Signs for Concern. ADL Vatican Newsletter



ADL Vatican Newsletter
  A Periodic Report From ADL on Vatican-Jewish Issues


Signs for Concern




ADL"s National Director, Abraham Foxman, visited Rome and the Vatican from July 17 - 24   at a particularly sensitive moment for relations with Israel and the Jewish world. In some   respects the Vatican has cooled its relationship with the State of Israel, and at the same   time, European Jewry is experiencing waves of renewed anti-Semitism often camouflaged by   "moral concern" over the Middle East crisis.


ADL"s message to all dignitaries in Rome related to the anti-Semitic aspects of   anti-Zionism, and the singling out of Israel for criticism while major injustices and   massacres in the world go unchallenged. Good people can make a difference by having the   courage to act and speak out regarding the rising anti-Semitism as measured by ADL surveys   in Europe, the U.S., among immigrants from Latin America, and in the Arab press.


Pope John Paul II received Abe, his wife Golda, and ADL"s representative in Italy, Lisa   Palmieri-Billig, in a private audience. Mr. Foxman thanked the Holy Father for everything he   has done in his life to fight anti-Semitism in the world, and expressed hopes that the Lord   continue to bless his efforts. As always, it was very moving to feel the great energy and   determination of the Pope"s spiritual commitments, rising above and beyond the physical   constraints of his suffering.


During the visit, the Roman Jewish Cemetery was desecrated. Though deeply shocked, the   Jewish community was not alone. ADL noted that the highest authorities of the Catholic   Church, of Catholic movements, of the Government and Civil Society expressed their outrage   and condemnation. Rome"s Chief Rabbi, Dr. Riccardo Di Segni, received a telegram from Pope   John Paul II and the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.


In meetings with Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Commission for Religious   Relations with Jews, with Cardinal Jorge Mejia, former Secretary of the Commission and   presently Director of the Vatican’s Library and Secret Archives, and with Archbishop   Leonardo Sandri, Deputy Secretary of State, Mr. Foxman expressed his concern over the   present situation. "The Vatican"s distancing from Israel right now does not serve the   cause of peace and can only worsen the crisis of anti-Semitic flare-ups all over the   world", he said. He presented the results of a recent ADL survey in 5 European   countries and on Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. The European surveys showed alarming   increases in classical anti-Semitic attitudes, almost doubling those found in the U.S.   Similar results were found among Hispanic Americans born abroad.


To correct this, it is important to renew our co-operation with the Latin American   Bishops Conference (CELAM) in joint projects to smother the revival of theologically rooted   anti-Semitism. ADL has had a working relationship with the Conference since 1968 when CELAM   first published several ADL interfaith materials in Spanish including Guidelines on how to   teach the New Testament without incurring anti-Semitism.


With synagogues being burned and episodes of violence against Jewish individuals, we need   good people and religious leaders to speak out once more against anti-Semitism, because   their words can make a difference. During World War II, the Archbishop of Assisi, Giorgio   Perlasca, the King of Bulgaria, a young police officer in Trieste, nuns and priests, good   people everywhere took stands and saved tens, hundreds and thousands of Jews in difficult   times.


Several considerations, described in the following analysis, provided the background to   the Rome visits and conversations.


The Vatican - Current Issues


After Pope John Paul II’s visit to Israel in the year 2000 and his historic request for   pardon for the sins of the "sons and daughters of the Church" that caused   centuries of suffering for the Jewish people culminating in the Shoah, after his visit to   Rome’s Main Synagogue and his having called anti-Semitism "a sin against God and   man", it seemed that never again would there be a turning back to the dark ages of   theological anti-Semitism. Certainly, each new generation of priests and teachers would have   to conscientiously apply historical context to the teaching of the Gospels in accordance   with precepts promulgated by the Ecumenical Council’s, "Nostra Aetate"   and subsequent Vatican documents. ADL, with its commitment to inter-religious dialogue and   an exhaustive list of Catholic-Jewish educational publications by ADL"s Interfaith Affairs   Department, had accepted the challenge of ensuring that the "new" religious   teaching would reach the grass roots levels everywhere.


