Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who took the name John XXIII, was a 'counter-pope', a break from the vast majority of his predecessors."When at the beginning of Vatican II, he denounced the "prophets of doom," everyone knew that he was speaking of those who had set the tone in his own Church for generations. He was himself an alternative example of what the Church could now become. "As unforgettable as his person was;' Hans Kung wrote of Pope John, "what he achieved for the Catholic Church was unforgettable too. In five years he renewed the Catholic Church more than his predecessors had in five hundred years . . . Only with John did the Middle Ages come to an end in the Catholic Church.” (Who could have imagined the extent to which the traditionalist would go to get back into power? See murdered popes.)
"Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was just turning seventy-seven when he assumed the papacy in 1958, elected as a compromise candidate whose great age was expected to keep him from doing much as pope. But he came to the office from a particular experience. For the previous six years, he had been the archbishop of Venice, but for the quarter of a century before that he had served as a Vatican diplomat in Bulgaria, Turkey, and France. The dominant experience he had had as a priest was of the devastation of World War II. He saw it not from the perspective of the sacristy, or for that matter of Vatican City, but of ruined cities, refugee centers, the camps. Roncalli, as we saw, was one of the only Catholic prelates in Europe who, as a legate in Bulgaria and in Turkey providing counterfeit baptismal records to thousands of fugitive Jews, had actively resisted the Holocaust." Hence the relevance of Hannah Arendt's anecdote, cited earlier, about Hochhuth's play The Deputy. When asked what should be done against the play, with its devastating portrait of Pius XII, Arendt reported, Pope John allegedly replied, "Do against it? What can you do against the truth?"
The Church's failure in relation to Adolf Hitler was only a symptom of the ecclesiastical cancer Pope John was attempting to treat. The long tradition of Christian Jew-hatred, on which Hitler had so efficiently built, was the malignant tumor that had metastasized in the mystical body. John XXIII had instinctively grasped this. Hence his open-hearted response to the Jewish historian Jules Isaac (in June 1960), who traced the Church's antisemitism to the Gospels, and John's subsequent charge (in September) to those preparing for the council that it take up the Church's relations with Judaism as a matter of priority." Hence his elimination from the Good Friday liturgy of the modifiers "faithless" and "perfidious" as applied to Jews," an implicit rejection of supersessionism. Hence his greeting to a first Jewish delegation at the Vatican: "I am Joseph, your brother," he said, then came down from his throne to sit with them in a simple chair. . .
As we have seen, for hundreds of years popes had defined their power in terms of their sovereignty over Jews, and for nearly two thousand years Catholic theology had projected almost every affirmation of the Church against the negative screen of a detested Judaism. Here was the Church's first, and permanent, mistake - an unbroken chain of choice and consequence that crossed the centuries. That narrative arc, traced here, cuts through time as a refutation of the core idea, expressed in various ways, that the Church is a "perfect society," that as the Bride of Christ it is spotless, that the claim to infallibility in matters of faith and morals is more than wishful thinking or rank denial. It is not too much to assume that for John XXIII, the Holocaust, which he saw up close and experienced as a trauma of his own, exposed this deeply entrenched assumption to profound questioning.
At bottom, what was so urgently required of the Catholic Church was a change in what it said, thought, and believed about Jews. A reform that addressed the problem of Catholic antisemitism could be anything but peripheral, and the Church's relations with Jews could be anything but just one more item on the council's agenda. This was so not only because the ongoing faith of Jews called into question absolutist claims made for Jesus Christ, not only because steady Jewish affirmation of the Shema apparently contradicted central tenets of the Christian creed, and not only because the universalist exclusivism of the Catholic Church was incompatible with authentic respect for Israel's unbroken covenant with God. The council's mandate to reform the Church was rooted in the history of its relations with Jews because that history, more than anything else, established the Church's radical sinfulness. And Pope John saw it.
Pope John died of stomach cancer in June 1963, not long after the promulgation of Pacem in Terris and after presiding at the first session of Vatican II.
Many believe that the more liberal Pope John XXIII was canonized in 2014 along with the more conservative Pope John-Paul II were canonized together in order to keep both the far right and the far left wings of the church from complaining.