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POPE/ "Jesus" Emerges... and B16 "Exonerates" the Jews

The new book on Jesus by the Pope has been called "an important and historic moment for Catholic-Jewish relations" and "a major step forward" by Jewish leaders

Benedict XVI (Photo Ansa) Benedict XVI (Photo Ansa)

A week before the second volume of B16's Jesus of Nazareth hits bookshelves (not to mention Kindles, iPads and Nooks) across the globe, earlier today saw the first release of portions from the work, which chronicles the historical Christ's public ministry, ending at the Resurrection.

Having intended to devote his retirement to the project, the author who became Pope has spent the lion's share of his free time working on the series which, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he began in 2003 as he awaited liberation from Rome and a return to his native Germany. While unforeseen circumstances intervened, the first part of the series sold over 2 million copies after its 2007 release. The pontiff wrapped up the second book on his summer hiatus after fracturing his wrist, dictating his revisions to the text.

As the excerpts -- comprising three sub-sections from the nine-chapter book -- emerged today, one element of the sneak preview instantly garnered global attention: namely, the Pope's treatment of "who killed Jesus?" which resulted in Benedict's "sweeping exoneration" of the Jewish people, who endured centuries of persecution from Christians rooted in the charge of deicide.

Called "an important and historic moment for Catholic-Jewish relations" and "a major step forward" by Jewish leaders, at the same time, the passage still unearths the ghosts of the turbulent path Catholic-Jewish relations have experienced in Benedict's reign. While the points of contention have ranged from liturgy to Auschwitz to the beatification cause for Pope Pius XII, the most seismic crisis was, of course, 2009's "Williamson case," sparked by footage of one of the four bishops of the ultra-traditionalist Society of St Pius X denying the existence of the Nazi gas chambers, which emerged hours before the prelates' 1988 excommunication for being ordained without papal consent was lifted.

In the wake of the debacle, Israel's chief rabbinate (among others) temporarily cut relations with Rome in protest. Notably, though, Benedict's new book arrives in the wake of a significant assessment of the Vatican's year-long doctrinal discussions with the SSPX, who have long cited Nostra Aetate, the landmark Vatican II document on other religions -- above all, Judaism -- among their principal "stumbling-blocks" in returning to communion with the Catholic church.

In a recent interview, the Swiss-based Society's Superior-General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, indicated that with the talks "coming to the[ir] conclusion," the SSPX team had been unable to accomplish its task of "correct[ing] a whole movement of thought" in the church and "making the Catholic faith understood in Rome" as the group interprets it.