Saturday, May 19, 2007

Ask Pope Benedict, When Does Genocide Purify?


Pope Benedict XVI's recent trip to Brazil seems to have done little to shore up the Catholic Church's declining power in its Latin American heartland. It went a long way, however, towards confirming Benedict's reputation as a reactionary bigot.

Benedict, of course, is the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Throughout the 1980s, he was Pope John Paul II's enforcer in the campaign to expunge the dangerously progressive ideals of Catholic "liberation theology" from Latin American soil. What could not be accomplished by state terrorists, who killed thousands of members of Christian "base communities" in the 1970s and '80s, Ratzinger and John Paul sought to engineer by installing conservative bishops who would stem the progressive tide. Fortunately, they seem to have failed. An account by Larry Rohter in the New York Times (May 7) notes that the movement which Ratzinger "once called 'a fundamental threat to the faith of the church' ... persists as an active, even defiant force in Latin America," with some 80,000 base communities operating in Brazil alone. It is fuelled, as it always has been, by the "social and economic ills" that pervade the region, and that have only "worsened" under the neoliberal prescriptions of the past two decades.

This time around, Ratzinger/Benedict's bile was directed not at liberation theology, but squarely at the historical memory of the serial genocides -- probably the most destructive in human history -- inflicted upon the indigenous peoples of the Americas. On the last day of his visit, in the city of Aparecida, the Pope "touch[ed] on a sensitive historical episode," in the blandly understated language of an Associated Press dispatch (May 13). In other words, he ripped the bandages off a still-suppurating wound. According to the official text of Benedict's comments on the Vatican website, the Pope declared that "the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean" were "silently longing" to receive Christ as their savior. He was "the unknown God whom their ancestors were seeking, without realizing it ..." Colonization by Spain and Portugal was not a conquest, but rather an "adoption" of the Indians through baptism, making their cultures "fruitful" and "purifying" them. Accordingly, "the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbian cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture."

So there we have it. The invasion and conquest of the Americas, which caused the deaths of upwards of 90 percent of the indigenous population, was something the Indians had been pining for all along. They weren't just "asking for it," as sexist cranks depict women as complicit in their own rapes. They were actually "longing" for it, since salvation and "purification" came with it.

Actually, genocide came with it, as Raphael Lemkin knew. Lemkin is the Polish-Jewish jurist who, having fled the Nazi invasion of Poland for refuge in the U.S., coined the word "genocide" in 1943. He defined genocide as "a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups." His framing became the foundation of the United Nations Genocide Convention of 1948, and of the academic field of comparative genocide studies. Lemkin himself was keenly aware of the devastation of the indigenous people of the Americas, and considered it basic to his understanding of genocide, though most of his writings on the theme remain unpublished. (See the text of John Docker's excellent February 2004 talk at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "Raphael Lemkin's History of Genocide and Colonialism".)

Benedict's astounding comments attracted barely a flicker of media attention in the West -- almost all of it on the wire services, and some of it problematic in itself. A May 13 Reuters dispatch noted blithely that, contrary to Benedict's claims, "many Indian groups believe the conquest brought them enslavement and genocide." This is rather like writing that "many Jewish groups believe that the Nazi Holocaust brought Jews enslavement and genocide." The reality exists independently of the belief. As blogger Stentor Danielson points out: "In the real world, it's a basic historical fact that the Indians were enslaved. It's a basic historical fact that entire tribes were wiped out. The reason [that] 'many Indian groups believe' these historical facts is because people like Reuters' craven reporters won't admit when there's a fact behind the claims."

Indian organizations and spokespeople expressed outrage at Benedict's statements, calling them "arrogant and disrespectful." Sandro Tuxa, leader of a coalition of Indian tribes in Brazil's impoverished northeast, declared: "We repudiate the Pope's comments. To say the cultural decimation of our people represents a purification is offensive, and frankly, frightening" (Reuters, May 14).

Frightening indeed. Genocide scholar Greg Stanton describes denial as the final stage of genocide: "The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses" (see Stanton's "
Eight Stages of Genocide" on the Genocide Watch website). Genocidal perpetrators, and those who inherit their mantle, also seek to "purify" historical memory -- as Turkish authorities unceasingly, but so far unsuccessfully, have sought to do in the case of the Armenian genocide.

Stanton also reminds us that denial is "among the surest indicators [that] further genocidal massacres" may lie ahead. That's a thought worth pondering, as the reinvigorated indigenous movement in Latin America confronts a renewed neo-colonial assault on its culture, health, and means of subsistence.


At 10:05 AM, Blogger Eitan Ha'ahzari said...

Gert: very interesting post, indeed! I've always been aware of what the Nazis did to my people but only at around the age of 11-12 did I first learn of the genocide of the American natives.If it's OK with you, I'll link to your post.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Link away!

At 5:17 PM, Blogger Christella B. Krebs said...

