Susan Sarandon called Pope Benedict XVI a ‘Nazi’ last weekend while discussing Catholic teaching on the death penalty.
Those are harsh words from the Catholic girl who played a well known nun, Sr. Helen Prejean, in Dead Man Walking, a popular 1995 film depicting Prejean’s anti-death penalty ministry and activism.
During an event at the Hamptons Film Festival, Sarandon said she had sent a copy of the book “Dead Man Walking” in hopes that the late Pope John Paul II would elevate the issue of the death penalty in church teaching. According to reports, Sarandon said she sent the book to “The last [pope]. Not this Nazi one we have now.”
Like many of his contemporaries, Pope Benedict, then Joseph Ratzinger, was unwillingly drafted into the Hitler Youth during his time growing up in World War II Germany. In 2009, National Catholic Reporter journalist John Allen Jr. explained the specifics of the pope’s relationship with the Hitler Youth and Nazi Germany:
The historical evidence is overwhelming that Joseph Ratzinger’s family was ferociously anti-Nazi, and that the future pope was appalled by the arrogance and destructiveness of National Socialism. He was never a Nazi party member, entered an auxiliary unit of the German army only when forced to do so, and deserted before war’s end. He was an American prisoner of war in a camp near Ulm, Germany, before being released and returning to his seminary studies.
Nonetheless, it is a fact of his biography that Ratzinger was once, albeit briefly and involuntarily, enrolled as a member of the Hitler Youth.
The Anti-Defamation League called Sarandon’s ‘Nazi’ comments “disturbing, deeply offensive and completely uncalled for”; Bill Donohue of the Catholic League said her words were “obscene” and “willful ignorance.”
Sarandon has long been vocal about her liberal political and religious beliefs. She grew up Catholic and graduated from The Catholic University of America. In 2008, she penned an essay on her faith in the book “Being Catholic Now.” Among her reflections: What she would do if she were “pope for a year.”
“If I were pope for a year, I’d sell off most of that stuff that’s in the Vatican and eradicate poverty and disease. I’d try to find ways to bring hope to the world, try, in some way, to eliminate this huge gap between the rich and the poor countries and rich and poor within countries. I think that would do a lot to encourage peace. It’s difficult for people to think about peaceful solutions when they’re suffering and have no future. It’s impossible to convince one of my kids to strap explosives on their bodies, because they have hope in the future.”
“I’d definitely come out stronger against the death penalty. I’d make it really difficult.”
“I’d ask all Catholics to be up in arms about an illegal war and to pay more attention to these people who are coming home — our sons and daughters who are coming home mentally and physically maimed. And to go out instead of sitting there communicating with God, to go out and communicate with God by doing something.”