When Vatican II was first introduced to the Catholic Church and the world in 1965 by Pope Paul VI, the Jewish world breathed a sigh of relief. There was an almost audible sound of jubilation among Jewish leaders attributed to one of the document’s signature segments entitled “Nostra Aetate” (Latin for “In our time”). This document signaled a time of hope— the beginning of the end of 2,000 years of vicious anti-Semitism.
The document’s stated intention was for the (Catholic) Church[i] to “more closely examine her relationship to non-Christian religions”— “to promote unity and love among men, indeed among nations to find what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship.”
This year ( 2016) marks the culmination of a successful 50th anniversary year of Nostra Aetate with announcements of celebratory events appearing everywhere in the news[ii]. Especially among Catholic and Jewish “friendship and discussion” groups, the celebrations acknowledge that there are some places in the world (predominantly in the USA) where Catholics and Jews have developed a genuine dialogue.
The Catholic Bishops of Poland read a statement of repentance for anti-Semitism in Polish parishes in November 1990 on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Nostra Aetate:
“”We express our sincere regret for all the incidents of anti-Semitism which were committed at any time or by anyone on Polish soil….”
“….even if there were only one Christian who could have helped but “did not stretch out a helping hand to a Jew during the time of danger or caused his death, we must ask for forgiveness of our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
Nostra Aetate is not, however, without its detractors. Some influential elements in the Roman Catholic Church are opposed to all of Vatican II and its sweeping changes to Catholic liturgy and tradition. In the opposing camp, among the million or more Catholics who identify with the pre Vatican II thesis and call themselves “traditionalist,” some accuse Vatican II of heresy .
Among their accusations of “heresy”[iii] are the portions of Nostra Aetate that claim “Jews and Catholics share ‘patrimony’” and that the Jews are no longer considered accursed for their role in killing Jesus.
According to these “traditionalist” views, modern Jews are not from “the ancient stock” and are not adherents of the ancient Hebrew scriptures. Thus, having dialogue — or worse making agreements with them — is akin to dialoguing with the man in the moon, as they have little authority as a body politic.
Sadly, there is evidence of a quiet schism of sorts within the Catholic Church between adherents of the modernist (pro-Vatican II) and some traditionalist (anti-Vatican II) factions. What, if anything, this disagreement means for future Catholic-Jewish relationships is not clear, but many of these so-called “traditionalists” advocate a return to the old pre-Vatican II traditions and principles.
While Nostra Aetate encourages dialogue between Catholics and members of other religions (primarily Jews), and absolves contemporary Jews of the crime of deicide, it does not tackle the more fundamental causes of Catholic anti-Semitism, which appears to be rooted in the very foundation of Catholic theology and doctrine.
The debatable doctrine, in which the Catholic Church proclaims itself to be the “Israel of God” or “the new Israel,” is called “Supersessionism,” or more popularly, “Replacement Theology.” [iv] It is a thesis rooted in two millennia of Catholic history—and is supported by ancient theologians and Church Fathers who wrote about how the Catholic Church has become inheritor of God’s favor as “chosen people” — the Jews are “accursed”[v] because of their rejection of Jesus.
On December 10, 2015 the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews released a ten thousand word theological “reflection” about the confusing doctrinal and theological issues put forth in Nostre Aetate. This “reflection”, entitled, “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable,” is an attempt to clarify the doctrinal statement in Nostre Aetate that “the Catholic Church is the new people of God” which had been advanced and taught for the past 50 years.
This new “reflection,” however, asserts that it is not an “official” magisterial document nor as yet a doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church, but it nevertheless offers a new perspective on these critical theological issues.
In the New Testament book of Romans, chapter 11, the Apostle Paul specifically states that the gentile believers in Jesus as Messiah are “grafted in” to the Jewish root— the idea that gentile Christians “replace” Israel is neither suggested in the Hebrew Scriptures nor in the New Testament— but is an invention of early Roman Catholic dogma combined with various twisted translations from the Greek.
In the event that the — newest “reflection” document becomes an official magisterial pronouncement sometime in the future, the theological problems between the Jews and the Catholics will, at least in theory, become largely obsolete.
But Nostra Aetate leaves one glaring omission— Israel— where is Israel?
Both Nostra Aetate and the most recent papal reflection “Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable” are both considered answers to pertinent theological questions. But they both have the same problem— they fail to acknowledge Israel’s biblical deed to and lawful right to its ancestral homeland in Israel.
By this omission, Nostre Aetate actually implies a disconnect — the Jews from their ancient eternal covenant given by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The promise ( covenant) made to the Israelites by God through Abraham has three parts: 1. the promise of a blessing; 2. the promise of Abraham’s role in populating the earth 3. the promise of the gift of the land.
Perhaps this land disconnect is why it took the Catholic Church a painfully long 45 years (1993) officially to recognize the State of Israel. In June 2015, however, prematurely and without consulting leaders in Israel, Pope Francis “recognized” Palestine as a state and signed a treaty to that effect, even prior to any official UN recognition. There have never been any definitive negotiations between Palestine and Israel over the definition of boundaries— thus making the Vatican’s acceptance of a Palestinian state without any officially recognized borders a searing invalidation of Israel as a legitimate member of the community of nations.
Some assert that this Papal recognition of Palestine adds fuel to the fire of anti-Semitism being fanned daily by the multitude of European nations trying to deligitimize Israel—thus leading the pathway to further conflict rather than to peace.
It is not surprising to see the Vatican’s disingenuous strategy of asserting it’s “love” for the Jews — as Pope Francis makes overtures of friendship to Jewish leaders — when less than six months prior, almost in the same breath— he has been delegitimizing Israel as a Jewish State.
