Jews and the Catholic Church
The Separation of
Myth from Reality
It is both useless and dangerous to live in a mythological world. Such a world is of our own creation and leads us to conclusions which were true in the past but are not true today, or causes us to ignore real dangers in favor of wishful thinking.
A dreadful example of such mythological thinking was the attitude of many German Jews who, in the early years of Hitler, refused to believe his threats and insisted that as loyal German war veterans nothing could be or would be done to them or that “nothing is eaten as hot as it is cooked”, referring to Hitler’s screaming rhetoric. Many said “I will leave the fatherland with the last train” and refused to emigrate. Little did they know that the “last train” would lead to Auschwitz.
It is of course immoral to forget the lessons of Jewish history, which is best described as 2000 years of persecution. This despite the enormous achievements of our people in all fields of human endeavor which runs alongside the bloodshed and undeserved hatred which Christian Europe inflicted on us, even within our lifetime.
Because the Holocaust has now become the only unifying theme in American Jewish life, there are many American Jews who know only the Holocaust and nothing else about the history of the Jews, the religion of the Jews, the customs and ceremonies of the Jews, Jewish philosophy and Jewish identity.
Therefore there are today a good number of American Jews who see anti-Jewish hatred everywhere, who distrust all Christians and who are particularly concerned about the attitude of the Catholic Church towards us, the Jews, and that for good reason.
It is therefore important to review the actions of that church towards Israel and the Jewish community since the Second Vatican Council met in Rome during the years 1962-1965. An ecumenical council is a meeting of the bishops of the world. It has been customary for the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church to meet at various intervals for a discussion of church doctrine in light of changing world conditions. The first of these ecumenical (from Greek: oecumen or world) meetings was held in Nicea, a town now in Turkey, in 325. It was called by the Roman emperor Constantine and resulted in the Nicean creed, which Christians were expected to believe.
The Second Vatican Council met at intervals from 1962 to 1965. Pope John XXIII, Angelo Roncalli, had called the council with a view, among many other things, to rectify the anti-Jewish liturgy of the church and to remove the “Christ killer” libel from the Christian literature. The Pope died in 1963 and was succeeded by Paul VI. The council adopted a document which begins with the words, “Nostra aetate”, meaning “In our age”. It goes on to refer to the need for recognition of religions other than Christianity and specifically rejected the “Christ killer” charge.
Then, on April 13, 1986, the present Pope, John Paul II, visited the synagogue in Rome. No other Pope had ever visited a synagogue, except perhaps St. Peter, the first Pope. The Pope addressed the Jewish congregation as “our elder brothers”.
On January 20th, 1991, the church fathers, speaking in the name of all Catholics, issued a Pastoral Letter commemorating the 25th anniversary of “Nostra aetate”. This goes to great lengths to condemn all forms of hatred of the Jewish people, and seeks to dismantle the innumerable canards which Catholics and other Christians have used for so long to discredit and defame us (If you want to read the whole Pastoral Letter, go to any library and get my book The Jew in Christian Theology. It is reprinted on pages 277-280).
Since 1991 the Church has continued its interest in bringing about closer relations to the Jewish community. There are far too many statements, declarations, sermons, etc. to mention here. I do call your attention to the “Reflection on Covenant and Mission” of August 12, 2002, which was issued jointly by the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. This document holds that the Catholic Church no longer seeks to convert Jews to Christianity on the grounds of “the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people”. It is quite long. Look for it on the world wide web.
The consequences of all this are significant. All Catholic schools teach the Holocaust. Catholic colleges usually have a Rabbi teaching Jewish history.
The Catholic population has treated us with honor and dignity and friendship in this community and elsewhere. Yes, there is Mel Gibson and his anti-Jewish hate movie. Gibson, however, is not a Catholic. His “church”, led by the Belgian bishop LeFebvre, was excommunicated.
Therefore it is our duty as reasonable people to recognize our friends and not confuse them with our enemies.
We have other friends. These include the Christian fundamentalists such as the Rev. Falwell, Pat Robertson and many others who preach on the television circuit. Now, there are those among us who reject the immense help these 55 million Christian Zionists have given Israel these four years under the George W. Bush administration. The usual complaint is that the fundamentalists believe that we will all become Christians when Jesus returns and that that can only occur when Israel is securely reestablished in the Holy Land. So ask yourself this. Can we Jews and Israel use some friends in the White House? Indeed, the president is a Christian fundamentalist and therefore has done more for Israel than any President before him. Would you rather have a President like Clinton, who sold Israel to his friend Arafat? If that stupid Arafat had accepted Clinton’s “deal” he, Arafat, would now dictate from Jerusalem and all of Judea and Samaria.
The fundamentalist Christians are not the enemy. That is a myth. The reality is that the so-called “liberal” churches are our enemies. These are the Episcopalians and Presbyterians and, of course, all the agnostics and secularists who support such “liberal” policies as the daily denunciation of Israel at the vicious United Nations. “Liberals” also burn campus newspapers which contain material favorable to any Jewish cause. “Liberals” prevent Jewish speakers from appearing on the campuses of this country and “liberals” assault Jewish students on the college campuses from Harvard to San Francisco.
Think about it. If John Kerry becomes the French emperor of the U.S.A., a position he believes the American people owe him because he is a billionaire Boston aristocrat, Israel may not survive or will be forced to use its atomic power as Kerry applies the so-called “even handed” policy to prevent 5.5 million Jews from defending themselves against 280 million Arabs and their 1 billion Moslem brethren. It is a myth that somehow the great number of former Jews who support the Democratic Party can prevent the destruction of Israel. The fact is that only 30% of Democrats support Israel while 68% of Republicans support Israel. So on whose side are we? Think about it.