March 03, 2003

JESSE WALKER IS ACCUSING ME of "smearing" the Catholic church. I think that Jesse's post is somewhat unfair, for reasons I've answered in the comments. But just because Jesse's post seems unfair to me doesn't mean that the issue is. The question is, why do I think that the Church is displaying antisemitism here?

Basically, it's because it seems that the Church sides against Israel, and with Arab terrorists and dictators, at every opportunity. Now there could be other explanations for that, I guess. I posited a couple over in the comments to this post of Tacitus's, but here they are again:

If you want to be charitable, you can argue that they're pandering because they (1) want to distinguish Christians in Arab countries from Jews; and (2) think that, long-term, Jerusalem is likely to be in Arab hands. I'm skeptical, though. I think a lot of them probably *are* antisemites. The Vatican has been too consistently anti-Israel to explain it other ways.

Note that these alternative theories, which Tacitus thinks are more persuasive explanations than antisemitism, don't make the Church look better, really: they merely suggest that it's willing to sacrifice moral principle for the sake of expediency rather than for the sake of prejudice. Is that better? Not much, if at all.

Alisa says that we have to understand the Catholic church as a European institution run by Europeans, though I'm not so sure that gets rid of the anti-semitism charge. Perhaps -- as another comment in the Tacitus thread suggests -- it's enough to say that the Church isn't any more anti-semitic than the rest of Europe, though that's not much of a defense, these days.

But what really set people off was this picture. And, Walker's rather misleading characterization notwithstanding (he puts it this way: "A cardinal has been photographed with Yasser Arafat. Got that? A church leader posed with a political opponent of a state run by Jews, therefore his church is anti-Semitic."), it's not just a picture. It's a picture of Cardinal Etchegaray, representative of the Church in full Church regalia, holding up joined hands with Arafat, terrorist murderer, at a press photo opportunity.

Now here's my question: Is it even imaginable that he would do the same thing with Ariel Sharon, elected leader of a democratic country?

I don't think that it is. But why? I think that the reason is anti-semitism -- or, perhaps, if you want to bend over backwards, pandering to anti-semitism. If it's not that, and if Etchegaray really thinks that Arafat is less objectionable on a moral level than Sharon, then what does that say about the moral judgment of the Vatican?

Nothing admirable, as far as I'm concerned.

Walker asks if it's possible to criticize Israel without being anti-semitic. Sure. It's possible. But when you criticize Israel while -- literally -- holding hands with terrorists, well, you shouldn't complain if people doubt that that's how things are.

UPDATE: Reader Christopher Badeaux emails:

I doubt you could care less, but at least one of your readers and writers might: The Church hasn't come out against war in Iraq *ex cathedra*. What that means is that the Pope, the College of Cardinals, and my Aunt Lulu could all say, "War in Iraq is wrong and bad," and Catholics can -- and I'd argue should -- in good conscience dissent without risking excommunication. (What that further means is that, if as you suggest the Vatican is on another long bout of anti-Semitism, it's a bout of anti-Semitism that the Church has been very careful not to make binding on the faithful -- which sounds like weak anti-Semitism to me.) I'll spare you the Catholic doctrine and cut to the chase:
I'd rather have a Pope (Vicar of Christ, and all that) calling for calm and peace than one calling for blood -- even if the call for blood is, as I believe, ultimately just.

Well, I understand that nobody's speaking ex cathedra here -- this is more about politics than doctrine. (Jesse Walker does use the term "ex cathedra," but he's talking about me. Which is silly. I never speak ex cathedra -- these are my opinions, and while I may sometimes feel that people who disagree with me can go to hell, I don't mean it literally, and I don't think anyone takes it that way.)

I guess that my problem is that when Arafat and his ilk call for blood, it doesn't seem to bother the Church all that much. You can call that double-standard anti-semitism, and I think it is, or you can call it something else, but either way it stinks.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Rick Meyer emails:

One of the items that convinced me that the Catholic church sides with the Muslims was last year when the IDF had blocked Arafat in his compound and the group of Muslims took hostages in a standoff in the Church of the Nativity.

During the entire standoff, I don't remember once hearing the Pope or some other church leader condemning the Muslims for taking control of one of the most revered of all Christian sites, which btw is considered a War Crime under the UN's rules for these things.

I think its pretty safe to say that had the roles been reversed the church would have felt free to at least criticize the Israelis.

Yes, and that's the context for the original post and photo, of course. Meanwhile blogger-on-hiatus Chris "Spoons" Kanis emails:

I'm an ex-Catholic largely because of the official Church's shameful record of kissing up to dictators, tyrants, and terrorists. Unfortunately, some (hopefully few) individual Catholics prefer to dismiss all critics as bigots, rather than to ask whether there might be a moral failing in their Church.

Glad (but not surprised) to see that you're not letting cries of bigotry stop you from calling a spade a spade.

I think that this stuff generates such a response because, well, it's true. And sometimes the truth hurts.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Micael O'Ronain sends something interesting:

I believe that you analysis of the situation between the Jews and the Vatican is not going deep enough. Yes, the Vatican is anti-Semitic but the reason that they are anti-Semitic is because they are anti-Capitalist. At its core values, Christianity was and still is a collectivist philosophy. For most of its two-thousand year history, the Catholic Church has done everything it can to suppress the emergence of Capitalism and and is still doing it, even today. The reason why Jews had such a predominant position in European banking was because Christians were forbidden to engage in usury (i.e. Banking) by the Vatican.

Ask yourself the the following question: why are the conservatives in the Church of Rome and the liberals in the Church of England all marching shoulder to shoulder with the Communists, Socialist and Fascists in support of Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat? The answer is that they all hate Capitalism and the center of the global Capitalism is the United States. The Jews have the misfortune of being in the middle.

