Nostra Aetate, the most important declaration of the church, said two things. One, the Christ- killer myth can no longer be taught as Christian doctrine, even thought the Gospels themselves are the source of it. (That left us with the problem: how do we read these gospels that say the Jews, not the Romans, are the main murders of Jesus?) And the second thing Nostra Aetate said was that the Jewish religion continues as an authentic mode of access to God — that the covenant God has made with the people of Israel is full, permanent complete. The Jewish religion, that is, has not forfeited its reason for existence — which had been Catholic teaching for close to 2000 years!
So right there, the Second Vatican Council has made the most important reform of Christian theology, I would argue, in church history. That's a direct result of the Holocaust. And it goes to the pins of what it is to be a Christian — which is why the church has had such trouble implementing it since then. The Christ-killer charge isn't gone from Christianity — we saw it vividly in the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ — but it has gone from the grassroots experience of Catholicism. Most young Catholics are unfamiliar with this tradition, and when I talk to young Jewish people raised in communities that include Catholics, they've heard about the Christ-killer charge, but never been victimized it themselves. People of my generation were. This has happened in a generation. It's an astonishing change.
Look, we've been in an antireform reaction to the Second Vatican Council — since the papacy of Paul VI, really, but certainly since the papacy of Pope John Paul II, especially with his partner in rejection of reform, Cardinal Ratzinger, who's now Pope Benedict. Well, it's no wonder they're rejecting it. Human beings change, at this deep level, slowly and with difficulty, so we've seen slow and difficult change in the Catholic Church. But I regard it as irrevocable.
When you frame it that way, it becomes a whole lot easier to imagine a future in which priests can get married, or women can become priests, or the church opposes abortion but not contraception.
Absolutely. The shift in the church's teaching on Jews and Judaism is the most radical change imaginable. It's much more radical than for the church to change its position on contraception, on married priests, on ordaining women. Those traditions are 1000 years old: it's true, they're old, but in the Catholic Church, time is counted a little differently. The tradition of anti-Judaism goes back to the New Testament. The way the people who wrote the Gospel of John were understood by the next generation as seeing the Jews — the way the word "Jews" was heard by Christians in the 1st Century — that's being changed now.
Pope Benedict cannot get away with reinstating an anti-Semitic bishop without a worldwide protest. That's a signal of the change. Because what Bishop Williamson believes is what every Catholic believed two generations ago about the Jews — and Pope Benedict not only had to backpedal, he had to apologize.