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A German Pope at Auschwitz

At the close of Pope Benedict XVI’s prayers at the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Poland, storm clouds overhead gave way to sunshine and, improbably, a rainbow appeared.

Unlike his predecessor, Benedict is not much of a world traveller. He has taken only two trips outside of Italy: one to World Youth Day in Cologne and one this month to Poland, where he hoped to shore up that country’s Catholic faith against a rising tide of secularization. But it was the journey of the former (unwilling) inductee into the Hitler Youth that captivated the public imagination. Would he mention his involvement with the Hitlerjugend during the Second World War? Some, like Timothy Ryback writing in The New Yorker in February, contend that as archbishop and cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger should have done more to confront his personal history in a public way.


In the end, the pope struck the right balance between the personal and the public, pausing to pray before a shrine to the murdered millions and offering a theological meditation on the abandonment of God by the Third Reich. "Auschwitz," said Benedict, "was a legacy of the rejection of God." Eloquent as his words were, however, we should not think the pope meant that the main target of Nazi persecution was monotheism in general. It was specifically the Jews. (A few days later Benedict explicitly condemned anti-Semitism.) Pope Benedict XVI continues along the difficult but necessary path marked out by his predecessors, seeking to admit light to one of humanity’s darkest hours.

The Cardinal on Civility

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retiring archbishop of Washington, is known for his approachability. Following his installation five years ago, he completed one round of informal parish visits to the archdiocese’s 140 parishes in less than a year and immediately began a second circuit, celebrating Mass on a weekday and meeting the faithful face to face. That friendly gesture was typical of his pastoring. In the wake of the 2002 sexual-abuse crisis, he was the only prelate to speak freely with the press after the U.S. cardinals’ meeting with Pope John Paul II. During the 2004 presidential campaign season, he headed the U.S.C.C.B. Taskforce on Catholic Bishops and Politicians, working hard to craft a moderate position for the conference. It was not surprising, then, that in addressing the Catholic Press Association last month, he asked, "Wouldn’t it be nice if the Catholic media pushed for civility in church and society?" The cardinal explained, Without respect, no real conversations, progress or education can be made. Typically, he quipped that he was not offering 10 commandments for the press, but 10 wouldn’t it be nice if’s. Washington’s archbishop has understood that modesty and friendliness help the church advance its case to an increasingly suspicious world. The same qualities that made him accessible to parishioners made him a favorite conduit between presidents and prime ministers. We hope that many outside the Catholic press, most of all those in positions of church leadership, will learn the lessons he taught by example.

Stopping Arms Traffic

Arms traffickers are operating with virtual impunity in violation of United Nations embargoes, according to a report by the Control Arms Campaign. Issued in March, the group’s report asserts that every one of the 13 embargoes imposed over the last decade has been repeatedly disregarded. Despite the fact that hundreds of embargo breakers have been named in United Nations reports, few have been successfully prosecuted: U.N. investigators are simply inadequate in terms of resources and time. As a result, despite efforts of the U.N. Security Council, unscrupulous arms dealers continue to be responsible for human rights abuses committed with small arms and light weapons throughout the world.

Although U.N. mandatory embargoes are legally binding under international law, many states have not even made embargo violations criminal offenses, the report notes. Many of the weapons are manufactured by the nations of the North, but they are frequently sold to developing countries, where they fuel conflicts and poverty. What is needed, the campaign observes, is an arms trade treaty that would create a broad framework to prevent weapons being sold before wars start or human rights abuses reach their peak. The United Nations will hold a world conference on small arms from June 27 to July 7 in New York City. As the time of the conference approaches, the campaign is circulating what it calls the Million Faces Petition, which uses photo portraits of individuals instead of signatures, in support of an arms trade treaty. The petition would prohibit arms from being exported to areas of the world where they might be used to commit serious human rights violations. The United States should commit itself to the treaty and the added laws needed to implement it.

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