We knew there would be work ahead for decades (if not centuries) to come. But we did not   foresee theological anti-Semitism transformed into the populist anti-Zionism that now   pervades large sections of international public opinion, including some authoritative voices   of the Catholic Church.


Recently, there have been at least three disturbing signs of a downgrade in Vatican   policy and sensibility:


1. A cooling, or distancing of the Vatican from relations with Israel’s Embassy to the   Holy See has been perceptible ever since last May’s "Yom Ha"azma"ut" celebrations   in Rome. Once prolific in attendance, red and scarlet caps have now vanished from the scene.   There has been a near zero presence of Vatican officials at this and subsequent events   organized by the Israeli Embassy, even at a lovely performance of sacred music. A planned   joint archaeology exhibit has been called off and journalists report Vatican officials have   turned down interviews on projects already underway involving cooperation with Israel in   developing countries. Informed sources close to the Curia say that the Vatican"s different   departments received directives to cool relations and keep them low profile.


This has led to an awkward vacuum, certainly not conducive to the confidence building   necessary for strengthening the peace process, nor to fraternal support by the Church in   this moment of resurgent anti-Semitism in Europe linked to biased media reporting on the   Middle East. And yet in the Fundamental Agreement that sealed diplomatic relations between   the Vatican and Israel, a cardinal point was the joint commitment to fighting anti-Semitism.


2. Secondly, the taboos so painstakingly erected over the past 40 years against   pre-Vatican II imagery and the "teaching of contempt" of Jews, based on the   ancient deicide accusation, are beginning to weaken in the very places that should be   serving as models for world Catholicism. One of the first signs that the Vatican was   becoming less sensitive and more tolerant to verbal anti-Judaic transgressions in a   "political" context was its lack of response to the statements of Syrian President   Assad during the Pope’s visit last year. Assad said Israelis were killing Palestinians in   the same way that they had crucified Christ and planned to murder Mohammed. This was   obviously a revival of the "deicide" accusation, banned by Vatican II. The Pope   did not reply at the moment, which was understandable according to Vatican protocol since he   was a guest in Syria. What was not understandable was the lack of rebuttal by the Vatican   following the Pope’s visit.


The so-called "political" excuse for anti-Jewish semantics has been carried to   further extremes by the Vatican newspaper, "L’Osservatore Romano". In   reporting on the Middle East, facts have been couched in religious terminology, leading   readers to identify the Palestinians with a suffering Christ and Israelis, "the   Jews", as the bad guys impervious to and disrespectful of all that is holy to   Christianity. This type of journalism reached its peak during the occupation of the Church   of the Nativity in Bethlehem by armed Palestinians, which the Italian media re-defined as   "the Israeli Siege" of the Basilica.


An article entitled "A Ferro e a Fuoco la Terra del Risorto" ("The   Land of the Risen /Christ/ put to Fire and Sword") subtitled, "A Priest killed in   Bethlehem in the Convent of the Sisters of Saint Brigida" was printed in the April 2-3   issue of the Osservatore Romano and kept on the Vatican’s internet site for ten   days - even though the "killed" priest called in the next day to say he was alive   and well and protests from Jewish leaders to the Osservatore Romano had begun to   arrive. Remarkably, the Osservatore Romano never issued a denial or apology for its   error. On April 5, it merely stated that, " is certain by now that no priest was   killed...."


For ten days on the Internet, people could read the following. "Rarely has history   been violated with such coarseness and pushed backwards by a clear will to offend the   dignity of a people. With irritating superciliousness it is professed that Israel’s   attacks are being launched as a defense against terrorism. In reality what is happening   takes the form of an attack launched against persons, territories, places: the Holy Places.   The land of the Risen is being desecrated by iron and fire and daily becomes the victim of   an aggression that is turning into an extermination. The arms did not cease today, not even   for one who gives witness to the Verb," i.e. the priest falsely reported as having been   killed/ "just as little over two weeks ago they did not hesitate to hit the statue of   the Mother of Jesus."


