The Catholic Church and Jews

The Roman Catholic Church has this thing about Jews. In antiquity, the RCC preached a message of hatred for Jews, calling them Christ killers, among other things. For a time, Jews had to wear distinctive yellow patches on their outer garments and were forbidden certain lines of work and commerce. The Inquisitions paid particular attention to Jews, though today's Catholic apologists often deny that. In the middle of the last millennium, rulers in Spain and Portugal actually expelled all Jews from their kingdoms, a program that a few popes also participated in later years.

It should be noted that the Catholic Church was not the first authority to compel Jews to wear clothes or marks that distinguished them from the general population. A Muslim caliph made it obligatory, in the year 807, that Jews wear a yellow belt and a tall pointed hat. The 4th Lateran Council, convened by Pope Innocent III in 1215, established that Jews and Muslims in “every Christian province” were required to wear clothing that distinguished them from Christians.

Summary. Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province must be distinguished from the Christian by a difference of dress. On Passion Sunday and the last three days of Holy Week they may not appear in public.—Medieval Sourcebook: Twelfth Ecumenical Council: Lateran IV 1215; The Canons of the Fourth Lateran Council, 1215, Canon 68

Do you reckon that this is where Hitler's Brownshirts and Nazis got the idea to compel Jews in Germany and the conquered territories to wear the yellow Star of David patch?

Pope John Paul II managed to keep the world's Jews at arm's length while publicly declaring a desire to gather all peoples of all faiths in ecumenical embrace. The pope's semi-apology for the wrongs committed by some folks in the Roman Catholic Church against Jewish peoples seemed to intensify recollections of terrible things suffered by the world's Jewry at the hands of Catholic “Christendom.” The beatification of Cardinal Stepinac, religious leader of Catholic Croatia and chief chaplain to the murderous Ustashe, who operated extermination camps and death squads designed to eliminate Jews, Gypsies and Serbian Orthodox peoples from wartime Croatia, was a slap in the face to all Jews. The beatification of Edith Stein, apostate Jew and convert to Catholicism and the erection of crosses outside the Auschwitz death camp further inflamed anti-Catholic sentiments among Jews

Controversial crosses erected just outside the camp. All but the large Papal cross were removed the day after this photograph was taken. View from within the camp.-- Photo credit: Florida Center for Instructional Technology.--A Teacher's Guide To The Holocaust Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997-2002.

Rome assures the world that she no longer harbors nor indeed sanctions anti-Semitic sentiments. As is often the case, there is a great gap between what Rome says and what Catholics do. Recent events involving new translations of the Catholic Bible are a case in point.

A report carried in the December 10, 2000 edition of the Los Angeles Times begins:

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Latin America's history of religious persecution has left Jewish groups on alert not just for intolerance but its echoes.

Now, a conflict that could reopen old wounds has arisen here, concerning the Bible; not the text itself, but the footnotes….

The version of the Bible under scrutiny was edited by Bernard Hurrault, a French priest who served in Latin America, and published in Spain. The edition, which sold 34 million copies, is aimed at working-class Catholics in the hemisphere, including Spanish speakers in the United States.

But 19 references to Jews and Judaism in the explanatory footnotes caught the attention of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international organization dedicated to fighting bigotry and preserving the memory of the Holocaust.

Representatives of the center asked Catholic leaders in Argentina and Chile last week to address their concerns about those editorial comments.

The complaint has precedent. A court in Paris ruled in 1995 that the French edition by the same author contained two anti-Semitic references and ordered them eliminated, though the court declined to eliminate other passages that were challenged. French church officials them withdrew their imprimitur of the edition.

In the Latin American version, footnotes refer to Jews as “a very ignorant people,” “sinners” and scornful of other religions. One note states that “the judgment of God has not yet fallen on the Jewish people.”

“I'm not saying it was done with malicious anti-Semitic intent, but it reflects an old-fashioned mentality,” said Shimon Samuels, the Paris-based director of international liaison activities of the Wiesenthal Center. “This kind of language is out of place today.”

Recalling the longtime depiction of “the Jew as anti-Christ,” Samuels said: “I don't know what a peasant thinks when he reads this Bible. He's being served a dish of old-fashioned prejudice against people he never met.”--Sebastian Rotella, Jewish groups protest new edition of Bible, Los Angeles Times, Dec 10, 2000

Some of the Catholic leadership in Latin America found the anti-Semitic footnotes to be in poor taste. One member of Colombia's Episcopal Council, Rev. Hugo Fernandez Mora, wrote that the descriptions of Judaism in this Bible are unusual, compared with those in other editions of the Scriptures.

“Above all, it is jarring the manner in which at many places it discusses `the Jews' in a general and even anachronistic way,” he wrote. --, Ibid.

Sadly, not everyone in the Latin American priesthood agrees with Fernandez. Some are outspoken in their efforts to deny the obvious anti-Semitic nature of the questionable footnotes and toss out a version of that ubiquitous Catholic argument Christian polemicists/apologists have heard many times: “You just don't understand.” An Argentine priest, Eduardo Perez (BTW, it is fact that most Spanish surnames ending with “ez” once belonged to Jewish families living in Spain), said:

“Some of it may be interpretable. The part about `an ignorant people' may be because in the text "9the speaker" is addressing a village of peasants. This has to be reviewed by an expert on the Bible.”--Ibid.

After learning of the Wiesenthal Center's concerns, Catholic officials in Argentina commissioned a study of a locally-produced CD-ROM version of the controversial Bible. They sent a confidential report of their findings to the Chilean archdiocese whose bishop gave his imprimatur to the Bible version in question.

The publishers, in Madrid, agreed to make changes. Samuels, meanwhile, has asked the Vatican to issue a statement, to be included in the new editions that would explain while the objectionable material was expurgated. I do not know whether that was done.

And the beat goes on.

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