In his latest book, "Jesus of Nazareth, Part II," Pope Benedict XVI says that the Jews, as a people, did not kill Jesus.
This is — fortunately — not a new pronouncement from the Roman Catholic Church. For more than four decades, it has been officially condemning anti-Semitism and rejecting any interpretation of the New Testament that held all Jews, then or now, responsible for the death of Jesus.
Since Vatican II's landmark 1965 declaration on Catholicism and non-Christian religions addressed this issue, church officials have sought to forge better relations with Jews by reinterpreting spiritual texts, expressing deep sorrow over the Holocaust and calling on Christians who by their actions or inactions were complicit in the events of the Holocaust to repent. Both the current pope and his predecessor, John Paul II, visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.
Still, this text by this pope — a particularly conservative pontiff — is significant. Benedict says flatly that people have misread the Gospel According to John; that when John says "the Jews," he doesn't mean the people of Israel but the Temple authorities at the time. He also examines the notion of "the crowd" that called for Barabbas, not Jesus, to be spared crucifixion. The crowd asks for Barabbas because it's loaded with Barabbas supporters. "In any event, it does not refer to the Jewish people as such," Benedict writes.