What's the essential difference between the new Pope's wartime background as a Hitler Youth, and the backgrounds of Ukrainian-Canadians who were forced to work for the Nazis?
One is revered, the others stripped of citizenship to face deportation.
The Pope, when he was teenager Joseph Ratzinger, had no real choice.
Nor did many Ukrainian youths, like Wasyl Odynsky, who were swept up by the German war machine.
When the Germans invaded Ukraine, Odynsky and others were forced into Nazi auxiliaries. Odynsky ran away -- deserted.
Caught, he was told if he did it again his family would be shot. So he toughed it out. After the war he came to Canada, settled in Toronto and raised a family.
Nearly 50 years later he was accused of hiding his wartime background from immigration authorities. A federal judge investigated.
Although records had been destroyed, it was felt Odynsky "probably" had not told of his forced service for the Nazis.
In his findings, Judge Andrew MacKay made it clear there was no evidence -- nor allegations -- that Odynsky had ever committed a war crime or hurt anyone.
But with no appeal process, he's been ordered deported, despite a unanimous federal court of appeal ruling that such deportations violate due process and the government's own fairness guidelines.
In 1941 when Pope Benedict XVI was a 14-year-old, he joined the Hitler Youth -- compulsory for every young German in those days.
Two years later, at age 16, he was assigned to an anti-aircraft gun battery at a BMW plant.
The next year he was sent to the Austrian-Hungarian border to erect tank traps against the Russians.
Young Ratzinger returned home to Bavaria, where he was conscripted into the army.
When the war ended he deserted, and was a prisoner of the Americans for a couple of months, then released. Five months later he began studying for the priesthood.
So what's the difference between this German kid's wartime record with Nazis, and that of many Ukrainian kids -- now old men, whom our government wants deported?
"There is no essential difference in what they did," says Hungarian-born Andrew Telegdi, Liberal MP (Kitchener-Waterloo) who chairs the standing committee on citizenship and immigration, now holding hearings across Canada.
"The Pope when he was a youth had no choice, nor did these Ukrainian youths have a choice when the Nazis conscripted them on pain of death." Yet today the Pope is revered, the Ukrainians are suspect and in debt due to legal expenses, and slated for deportation.
Ed Morgan, national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), says a key difference is that the Pope, in his own writings, has acknowledged his past, while the Ukrainians tried to hide theirs.
"I find the Pope's forthrightness admirable," Morgan says. "He's tried to confront his past, hasn't hidden it, despite the horrible association."
Morgan wouldn't comment on the Ukrainians the government seeks to deport ("each has his own response"), but the Pope's openness and forthrightness are impressive and credible.
A good "track record" since the war doesn't mean much, since many suspect war criminals have since led exemplary lives, which doesn't atone for what they might have done in the war.
Morgan said the CJC had no objections to an appeal process before deportation, which the government has said is not necessary.
One rabbi with whom I spoke didn't want to be identified, but said there might be pockets in the Jewish community that were uneasy about the Pope's Hitler Youth background.
But the fact that in all these years nothing scurrilous has ever emerged about him, is reassuring: "If there'd been anything there, it would have probably come out by now. So it's likely nothing exists."
As well, the Pope's anti-racist record as a cardinal is commendable.
As for a parallel between the Pope's mandatory wartime record with Nazis as a youth, and young Ukrainians forced to work for Nazis but who committed no crimes, he agreed they were similar, but treated differently.
One hopes the government sees the parallel, too, and rethinks its iniquitous policy.