Pope Benedict XVI exonerates the Jewish people as a whole from responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in a new book due to be published this month, prompting praise from Jewish groups.
The pope wrote that the condemnations of Jesus Christ came from the “aristocracy of the temple” in Jerusalem and from the “masses” who acclaimed Barabbas instead of Jesus — not from “the Jewish people as a whole”.
Extracts from the book, the second volume of a biography of Jesus Christ, were published by the Vatican’s official Osservatore Romano daily on Thursday.
The World Jewish Congress in a statement praised the pope “for unequivocally rejecting the argument that the Jewish people can be held responsible.”
Congress head Ronald Lauder said: “2,000 years after the event it really was high time that the head of the Catholic Church made a clear statement on this.
“It sets an important marker against anti-Semitism in the Church,” he said.
“Jews suffered from brutal persecution and anti-Semitism because Christians held them collectively responsible for the killing of Jesus Christ, even though he was himself a Jew and was crucified by the Roman rulers,” he added.
Marco Politi, a Vatican expert at Italian daily Il Fatto, said the pope’s words were “a positive signal for the Jewish people, showing that Benedict XVI absolutely does not consider the gospels as a basis for any anti-Judaism.”
Tensions between Judaism and Catholicism have been high for centuries because of Catholic blame of the Jews for Christ’s death.
A Vatican Council in the 1960s that exonerated the Jews failed to end tensions, which have resurfaced in recent years under Benedict’s papacy.
In 2007, the pope reinstated a “prayer for the conversion of Jews”.
The following year he infuriated the Jewish community with a decision to lift the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop, Richard Williamson.
There have also been Vatican moves to sanctify World War II-era pope Pius XII, whose public silence on the Holocaust has been widely criticised.
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