The Chief Rabbi of Vienna, Arie Folger, has taken issue with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI over his treatment of the “substitution theory” that coloured relations between Jews and Christians over many centuries, and was used to justify persecution of Jews by Christians.
In an article in the July edition of Communio magazine Benedict claimed that the so-called substitution theory, according to which God’s covenant with the Jewish people was revoked after Christ’s Crucifixion, and Gentiles took on the mantle of his chosen people, had never been part of church teaching and had therefore actually never existed.
In the German Jewish weekly "Jüdische Allgemeine" on 19 July Rabbi Folger called this claim “ahistorical revisionism”.
“Despite all Benedict’s philosophical efforts, ‘Judensäue’ (Images of Jews in obscene contact with a large sow) have not disappeared from German cathedrals," he observed.
The editor of Communio, Hans-Heiner Tück, sent Folger’s article to Benedict who, in a long letter dated 23 August, replied to Folger thanking him for his “important and conductive contribution to Christian - Jewish Dialogue”, but he did not mention the substitution theory.
In his lengthy reply to Benedict’s letter dated 4 September, Folger recalls how important the concept of the never-revoked Covenant is for the fight against anti-semitism and points to the enormous suffering Christians who believed in the substitution theory had inflicted on Jews for centuries.
Regarding the substitution theory, he emphasises: “In your Communio essay, you argue that the Church never believed in a substitution theory. As a former highest representative of the Catholic Church you have every right to argue thus, but the crimes that Christians committed against Jews in the name of Christianity, even if they are considered sinful today, must not be forgotten. What must not happen is to declare that everything was in reality always good and that just the perpetrators got it wrong. I do not take it upon myself to accuse you of hushing up history – God forbid – but it would mean a lot to us Jews for the Church to recognise that at certain times many Christians clung to the substitution theory and this justified immeasurable suffering."