Now this seems to have a lot of explanatory power, and it's certainly different from classical antisemitism. On the other hand, Israel is far more Euro-socialist than the United States (Is Israel really more capitalist than, say, France? Not obviously). So if Israel is suffering from "anti-capitalism," isn't it because of stereotypes of Jews as capitalists, as much as from reality? And aren't those stereotypes, well, you know, anti-semitic?

Meanwhile Meryl Yourish offers a lot of rather concrete reasons why one might suspect the Vatican of antisemitism. Excerpt:

The Vatican did not establish full diplomatic relations with Israel until 1997, nearly fifty years after Israel's birth.

The Pope said that Israel was "desecrating Christian holy sites" when the IDF surrounded the Church of Nativity during its takeover by Palestinian terrorists, yet didn't mention later how the church really was desecrated—by those selfsame terrorists.

When Kurt Waldheim's Nazi past was revealed, the Pope didn't let that stop him from honoring the man that no one else in the world would meet with.

The Vatican signed an accord with the Palestinians condemning any "unilateral action" on Jerusalem by Israel. No such accord was signed with Israel when Jordan ruled Jerusalem, threw out all the Jews, forbade Jews to visit the Western Wall, and descrated Jewish holy sites and graveyards.

Yeah, he issued a document condemning the Holocaust. But it took a long time, said some things that made you wonder if he really meant it, and didn't stop him from allowing crosses to spring up over Jewish remains in Auschwitz, or the beatification of Edith Stein, or other acts that show he doesn't really seem to give a damn about what Jews think.

There's more, and she's got links. I thought that most people in the blogosphere knew all this stuff, but maybe not.

ONE MORE: Christopher Johnson emails:

Dear Glenn, Although I'm a conservative Protestant, I generally agree with you on your assessment of anti-Semitism and the Catholic church. I would mitigate it somewhat by saying that all the mainline churches have been disgraceful regarding Israel and I don't even think the Vatican is the worst offender in this area. I think the Anglicans beat them out. I'm getting to the point where I can write Anglican pronouncements on the Middle East in my sleep.

I think they write them that way, too. . . And you're right, the Catholic Church isn't the worst. But its position -- as today's dispatch of a Papal envoy to the White House illustrates -- is somewhat unique, as is its history. Meanwhile The Grille says I'm wrong, and that the real problem is that the Church no longer believes in the existence of evil.

Finally, reader Mark Cameron emails:

As a Catholic who is pro-Israel and, with reservations, pro-war with Iraq, I understand (and share) your frustration with the Vatican's cosy dealings with tyrants, and particularly Arab dictators. However, the accusation of anti-Semitism is, I believe, unfounded. I think you have to separate Vatican diplomacy which, I agree, is quite unbalanced and anti-Israel, from Catholic theology towards Judaism, which has seen remarkable changes in the past forty or so years. Since Vatican II's Nostra Aetate (1965), the Church has unequivocally condemned anti-Semitism. Even before then, the Church had moved to remove anti-Semitic remnants from the liturgy and had distanced itself from priests (like Fr. Coughlin and Feeney in America) who published anti-Semitic materials.

Pope John Paul II, in particular, has been a genuine friend of the Jewish people. His oldest childhood friend, Jerzy Kluger, was a Jewish Holocaust survivor. He was the first to visit a synagogue, the first to recognize Israel, and the first to talk of Jews as "our elder brothers in faith". . . .

All of this being said, the Vatican has problems with the State of Israel for several reasons. First, there is the presence of a Christian minority in the Palestinian territories which has not been particularly well treated by Israel - or by Palestinian Muslims, for that matter, but Israel is the dominant power. Second, some of the holiest sites of Christianity, including the Holy Sepulchre, are in East Jerusalem. The Catholic Church has long advocated that the holy sites of Jerusalem be placed under international administration.

Furthermore, the Church has a long tradition of maintaining cordial relations with dictators of all stripes - East European Communists, South American military juntas, and Arab dictators alike - in order to prevent persecution of Christian minorities and to allow freedom of action for the Church. Over the centuries, the Vatican has come to believe that accomodating with brutal governments in order to allow Catholic churches, schools, and hospitals to stay open is a worthwhile bargain. This pragmatic approach may not be admirable, but perhaps it is worthwhile to keep the Church present as an independent outpost in the midst of tyranny. A denunciation of the regime will last for a week or two in the media, but may result in the Church being cut off from access to millions of people for whom their faith and its institions are their only lifeline.

Finally, undoubtedly many Vatican diplomats in the Secretariat of State are very much representative of "Old Europe", including a romanticism towards the Arabs, and these attitudes may colour their thoughts and actions towards Israel.

This combination of longstanding diplomatic difficulties with Israel, a generally accomodationist position towards dictators in order to preserve religious rights, and an "Old European" Arabist diplomatic corps, may add up to policies which are so harshly anti-Israel as to seem anti-Semitic. But if this accusation can be justly directed towards Vatican diplomats, I think it is unjust to accuse this Pope or modern Catholic theology of retaining an anti-Semitic tinge when they have made such enormous strides to reverse them.

Well, yes. Actually, I think this post matches my own feelings pretty well, and it makes me wonder if, in some of the earlier discussions, I and my critics haven't been talking past one another. Though there have been a few minor signs that theological antisemitism is stirring again (and as far as I know, more outside the Catholic Church than within it), my complaints really have to do with the Vatican's foreign policy. I think that John Paul II tried to build bridges to the Jewish community -- but I don't think he's really running things anymore, at least where the Vatican's diplomatic efforts are concerned. And those are what have offended me.