"The Popes Against the Jews" Misses the Mark, Says Historian

Civiltà Cattolica Writer Critiques David Kertzer´s Book

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ROME, FEB. 13, 2002 (Zenit.org).- A book by David Kertzer accusing the Church of anti-Semitism is a "pamphlet" and not a serious history book, says Father Giovanni Sale, historian of the biweekly Civiltà Cattolica.



The book, which has just been published in Italian with the title "The Popes Against the Jews," is the result of the New York historian Kertzer´s research in the Vatican archives, recently opened to scholars.

"In reality," Father Sale said, "the volume does no more than re-propose an old thesis with a new presentation: The Church, although never having approved the Holocaust directly, from the Napoleonic era until the last century, did, in fact, smooth the way for it."

Father Sale told Vatican Radio that from "the historical point of view the work is biased. It only examines the pontifical documents issued against the Jews; however, it does not allude to the pronouncements, so numerous or more so than the first, emanated by Popes, councils, local synods, and men of the Church in favor of the Jewish nation."

"It certainly cannot be denied that the religious factor, insofar as a social phenomenon in the broad sense, might have contributed along with other factors to develop in a specific community or society a certain culture of intolerance toward Jews," the priest said.

"But in the same measure or to a greater degree, it has contributed to develop a parallel culture of tolerance, of peaceful coexistence, of respect and solidarity," he added.

"Let us recall, for example, that there were many Catholics, priests and laity, who during the Nazi persecution hid Jews, even at the cost of their lives," Father Sale emphasized.

Moreover, "John Paul II asked for forgiveness at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, for all the injustice and violence committed by Christians against the children of Israel and he did this, without asking anything in return," the priest continued.

"Quite another thing, instead, is anti-Semitism, which is a product of modern nationalism, of state idolatry -- enemy of faith and Christian culture -- that sees in the Jews a man without a homeland, an enemy of the national society and, therefore, the one who must be excluded and eliminated," Father Sale said.

"This was the ideology professed by Nazism and Fascism," he continued. "The Church never approved such racist ideologies. On the contrary, it combated them in every possible way. In 1937 Pius XI published an encyclical addressed to German bishops, in which he openly condemned racist anti-Semitism, but already before this date he had pronounced himself against racism."

The priest added: "Beginning in 1934, especially, he repeatedly asked our review, the Civiltà Cattolica, to write articles forcefully condemning the ´new secular heresies,´ such as racism and the sterilization of terminally ill or mental patients."