Monsignor Thomas Hartman – Father Tom – died this weekend. I first met Monsignor Hartman at the 92nd Street Y in NYC where he opened his talk by saying “The Church did horrible things to the Jews and we were wrong.” Subsequently, he wrote a very thoughtful foreword to my novel THE HERETIC. Father Tom was everything good that a priest can be, a model not just for Catholics, but for all human beings.
Foreword to The Heretic by Msgr. Tom Hartman
The Heretic reminds us of a history
that we should not forget.
Marc Gellman and I rarely disagree. We’re best friends. There are many best friends in the world, but the fact that he is a rabbi and I am a priest has caused some people to sit up and take notice. People see us on Good Morning America or Imus In The Morning or our own God Squad show. We try to look out at our world and find a reason for hope which cuts across our respective religious faiths and gets to the heart of spiritually responding to God and our neighbor. We’ve been at this for thirteen years and our disagreements and tense moments have been few.
Marc and I had it out one evening at a local television station. We were talking about the convent at Auschwitz. I was incensed. A Jewish rabbi – Avi Weiss – and a group of his followers had jumped over the convent wall to pray in protest. This startled and frightened the group of contemplative nuns who had built the convent at Auschwitz to pray for the victims of the Holocaust. “How,” I asked Marc “can you or any other Jew support such an action? If Jews knew anything about these sisters they would realize that they were selfless, holy, and prayerful. They were committed to redeeming the ugly face of mass murder and destruction.”
Marc listened. His face told me that he was searching for a way to share something painful with me in a caring way. He turned, looked me in the eye, and said, “Tom, you don’t realize what the Cross of Jesus means to us Jews. For you the Cross is a sign of hope and redemption. For us it’s a sign of despair and destruction. It was during the Inquisition and the Crusades that Christians led with the Cross as they murdered thousands of Jews. They killed Jews and Muslims in the name of the Cross. Pogroms raped and pillaged our people in the name of vengeance toward the Jews that killed Christ.” Marc’s own aunt had once been abused by people leaving a Holy Week service looking for a Jew to vent their anger toward for the death of Jesus.
I didn’t realize the depth of his feelings on the subject until we did that show. It took me aback. That which was a sign of hope and redemptive love for me – the Cross – was a sign of destruction for him. Recognizing this for the first time, I could see why a Jew would be offended at the sight of the Cross at the scene of one of the greatest massacres of Jewish people in human history. I turned and said, “Marc, if that’s what the Cross represents to Jews, maybe we ought to take it down.” “No,” said Marc, “maybe we ought to build a synagogue next to the convent and we could both pray together.”
The Heretic, a book by Lewis Weinstein, was where I turned in order to understand the Inquisition. I knew the outline of Christian atrocities but Lew’s book taught me about the painful positions many good people were put into in order to survive. It’s not a pretty picture. Their lives were all scarred in one way or another. But The Heretic reminds us of a history that we should not forget.
link to obituary in NYT …