In an essay entitled "Thus Spoke the Vatican" published by the periodical,   "Limes" (2/2002), Alberto Melloni, Professor of Modern History at the   University of Modena and Reggio Emilio, comments on this Osservatore Romano article.   "It is not by chance or without significance that the language of conspiracy is used,   of sacrilege committed by those who trample on a land they believe is theirs but which,   instead, belongs to Christ, of willful blasphemy against the Christian faith and its   obligation to evangelize. It is also striking that the word "extermination" is   used, not only because of the attempt to affirm that the State of Israel is   inflicting on others that which the Jews have undergone, but because it retrieves the   idea that a single thread binds together the desecration of things and lives."


For two months, March and April, this pseudo-theological whip-lashing and incitement to   hatred against the Israelis/Jews continued in the Vatican organ. Then it subsided, without   explanation.


The change was probably due to high level protests, not only from the Jewish and   diplomatic world but also from Catholic and political leaders. Most important, some dissent   came from within the Roman Curia itself, especially with regard to the use of the word   "extermination" as applied to Israel’s action against the Palestinians.


A significant exception to the chorus of accusations against Israel was the position   taken by Monsignor Jean-Louis Tauran, The Holy See"s Secretary for Relations between States   commonly referred to as the Vatican"s "Foreign Minister". He was concerned with   the "occupation of the Basilica by armed Palestinians" rather than by the   "Israeli siege", as a great part of the media put it. In an interview published by   "Le Figaro" on April 11, the point of view of this important Vatican official   seems diametrically opposed to the Osservatore Romano’s line.


Responding to a question concerning the President of Israel’s promise to John Paul II   that Israel would not violate its commitment to the protection of the Holy Places, Monsignor   Tauran replied, "President Katsav in his letter of April 9 indeed assured the Holy   Father that the Israelis have absolutely no intention of violating their commitment....What   they want is that the people inside the basilica and the adjacent convent leave without   being harmed. Bethlehem is still blocked but one must admit that the Basilica has not been   touched." On the other hand, "The occupation by armed men of the Basilica of the   Nativity is a dramatic situation, unheard of since the Ottoman Empire....The   serious, first of all from a human point of view...two hundred people with the majority   armed, and about fifty Christian religious....Never, since the Ottoman epoch have the Holy   Places been occupied for days by armed men...."


Clearly there are different opinions throughout the Vatican and the Church hierarchy.   There are those for whom the Catholic-Jewish dialogue, cleared of the vestiges of   theological anti-Semitism, is essential to a vision of brotherhood and world peace. Our sad   discovery is that those vestiges are still harbored in the minds and souls of highly   educated leaders of the Church or, at best, are not seen as important obstacles. Only two   years ago, an aged, courageous, suffering, very moving Pope requested pardon for errors   committed by members of the Church for nearly two millenium. It is too soon to close the   books and forget. Without active commitment to fighting all forms of anti-Semitism, we are   walking up a down escalator.


The Pope’s health impedes him from keeping track of everything and therefore different   voices occasionally steer the helm and have greater power today than before. The Osservatore   Romano follows directives given by the Secretary of State. There too, contrasting voices   are heard. John Paul II’s great and deep commitment to fight anti-Semitism so that   "the Shoah, the worst trauma of the 20th century, can never happen   again" (as he told two ADL delegates to the Prayer for ex-Yugoslavia at Assisi in 1991)   must not be allowed to fade from hearts and minds as new generations of Catholic leaders   emerge.


