Hating Jews in Holy Week: The Vampire of Catholic Antisemitism Climbs from Its Coffin

By Jules Gomes Published on March 26, 2024

In 1858, when Pius IX ordered papal carabinieri to kidnap a six-year-old Jewish boy named Edgardo Mortara, the pope who convoked Vatican I could hardly have predicted how radically its successor, Vatican II, would renounce, reverse, and repudiate the perennial Catholic teaching on the “perfidious” Jews.

For centuries, Rome had officially taught that the Jews are rejected, cursed, and hated by God. In an epochal U-turn, Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate turned the Jew “from enemy to brother,” using the Latin superlative carissimi to describe the Jews as “beloved by God.”

Pope Pius IX, the pontiff who pronounced the hotly contested dogma of papal infallibility, refused to release the abducted Mortara because the Jewish child had been illegally baptized in secret by his teenage Catholic maid, who thought he was dying. So now he was legally “Catholic” and had the “right” to a Catholic education, whether his parents wanted that for him or not.

Mortara embraced his new faith and later became a Catholic priest, but the consequences for Pius IX were catastrophic. The kidnapping provoked fury throughout England, Europe, and America, and was a critical factor leading to the overthrow of the theocratic Papal States by Italian nationalists.

A year after Mortara’s abduction, Pius IX lost most of his territory. In 1870, Rome fell to the forces fighting for Italy’s Risorgimento (Unification), forcing the abrupt termination of Vatican I — the council dogmatizing papal infallibility was never formally dissolved.

Historic Catholic Antisemitism

Pius IX was simply sticking with the magisterium of his predecessors. Requiring Jews to wear yellow badges and herding them into ghettoes were not Nazi innovations, but policies that the popes had promulgated for centuries.

Pope Paul IV’s bull, revealingly titled Cum nimis absurdum (1555), declared that it is “absurd and utterly unacceptable that the Jews, who due to their own guilt were condemned by God to eternal slavery” should be allowed to coexist with Catholics. The Jewish ghetto was born.

For Catholics who cleave, limpet-like, to the myth of magisterial continuity, Vatican II’s philo-Semitic teaching could not have been more treasonable. It was the hierarchy’s ultimate Judas-kiss to what was being reconfigured in the post-conciliar era as “traditional” Catholicism.

Such Catholics are hit with a tidal wave of cognitive dissonance when they discover that in addition to contradicting itself on issues ranging from usury (once defined as a mortal sin) and slavery to torture and religious liberty, as The Stream’s John Zmirak documents, the Roman magisterium has backtracked on its condemnations of the Jews and Judaism. (Zmirak’s wry quip is worth citing: “When a tadpole turns into a Steinway grand piano, that’s not an organic development.”)

Shell-shocked Catholics, shaken to the core by the seismic shifts of an allegedly unchanging magisterium, are reviving Jew-hatred as a means of resolving the doctrinal dissonance. The phenomenon confirms the thesis of psychologist Leon Festinger, who in his landmark book When Prophecy Fails, explains how a dogmatic believer who is discombobulated by cognitive dissonance “will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before.”

Seeds of Modern Catholic Antisemitism

The seeds for the modern surge of Catholic antisemitism were sown before Vatican II, as has been documented in the case of the popular pro-Nazi radio preacher Fr. Charles Coughlin, who defended the atrocities of Kristallnacht and called for the Church to restore the prohibition against usury. Coughlin is estimated to have reached 40 million listeners during the 1930s. Church authorities helped get him kicked off U.S. airwaves, at the urgent request of Catholic bishops in Germany.

Mark Weitzman in his book Jews and Judaism in the Political Theology of Radical Catholic Traditionalists traces the continuity in recent Catholic Jew-hatred from Coughlin to elements in the Society of Saint Pius X, including the Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson — who spewed his antisemitic bile in the SSPX for eighteen years.

An SSPX website described as “outrageous” Vatican II’s teaching that “the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from Holy Scripture.” SSPX bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, the authorized biographer of the society’s founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, said Jews were “the most active artisans for the coming of Antichrist.”

In a polarized media milieu, with conservative media mostly silent on antisemitism in the Church, it is left to liberal media like the National Catholic Reporter to report that while “not every traditionalist Catholic is antisemitic,” Jew-hatred “is often a feature of traditionalist groups.”

Whatever you think of the Reporter’s credibility overall, on this issue it seems correct.

In a March 22 tweet, E. Michael Jones, a high-profile antisemite and “Integralist” Catholic, ranted in a tone reminiscent of the Good Friday prayer for “perfidious” Jews: “As Holy Week approaches, we need to understand that it is time to take sides.”

“You now must decide whether you are on the side of Jesus Christ, the Logos incarnate, or on the side of those who killed the Logos Incarnate and have been subversive revolutionaries ever since,” Jones added. “If I were speaking to someone who was Jewish, I would say, ‘You killed Christ.'”

The Stream’s John Zmirak has documented Jones’ caustic views in depth.

Bishops Do the Right Thing for Once

In an attempt to combat the odious trend, beginning this year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will require a pastoral note on antisemitism to be placed in worship aids and pew missals ahead of Good Friday “to help ensure that the proclamation of the Lord’s Passion is not misused to promote anti-Jewish sentiment.”

“The Jewish people should not be referred to as though rejected or cursed, as if this view followed from Scripture,” the memo emphasizes. “The Church ever keeps in mind that Jesus, his mother Mary, and the apostles all were Jewish.”

The bishops are correct in their exegesis of the New Testament texts, as biblical scholarship has so widely demonstrated. The sibling rivalry in the embryonic church is between Jews who believe that the Messiah has come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and Jews who reject Jesus as the Messiah.

The New Testament offers testimony to an intra-religious rivalry between Messianic Judaism and Pharisaic Judaism, not an interreligious conflict between Catholic and Jew.

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Like Jesus, His Jewish disciples continued to worship in the temple and synagogue while also meeting in homes for “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

As Gentiles came to faith in Jesus, thanks to the evangelistic efforts of Jews like Paul, the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 envisions a fellowship of believers equally justified by grace through faith (the overarching argument of Romans) with Jewish disciples who remained obedient to the Torah, and Gentile disciples bound only by the Noachide laws.

Jew-hating Catholics need to heed Paul’s warning, reminding Gentiles that since they have been “grafted in” and “share in the nourishing root of the olive tree” of Israel, they are “not be arrogant toward the branches.” For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare them! “Otherwise, you too will be cut off!” (Romans 11:17-24)

 

Dr. Jules Gomes, (BA, BD, MTh, PhD), has a doctorate in biblical studies from the University of Cambridge. Currently a Vatican-accredited journalist based in Rome, he is the author of five books and several academic articles. Gomes lectured at Catholic and Protestant seminaries and universities and was canon theologian and artistic director at Liverpool Cathedral.

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