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Brotherly Love?

'Benedict wants the restoration of European Christ-ianity, that's at the heart of this.' Thus did theologian Frank Flinn explain the Pope's disastrous decision to un-excommunicate Bishops of the Society of St Pius X. Apparently the Pope believes that 'Europe' can once again become 'Christendom' if he offers a sufficiently hardline model of Christianity.

But the un-excommunicated Bishop Williamson took rather too hard a line: relatively few Jews were murdered by the Nazis, 'not one' in the gas chambers used only 'to disinfect', and Germany has suffered from 'huge exploitation' at Jewish hands ever since.
German Chancellor Andrea Merkel's voice was one of many raised in condemnation. The Vatican initially greeted the uproar with the hauteur of the infallible, then back-pedalled, insisted that William-son recant his views, and finally un-un-excommunicated him.

Good for Merkel. But no one should be too smug about the vigour with which we now condemn Holocaust denial. One need only watch the footage of the recent protests against Israel's invasion of Gaza. It won't do to insist that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are simply separate issues when mobs are once again baying 'Juden, raus!' in European capitals. We've been here before, and piously intoned 'never again,' often enough.

The demonstrations across Europe were seriously under-reported. So too is the sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks. The European Jewish Council has lobbied the European Parliament to speak out, but it, and to a great extent the mainstream media, remains silent.

Pope John Paul II described the Jews as 'our older brothers in the faith'. The statement symbolised what Andrew Sullivan, one of the media's most thoughtful Catholic commentators, called the Second Vatican Council's 'clear and vital renunciation of my Church's ancient and shameful invention of anti-Semitism - a toxin [that] worked its way through history from first century Christians to the unique evil of the Shoah'. All renewed symptoms of that toxin, and other equally corrosive hatreds in modern history, need to be resisted. This is why Merkel was right not to treat Williamson's ravings as an internal matter for the Catholic Church.

There is a broader point at issue beyond anti-semitism. Europe will not become Christendom again. But in a world of many faiths and none, if Benedict wishes to ensure the survival of his Church's moral authority, he has done well to recognise that his responsibilities extend beyond his own flock. By keeping faith with the humane spirit of the Second Vatican Council, he could help to spread the much-needed message today that we are all our brothers' keepers.