3. The third sign of a troublesome change in the Catholic Church is what high prelates   are reported to be saying about "an orchestrated plan to corrode the prestige of the   Church", as Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of Mexico City, said in an   interview published by the Italian Catholic monthly, "30 Days" (No 6/7 2002). His   words followed the statements by Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga in the previous   issue. Cardinal Maradiaga had said, "It gave me considerable food for thought that, at   a time of total media focus on developments in the Middle East with all the injustices being   perpetrated against the Palestinian people, U.S. television and press people were obsessed   with sex scandals of 30 or 40 years ago."


As John L. Allen Jr. states in the July 19 National Catholic Reporter.   "...the logic of his comments seems clear: Someone in America doesn’t like the   pro-Palestinian tilt of the Catholic Church, and used their media clout to deliver payback.   It’s not much of a reach to imagine who Rodriguez might suspect that ‘someone’ to   be."


Such comments are contributing to the circulation of a new anti-Semitic myth regarding a   conspiracy by alleged Jewish-controlled American media to exploit the current controversy   over sexual abuse by U.S. Catholic priests, to divert attention from developments in Israel   and to punish the Church for its support for the Palestinians. The scapegoat mechanism is a   scary, familiar story, employed purposefully over the centuries to blame "the   Jews" and "Jewish plots" for various natural, social and economic   misfortunes, often to focus attention away from other issues with political implications.   Jews were blamed for the plague, for economic depressions, were accused of "Passover   plots" on the trumped up "blood libel" or "blood accusation"   charges, all the way up to the September 11th canard that it was an Israeli plot, that Jews   knew in advance and didn"t show up for work at the Twin Towers that day. The motto is, when   you have a problem and don’t want to face the true cause or need to find a culprit   quickly, blame it on the Jews.


We had thought that in our times, in the Third Millenium of our Common Era, enlightened   spiritual leaders would be immune from such dangerous nonsense. Apparently we were mistaken.


Catholic-Jewish Dialogue


In this light, it seems all the more important that the Catholic - Jewish dialogue   receive a renewed impetus, and a return to the basic principles of "Nostra Aetate"   be emphasized. Although there has been no direct repercussion on "religious   relations" with Jews by the new policy of political distancing of the Vatican from   Israel, somehow the dialogue has also slowed down. Since Father Remi Hoeckman"s retirement   last year, the position of Secretary on the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations   with Jews has been vacant, and so the work of keeping up contacts and projects falls solely   on the shoulders of Cardinal Walter Kasper, in his double role as President of the   Commission but also of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity to which it belongs.


Relations with IJCIC have been slumbering since the International Scholars Committee   researching the Vatican and World War II disbanded because it felt nothing new could be   written without full access to the Secret Archives. It has been announced that the archives   in the German language dating up to 1939 - the period when the future Pope Piux XII,   Cardinal Pacelli, was Papal Nuncio in Berlin - will be made available in January 2003. All   the rest, up to 1939, will be opened in 2005. Work in ordering and restoring the archives of   Pius XII"s papacy will begin after that date.


Thankfully, important work continues to be done on local levels. There have been regional   meetings between Jewish and Catholic leaders, such as one successfully organized in Paris   some months ago. Most important, a highly qualified dialogue structure has been formally set   up in Israel with the participation of Israel"s two Chief Rabbis, and Cardinal Jorge Mejia,   Father Pierfrancesco Fumagalli, and Father Pierre Cottier. The former two Vatican officials   both worked previously as Secretary for the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews and   Fr. Cottier is the Pope"s theologian who, before the Jubilee Year, presided over an   International Theological Committee meeting on "Anti-Judaism in Christian   Circles". Another positive achievement is a new theological document that states that   proselytizing in the Catholic-Jewish relationship is not acceptable. It is entitled   "Reflections on Covenant and Mission" and was issued August 12 by the U.S.   National Conference of Catholic Bishops in co-operation with the National Council of   Synagogues.


Prepared by Lisa Palmieri-Billig
  ADL Representative in Italy and Vatican Liaison