Article Note: Janice A. Thompson, “Renewing the Church as a Community of Hope: The German Catholic Church Confronts the Shoah”
Contemporary Church History Quarterly
Volume 24, Number 2 (June 2018)
Article Note: Janice A. Thompson, “Renewing the Church as a Community of Hope: The German Catholic Church Confronts the Shoah,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 51, no. 3 (2016): 337-365.
By Rebecca Carter-Chand, Clark University
Janice Thompson’s timely article from 2016 focuses on the West German Catholic document “Our Hope: A Confession of Faith for This Time,” promulgated by the Joint Synod of the Dioceses in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1975. It was the first official document from the Catholic Church in Germany to address the Holocaust and is, in Thompson’s assessment, “one of the forgotten treasures of the post-Vatican II Church.” Drafted by theologian Johann Baptist Metz and accepted by a majority of the synod (made up of bishops, priests, religious, and lay people), it offered a radical recentering of Catholic theology in the wake of the Holocaust. In it, Metz argued that real hope is possible only by facing the painful reality of death and suffering in the world. One of the interesting ways that Thompson contextualizes this document is by contrasting Metz’s theology with that of his close contemporary Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI).
In our culture’s current attention on apologies, official statements of guilt, and reckoning of past wrongs, “Our Hope” offers an illustrative example of an earlier statement that demonstrated a collective deep reckoning with the past in light of contemporary concerns. As an open admirer of the document, Thompson discusses several ways in which “Our Hope” makes radical theological arguments, but admits that the language is perhaps too subtle for readers who may not have the theological background to recognize the implications. Her attention on “Our Hope” is prescriptive as well as descriptive—she makes a strong plea to reawaken the renewal process that was initiated by Metz and the synod in the mid-1970s. After several decades of retreat from change, the Catholic Church seems to be embracing renewal once again under the leadership of Pope Francis. Thompson’s contextualization and detailed analysis of the document’s theological claims can contribute to a larger discussion of apologies and the Christian church’s process of coming to terms with the past.