Today from the Vatican, Pope Francis spoke about the late Cardinal Augustin Bea to participants in a series of scholarly lectures hosted in honor of the 50th anniversary of the prelate’s death. Cardinal Bea, a German Jesuit, was one of the most influential churchmen during the Second Vatican Council, and was instrumental in improving relations between Catholics and the Jewish people. Much like his fellow Jesuit, Francis, Cardinal Bea faced a great deal of criticism for his approach, which favored dialogue and understanding in our relationships with those of other religions.

Vatican News reported:

The Pope said that, “Cardinal Bea was convinced that love and respect are the primary principles of dialogue.” But the Pontiff also noted that the Cardinal did not always have it easy and “faced a number of obstacles in his efforts on behalf of dialogue.”

“Although accused and maligned” commented the Pope, “he moved forward with the perseverance of one who never stops loving. When told that the times were not ripe for what the then Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity was proposing, he responded spiritedly: ‘Then we have to make them ripe’.”

Pope Francis continued, “neither an optimist nor a pessimist, he was a realist about the future of unity: on the one hand, conscious of the difficulties, on the other convinced of the need to respond to the heartfelt desire of the Lord that his disciples be ‘one’”.

“As Cardinal Bea put it”, emphasized Pope Francis, ‘the Council should not be a goal but rather a point of departure’”. The Pope underlined that, “dialogue calls for hearing two voices, and the witness of Jewish and Catholic instructors who teach together is worth more than many speeches.”

Cardinal Bea is also an interesting figure who plays a role in traditionalist conspiracy theories. During Vatican II, Bea’s assistant was none other than Malachi Martin, SJ, until Martin was removed from the priesthood due to indiscretions with at least one married woman. Martin later moved to New York and reinvented himself as the author of a number of novels (including bestsellers) filled with conspiracy theories about Vatican intrigue and satanic infiltration of the Church.

For more about Martin, there’s a documentary on Netflix about him called “Hostage to the Devil,” (also the title of his bestselling novel) which gives a lot more credence to his claims than he deserves (I am convinced he was a total con artist who exploited Catholic traditionalists to make money, but I’ll save that for another blog post), but is an interesting portrayal nonetheless.


Image: Meeting with Jewish Scholars and Theologians at AJC- March 31, 1963; Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel; Cardinal Augustin Cardinal Bea. (Source)


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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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