinberg of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.
The Catholic Church issued its most authoritative teaching on the issue in its 1965 Second Vatican Council document “Nostra Aetate,’’ which revolutionized the church’s relations with Jews by saying Christ’s death could not be attributed to Jews as a whole at the time or today.
Benedict comes to the same conclusion, but explains how with a thorough, gospel-by-gospel analysis that leaves little doubt that he deeply and personally believes it to be the case: that only a few Temple leaders and a small group of supporters were primarily responsible for Christ’s crucifixion.
That Benedict is a theologian makes “this statement from the Holy See that much more significant for now and for future generations,’’ said Abraham H. Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director.
Foxman, in a statement, hailed Benedict for rejecting “the previous teachings and perversions that have helped to foster and reinforce anti-Semitism through the centuries.’’