QUOTE from JOHN ALLEN,JR.:...On the one hand, Benedict is an exceptionally lucid communicator. He's a gifted logician, so his conclusions flow naturally from his premises. Moreover, he's able to synthesize complex ideas in easy-to-understand formula, so you don't need a degree in theology to get his point. Yet Benedict can also be remarkably tone-deaf to how his pronouncements may sound to people who don't share his intellectual and cultural premises....

Over the years, Benedict has gotten himself into trouble in just this fashion. He'll make statements like, "Christianity is incompatible with violence," or "the church is incapable of sin," which set teeth grinding for anyone who knows even a smattering of history. What Benedict has in mind are Christianity and the church as Platonic forms -- he's well aware that individual Christians, and the concrete institutional church, have sometimes failed to live up to those great ideals.

This helps explain, I think, why initiates and outsiders often have such diametrically opposing reactions to Benedict's statements. After the Regensburg lecture, the crowd in the aula magna of the university didn't file out thinking they had just witnessed the opening salvo of the next Danish cartoon controversy -- they were abuzz about the pope's masterful reflection on reason and faith. That's because they understood where Benedict was coming from; later, we saw how people without this framework reacted.

The same thing happens on other subjects.

When the pope talks about the defects of liberation theology, for example, he means a theological system. He's not impugning the heroism, even the sanctity, of many people motivated by liberation theology -- as witnessed by his statement aboard the papal plane that the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador merits beatification.

To take another case in point, when Benedict XVI went to Auschwitz in May 2006, he argued that by killing the Jews, the Nazis also struck at Christianity, because their object was to kill God as the ultimate limit on human power. The statement outraged some Jews, who felt the pope was trying to turn Christians into victims, thereby ducking their complicity in the Holocaust. In fact, the pope was not denying that Christians had sinned; he meant that Christianity in se, in its essence, was a threat to National Socialism, because it testified to a power higher than the Volk. That's a thought-provoking assertion, but given the way it was expressed, it's hardly surprising some Jews were disturbed.

For those who know Benedict's mind, it can be painful to watch his carefully reasoned reflections become capsized in the court of public opinion by a stray phrase that's obviously open to misinterpretation, and which, most of the time, could have been put differently with no loss of meaning.

By now, there's a familiar cycle when the pope says something that triggers outrage. Clarifications, expressions of regret, and assurances of future dialogue tumble out from official spokespersons. The immediate crisis is surmounted, but a residue of suspiciousness is left behind. I recall what one person in Istanbul said to me following Benedict's trip to Turkey last November, when he strove mightily to repair the damage from Regensburg: "We're still not sure we like this pope," the Turk said, "but we dislike him less." That's progress, to be sure, but it would have been better if they never had any reason to dislike him in the first place.

This kind of misunderstanding has happened often enough during Joseph Ratzinger's career that it won't wash to say he doesn't know any better. So what gives?

Benedict is close to the communion school in Catholic theology, whose key figures accent the need for the church to speak its own language. It's an "insider's" discourse, premised on the conviction that Christianity is itself a culture, often at odds with the prevailing worldview of modernity. All this is part of Benedict's project of defending Catholic identity against pressures to assimilate in a relativistic, secularized world.

Benedict also has tremendous interior freedom, meaning he doesn't conduct focus groups before deciding what to say. Certainly no one wants Benedict shackled to a platitudinous form of political rhetoric, designed principally to avoid offense....

At 5:22 PM, Blogger Gert said...


You're a typical apologist. But I guess everyone deserves some supporters...

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Eitan Ha'ahzari said...

Christella makes a powerful case which should not be just turned aside as a lame excuse, don't you think, Gert?

At 7:34 PM, Blogger Gert said...

No, no. What she does is claim that Popeye's comments are being pulled out of context. The truth is that His Holyness could very easily say whatever he wants by providing the right context. He doesn't.

At 8:11 PM, Blogger Christella B. Krebs said...

Please read RATZINGER's "Jesus of Nazareth" pages 54-63 in the English translation.

Then come back with a rebuttal IF YOU CAN!

At 8:29 PM, Blogger Christella B. Krebs said...

Ratzinger's messages (as he is the Vicar of Christ) "lead[s] to conflict with the prevailing opinions, so that there is always a looming threat of failure, suffering, and persecution"....

The quote here comes from Papa's book "Jesus of Nazareth"[p.42, ENGLISH ed.] again!...But what he reveals of Jesus can easily apply directly to himself.
Pope Benedict is a wonderful, blessed teacher. He is well familiar with history, is not a revisionist by any means; and if you would just really listen to what he tries to convey, your heart will swell with that great LOVE as well.
Love, compassion, understanding and dialogue has always been his theme. It is nothing new or novel for him. He was saying the same things way back as a young man in the 1960`s....
Take a peek at his "ouvre integrale" . Open your heart to Pope Benedict XVI: it will turn your life around.

