Auschwitz

Vatican archives coverage was missed chance to dig into John Paul II's Jewish outreach

Vatican archives coverage was missed chance to dig into John Paul II's Jewish outreach

The announcement by Pope Francis that the Vatican had decided to open up the its archives on World War II-era Pope Pius XII — long criticized by many for staying largely silent during the Holocaust and the horrors committed by the Nazis — flooded the internet.

Got news? Words like “secret” and “files” are catnip for editors looking to fill news budgets at the start of the week.

That’s why the so-called “Friday news dump” has become such a thing in recent years, especially among politicians attempting to bury bad news at the start of the weekend when people pay less attention. In the case of Pope Francis, there’s no hiding an announcement that could forever alter Catholic-Jewish relations going forward.

Lost in all the intrigue of these Holocaust-era archives was the chance by mainstream news outlets to give some broader context for what all this means regarding Catholic-Jewish relations and the complicated history between these two faith traditions. There are several factors as to why the news coverage didn’t feature more depth. The lack of religion beat writers (an issue discussed on this website at great length over the years) and the frenetic pace of the internet to write a story (and quickly move on to another) are two of the biggest hurdles of this story and so many others.

A general sweep of the coverage shows that news organizations barely took on the issue — or even bothered to give a deeper explanation — of past Christian persecution of Jews and the efforts made since the Second Vatican Council, and later by Saint Pope John Paul II, to bring healing to this relationship.

The news coverage surrounding the announcement that the archives would be released in 2020 — eight years earlier than expected — was largely collected from an article published in Italian by Vatican News, the official news website of the Holy See. In it, Pope Francis is quoted as saying, “The church is not afraid of history. On the contrary, she loves it and would like to love it more and better, just as she loves God.”

What would have triggered a “sidebar story” or a “timeline” in the days of newspapers, is largely lost in the digital age. Both would have certainly included the name and work of John Paul II.

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New Yorker article finds unusual scapegoat for euthanasia in Belgium: Secular humanists

New Yorker article finds unusual scapegoat for euthanasia in Belgium: Secular humanists

Euthanasia has gotten some pretty uncritical treatment from the media, especially the month-long media drama last fall involving 29-year-old Bethany ­­­Maynard. Her decision to short-circuit an almost-certain agonizing death via brain cancer by deciding to kill herself beforehand kept the nation enthralled for weeks, especially when she seemed to back off from her resolution near the end. But she did the deed last Nov. 1, her target date. 

What went untold there -- and in many euthanasia narratives before that -- was something of the devastation felt by the nearest of kin. 

Which is why this New Yorker piece on Godelieva De Troyer, a Belgian woman who did not have a terminal illness but chose to die nevertheless, is the exception.

The story first goes into De Troyer’s lifelong battles with depression, which was abetted when her husband committed suicide, leaving her a single parent with two small children. She struggled along, finding comfort in a new boyfriend for a time, but then losing him and also losing the affection of her daughter, who had moved to Africa and wished no contact with her. What remained was a son, who was married with two children. It is this son, named Tom, that the article spends much time on.

Belgium had passed a law in 2002 that allows euthanasia for those who have an incurable illness that causes them unbearable physical or mental suffering. (It also allows euthanasia for incurably ill children and a law allowing euthanasia for dementia is also in the works.) When De Troyer turned 63, she met Wim Distelmans, a doctor who was a proponent of that law. One thing led to another and in late 2011, she told her children she’d filed a euthanasia request with her doctor. Neither took her seriously, so they were shocked to learn the following April that she had indeed killed herself. The son found a note from her saying that after 40 years of unsuccessful therapy for her depression, she was done.

At this point, the article slips into theology:

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Theodicy and the Auschwitz anniversary: If you cite the Kaddish, why not quote the Kaddish?

Theodicy and the Auschwitz anniversary: If you cite the Kaddish, why not quote the Kaddish?

Readers may recall that, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, I put up a quick post lamenting that I wasn't seeing much mainstream-media coverage of this haunting event. I also noted that hoped we would see more coverage -- logically -- on the day after, with news stories focusing on the content of the anniversary events.

I hoped that would happen and that was, at quite a few publications, precisely what happened.

As you would expect, The Washington Post -- in the same city as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum published a local-angle story, hooked on the events in the Hall of Remembrance.

The newspaper's foreign desk also contributed a stunning story -- "A Nightmare Revisited" -- reported from Auschwitz, where 300 survivors returned to what it called the "bloodiest site of the Holocaust." And there was a sidebar listening to the voices of Auschwitz survivors.

I recommend these stories highly. Yet, I do so even as I note that the news stories failed to dig into the impact of this singular event, this singular vision of evil, on the lives of post-Holocaust Jews as religious believers and on the Jewish faith in general.

The timeless theodicy question, of course: Where was God?

OK, I will ask: Where were the God issues in these otherwise fine news reports?

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NY Times gets religion ... in Rome!

The New York Times published a lengthy travel piece with tons of religion in it. It’s written by David Laskin, and nicely weaves religion, history and travel together. A reader complained about one portion, incorrectly, but before we get to that, let’s look at the top of the story.

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