Actress Susan Sarandon, born a Catholic, has a love-hate relationship with the church. The “love” times surely include winning an Oscar for portraying Sister Helen Prejean in “Dead Man Walking”; narrating an Oscar-nominated documentary short, “School of Assassins,” about a priest who led the annual marches outside the Army’s School of the Americas; narrating a 1999 PBS documentary on church frescoes funded in part by the Catholic Communication Campaign; and even letting her picture be used for a billboard campaign in the St. Louis area to promote vocations to religious life.
But then there are the “hate” times. One of those surely included returning an award she had won from The Catholic University of America, which she had attended, in the late 1980s to protest the university’s firing of Father Charles Curran for his writings on sexual ethics.
And one must also surely include the Oct. 15 remarks she made about how she had given a copy of the book “Dead Man Walking” to the pope. Sarandon hastened to add that the pope to which she had given the book was Blessed John Paul II, “not this Nazi one we have now,” meaning Pope Benedict XVI.
It’s been well-documented that Pope Benedict was registered into the Hitler Youth while a teen in his native Germany, but he never went to meetings, and his lack of participation resulted in hardships for his family. But you can’t let context get in the way of a good quip.
But pushback against Sarandon has emerged from both Catholic and Jewish circles, condemning the remarks and demanding an apology.
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. bishops, in a posting titled “Cheap Shots” on his blog “The Gospel in the Digital Age,” gave his thanks to the New York Daily News for publishing an anti-Sarandon editorial. He said the newspaper was “probably right that Sarandon will face no public fallout for her remarks, ‘because so very often the Catholic Church is considered fair game for anything.’”
Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said Oct. 17, “Sarandon’s comment is obscene. Sadly, it’s what we’ve come to expect from her.” He added that, upon Pope Benedict’s election in 2005, “Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said it was ‘rubbish’ to maintain that Ratzinger chose to belong to the Hitler Youth.”
Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, also called on Sarandon to apologize. “We hope that Susan Sarandon will have the good sense to apologize to the Catholic community and all those she may have offended with this disturbing, deeply offensive and completely uncalled-for attack on the good name of Pope Benedict XVI,” he said. “Sarandon may have her differences with the Catholic Church, but that is no excuse for throwing around Nazi analogies. Such words are hateful, vindictive and only serve to diminish the true history and meaning of the Holocaust.”
And Rabbi David Wolpe of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles, writing Oct. 19 in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, said, “The Holocaust is not a stick with which to beat those who disagree with us.” He added, “There are many ways to be objectionable without being a Nazi. Calling other people ‘Nazi’ is one of them. Susan Sarandon knows better, or should, and however much she may dislike the pope or what he stands for, she owes the pope, as well Catholics all over the world, a genuine apology.”