Nothing points more effectively to the Vatican’s double-minded strategy – allegedly for the Jews but against Israel — than the current practices of Caritas International, the behemoth Catholic charity (and its affiliated agencies)[vi] that reach around the globe to provide humanitarian aid in crisis.
“Caritas International is a confederation of over 160 members who are working at the grassroots in almost every country of the world. When a crisis hits, Caritas is already on the ground. The diverse members give us our strength – from small groups of volunteers to some of the biggest global charities.
Inspired by Catholic faith, Caritas is the helping hand of the Church – reaching out to the poor, vulnerable and excluded, regardless of race or religion, to build a world based on justice and fraternal love.” [vii]
Rome is the headquarters of Caritas and the seat of its policy planning and international administration. According to NGO Monitor, the arm of Caritas serving the Middle East Region, manages millions of dollars per annum on behalf of programs employed exclusively to assist Palestinians. The charity’s web site affirms that it operates in Jerusalem, Gaza and The West Bank, which, of course, denotes a Palestinian emphasis.
Caritas and other official Catholic relief agencies operating under different names in different countries, administer their programs through grants to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which carry out supposedly humanitarian aid projects. According to the mammoth and well-documented NGO Monitor report, these projects appear on the surface to be humanitarian aid, but are frequently undisguised political advocacy enterprises designed to undermine and demonize the State of Israel.
“A substantial amount of funds provided by Catholic aid agencies, however, is working at cross- purposes to the peacemaking role of the Church. Many of the NGOs receiving these funds are acting against peace, and actively work toward the goal of dismantling the State of Israel,”[viii] the highly respected research group, NGO Monitor noted.
Until May of 2015, when the Vatican elected a new administrative team, the person in charge of Caritas’ multi-million dollar budget was President Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga. Maradiaga, who had also been considered as a papal candidate in 2013, has a troubling history of making anti-Semitic remarks. In 2013 Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz called him an avowed “anti-Semite.” Dershowitz sounded the alarm as it became public knowledge that Maradiaga was on the short list for the papacy. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish watchdog group, likewise called out Maradiaga in 2002 after he accused the Jews of manipulating the media over the Catholic sex-abuse scandals.
Currently Maradiaga is serving on the Pope’s executive cabinet, and Cardinal Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle, a Filipino, is taking the top position at Caritas. But because the Caritas structure is a layered bureaucracy, it is unlikely that its known anti-Israel positions will change without a determined intervention from the Pope himself.
Last spring, on May 28, 2015, during his meetings with Jewish Leaders, the Pope pronounced to the news media, “Anyone who does not recognize the Jewish people and the State of Israel —and their right to exist —is guilty of antisemitism.” This statement was like music to the ears and hearts of the 150 heads of Jewish communities, delegates and young Jewish diplomats gathered in Rome from around the world to commemorate 50 years of Nostra Aetate. The President of the World Jewish Congress, Ambassador Ronald Lauder and other delegates were euphoric. This was what the Jewish people have yearned to hear from the Catholic Church for almost two millennia.
However, evidence that Nostra Aetate is providing a true structural transformation of historical Catholic anti-Semitism ( sometimes, sadly forged as anti-Israelism) is not yet convincing.
If the Pope really loved the Jews — and if hating the Jews and Israel is “anti-Semitic” as he asserts— there are some simple things he could do that would help to repair the anti-Israel bias among leaders of the Catholic Church and its charitable offspring, Caritas International:
– Nostra Aetate could be so improved by an addendum or a “bill of rights” acknowledging: The nature and importance of Israel as a legitimate sovereign Jewish state and the homeland for Jewish people. Within this document, the Church might want to reiterate God’s ancient and eternal covenant— His gift of this land to the Jewish people.
– The Pope might appoint a high-level Vatican committee with advisors from all interested parties to overhaul Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and CARITAS in Israel/Palestine. With one eye on the principles of Nostre Aetate, the committee should be charged with assessing where Vatican money is currently directed in the Middle East and especially of the NGO recipients of Catholic charity (CRS/ CARITAS) destined for Israel/Palestine.
– The Vatican charities (CRS, CARITAS and others) would do well to address its current bias in favor of the “suffering” Palestinians and the exclusion of the “suffering” Israelis. This lopsidedness is a direct affront to Jewish Israel and her daily suffering at the hands of Palestinian homicide bombers, rockets, stabbings and other forms of murder. Recipients of CRS and CARITAS grants need to be “colorblind” without regard to some preconceived notion of whose suffering is more worthy.
– Grants to NGOs by Catholic charities should be for direct emergency humanitarian aid only (hospitals, medical, food etc.), and not for political causes or for so-called “communications” – in reality anti-Israel propaganda — projects. A project such as “Breaking the Silence”, for example, was an indulgent, anti-Israel travelling museum, in part funded by a CRS grants, and designed to undermine the IDF. Such projects should be a forbidden use of Vatican money: they do not help the cause of healing and peace and simply incite terrorism and war. There are many worthy projects that can help both Israel and Palestinians at the same time.
– The Pope might determine that “Nostra Aetate” principles will become part of a retraining program for the heads of all Catholic agencies and NGO recipients of Catholic money. Catholic Charities and their NGO recipients currently exhibit a distinct bias in favor of Palestinians and against Israel. A re-designation of geographic areas to include Israel proper, particularly those people and places hard-hit by Palestinian terrorism from Gaza and the West Bank.
Until some fundamental programs are initiated to re-evaluate millions of dollars of humanitarian aid, retrain Catholic leadership as they interface with Jews and Israel, and re-legitimize Israel, Nostra Aetate seems like no more than a flimsy piece of paper providing fodder for sound bites and periodic public relations speeches directed to Jewish enthusiasts who hope to grab a few scraps from the papal table.