At 12:57 PM, Blogger Eitan Ha'ahzari said...

OK, I get it. So listening to the speeched of the young SS Youth Benny will turn my life around.


Gert: Now I understand where she's coming from.

At 2:03 AM, Blogger Christella B. Krebs said...

The biased hate that looms from your tone of voice, lack of understanding
and prejudice agaist the Catholic Church, the Pope and Jesus Himself is deplorable.

How do you expect a world of peace and good-will, if everyone possesed bigotted, self-judging and mean contenances like yours?...believing they can and will judge others, despite their ignorance and lack of knowledge of what really is the truth...?

You don't even care to investigate or read something other than your preset beliefs. That is not just narrow-mindedness...but severely intolerent!...something which you claim someone-else is: (oh, but not you). Seems you set the judgement and noose without a real hearing!

At 8:49 AM, Blogger Eitan Ha'ahzari said...

Christella: I don't have anything against Yeshua of Bethlehem as he was a regular Jewish man just like me or my next door neighbors. Why would I have anything against him!?

The Catholic Church? Yeah. It was directly responsible for years of hatred against us, Jooooooos, for enslaving and eventually killing off millions of Native Americans, for turning a blind eye on the Holocaust, for the Crusades in which thousands of innocent Jooooooos and perhaps millions of Muslims were murdered...should I continue?

I have nothing against individual Catholics today, though. The Catholic Church has expressedly apologized for its sins and the late Pope was a good friend of the Jewish ppl; a very good human being at that.

No, your accussation isn't entirely fair. I may have gone a bit overboard with some of my statements here as I'm so prone to do, but I do not hate any one religion or race. That's simply not me. I'm sorry if I gave you that impression.

At 3:41 PM, Blogger Gert said...


One thing one can always bank on when it comes to the religious is that they suffer from "long toe syndrome". Quick to give offence, quick to take it...

At 4:34 PM, Blogger Christella B. Krebs said...

I hope you are sincere Eitan. You are young; and I understand...:but "Gert"??? looks like he desires to just make NOISE!

Do any of you know the story of Juan Diego and Our lady of Guadaloupé?
Was that co-ersion?
Did the Aztec Nation practice mass genocide; or was that a European Invention as well?

Do you know about Thorgeir and the Icelandic Nation?..or of Widukind and the miracle that occured through Charlemagne's unfortunate mistake?

Have you ever read James Reston, Jr.'s "The Last Apocalypse", or "The Barbarian Conversion" by Richard Fletcher?

And by the way, Pope J-P II apologized for individuals within the Roman-Catholic Church who (on their own) sinned. Holy Mother Church herself is God's Bride, and therefore sinless. I know this is hard for a man of Judaic origins to understand the difference; but there is a difference.
Murder, enslavement and slaughter cannot be EVER condoned by the RC Church. If so-called "Christan" men/woman did other than what is prscibed by Jesus and the Official Catachesis, the crime is not held by the Church itself, but was an evil performed by one "professing" to be "catholic"...Really there IS quite a difference.

And reread the life and history of Joseph Ratzinger: HE NEVER was a Nazi; he even deserted when he thought he saw an opportunity. He and his family clearly despised all what Nazism stood/stands for. He never signed-up for the Hitler Youth; and never attended even one class. Many times Nazi youths beat-up on him because they knew he abhored their practices; and he was not afraid to declare to his "superiors" (as a 17 year-old youth) that he desired to be a Priest and was not pleased to be a soldier whatsover.

At 4:40 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Like I said, everyone is entitled to their supporters.

I'm a neither fan of religion nor of bigots like Ratzinger.

Don't like this blog? Then stay away, lest it contaminate your beautiful mind..

At 4:48 PM, Blogger Gert said...

And perhaps you should have a word with your co-religionist Scott George McCombe?

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Christella B. Krebs said...

You posted the wrong link.
Thanks anyway, but the correct forum link to RATZINGER AND THE NAZIS IS:

At 7:32 AM, Blogger Gert said...

Ratzinger and the Nazis

At 8:23 AM, Blogger Gert said...

Anyway, it's nice to see the Christians play together so well and so nicely! From that thread:


All the bastards who accuse Papa B to have been or be a supporter of Nazi criminals should be drowned in their own piss.

Galantarie (you):

Here is some real sick Ultra-Trad "Sede" TRASH on our Papa!!!

The Trads Twisted Hate of Our Papa

You must see this to understand the hate and the Satanic Line!


At 11:11 AM, Blogger Gert said...

By the way, the syntax for creating live links in Blogger comment sections is standard HTML.

Assume the URL is http://www.url.something, then to create a live link embed the following code into your comment:

(a href="http://www.url.something")Anchor Text(/a)

but replacing the parentheses ( and ) by < and > respectively and replacing Anchor Text by any text of your liking.


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