However, this article subtly misconstrues what Ratzinger wrote. Dr. Robert Moynihan writes in his email letter:
If one goes to Google now and types in "Pope on Jews" you will find that this article is now cited numerous times among the first items, suggesting that this "exoneration" by Benedict of "the Jews" for blame in the execution of Jesus is the central point of Benedict's teaching on Jews and Judaism.
But this is not an accurate presentation of what Benedict is saying.
Rather, what Benedict is saying, clearly, is that the blood of Christ will bring about the redemption of the Jews from their sins.
Here again is what the Pope writes: When in Matthew’s account the “whole people” say: “His blood be on us and on our children” (27:25), the Christian will remember that Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation... These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation.
The Pope certainly does not hold to a theory that all the Jewish people without exception were complicit in and guilty of the decision to execute Jesus (the theory of "deicide"). This is clear.
But, in fact, the teaching that the Jewish people, as a whole (corporately) committed "deicide" has always been a distortion of true Christian teaching, has never been the established doctrine of the Church, and this is why the teaching of Nostra Aetate (drafted and promulgated in 1965 at the close of the Second Vatican Council) — which makes clear this point unambiguouly — is not an innovation, as is sometimes alleged, not a "new" teaching of the Church, but a clarification of the Church's perennial teaching.
So Benedict does not "exonerate" the "Jews" for "Jesus' death"; nor is it in his thought to do so.
There is, in fact, a passage in these excerpts from the book where the Pope does address head on the question: "Who exactly were Jesus' accusers?"
The answer he gives is: not all the Jewish people, but the Temple aristocracy, the leaders of the Jewish people and faith at that time.
Now we must ask: Who exactly were Jesus’ accusers? Who insisted that he be condemned to death? We must take note of the different answers that the Gospels give to this question. According to John it was simply “the Jews”. But John’s use of this expression does not in any way indicate — as the modern reader might suppose — the people of Israel in general, even less is it “racist” in character. After all, John himself was ethnically a Jew, as were Jesus and all his followers. The entire early Christian community was made up of Jews. In John’s Gospel this word has a precise and clearly defined meaning: he is referring to the Temple aristocracy. So the circle of accusers who instigate Jesus’ death is precisely indicated in the Fourth Gospel and clearly limited: it is the Temple aristocracy — and not without certain exceptions, as the reference to Nicodemus (7:50-52) shows.
But again, even here, as Benedict notes, "it is the Temple aristocracy — and not without certain exceptions, as the reference to Nicodemus shows," who were Jesus' acccusers and sought his death.
So in these lines Benedict reaffirms the traditional Church teaching that much of the Jewish leadership of the time of Jesus, in fact, a preponderant part, did not see Jesus as Israel's messiah and king, but rejected him and sought his death for the crime of blasphemy.
But this is not remarkable.
What is remarkable about the Pope's interpretation of the cry "his blood be on our heads" is that Benedict makes explicit an argument, a truth, that I don't think any other Christian teacher has ever proposed so strongly in this way: not that this cry ("let his blood be upon us") was not uttered; not that the Jewish crowds did not say this; but that they did not have any comprehension, not the slightest inkling, of what they were actually crying out for: that they would have upon them or over them a protection of innocent, sacrificial blood, the blood of this sinless, rejected king, who, though rejected, would not, in the end, be a curse to them, but a blessing, not their condemnation, but their salvation.
This is a profound religious and mystical insight on the Pope's part, and, as far as I know, completely original.
What the Pope has discovered in his long meditation on Christ, and on the Jews, and on Christ's crucifixion, is not that the people of Israel were scattered, and the Temple was destroyed, because of any wrath against them on Christ's part, or God's part, but that all their loss and shame and sorrow were never in the will of God, who desires reconciliation in holiness, and true peace.
For this insight alone, Benedict should be honored and applauded by Jew and Gentile alike, for his words are prophetic... and much needed in our time.