This past Saturday, a synod of bishops in Rome tossed the theological equivalent
of a hand grenade, threatening to blow up decades of efforts to improve
Catholic- Jewish relations.
In a press conference at the Vatican,
Monsignor Cyril Salim Bustros, a Greek Melkite archbishop from Boston and
president of the Church’s Commission for the Message, launched a blistering
attack against the very foundation of Jewish belief.
Vatican synod calls for end to Israel’s ‘occupation’
The pope must speak up
Scriptures,” Bustros declared, “cannot be used to justify the return of Jews to
Israel and the displacement of the Palestinians, to justify the occupation by
Israel of Palestinian lands.”
Not stopping there, he went on to state
that “we Christians cannot speak of the ‘promised land’ as an exclusive right
for a privileged Jewish people... There is no longer a chosen
And so, in one fell swoop, a senior Church official sought to
deny the unique, covenantal relationship between God and the Jews, rejecting the
divine promise to restore the people of Israel to their Land. One cannot help
but wonder: What Bible is the Vatican reading? Whichever one it is, it must be
missing a few pages, as even a cursory glance at the Scriptures makes clear that
the Jewish people’s right to the Land of Israel is indisputably
Take, for example, Isaiah 14:1-2: “The Lord will have
compassion on Jacob; once again He will choose Israel and will settle them in
their own land.” Or how about Jeremiah 11:5, where God says: “I will fulfill the
oath I swore to your forefathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and
honey...” And then there’s Ezekiel 34: 11-13. And Hosea 3:4-5. And Amos
9:14-15. And Obadiah 1:17, Zephaniah 3:19-20 and Zechariah 8:7-8.
the point. But it doesn’t seem that the Catholic Church does.
Lebanese-born Bustros’s remarks caused a furor, the Vatican spokesman waited two
days before issuing a mealy-mouthed statement which did little to calm the
“If one wants a summary of the synod’s position, attention must
currently be paid to the ‘Message,’ which is the only written text approved by
the synod in the last few days,” the Vatican’s Father Federico Lombardi said.
“There is also a great richness and variety in the contributions made by the
fathers, but which as such should not all be considered as the voice of the
synod as a whole.”
Lombardi’s efforts to contain the fallout won’t fool
anyone. There is no getting around the fact that this convocation of bishops was
called by the pope himself. Moreover, the perception around the world was that
the Vatican had officially delegitimized Israel while assaulting Judaism itself.
As Catholic writer William Doino Jr. noted: “In a statement meant to be fully
and intensely Christian, Israel was singled out for blame and
criticism. That’s not fair, much less Christian.”
entire episode is little more than a cheap bit of politics wrapping itself in
the robes of religion. Bustros and his colleagues clearly have a political ax to
grind with the Jewish state, and they shamefully do not hesitate to invoke the
sacred for this most profane of goals.
My Christian friends tell me that
the words “Palestine” and “Palestinians” do not even appear in the New
Testament. So the learned bishops could not have come up with the idea of the
“occupation of Palestine” while attending Sunday school.
Bustros’s own definition, the founder of Christianity would also have to be
considered an “occupier” and a “settler,” for according to Christian belief,
Jesus the Jew was born and raised in Bethlehem.
That is the very same
Bethlehem that Bustros would now like to see become part of a Palestinian
No matter how one looks at it, the synod’s unbridled insult to
Israel and the Jewish people cannot be allowed to stand. If it is not denounced
and corrected forthwith, it will quickly be exploited by Israel’s enemies to
stir up still more hatred.
IN A letter to Cardinal-elect Kurt Koch, the
newly-appointed head of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with
the Jews, the Anti-Defamation League rightly singled out Bustros’s remarks as
“the worst kind of anti-Judaism, bordering on anti-Semitism.”
on Koch to “swiftly and publicly correct Archbishop Bustros’s shocking and
damaging statements,” and to clarify whether his “interpretation of the synod’s
final report reflects the intention of the synod on these profound theological
I would take it one step further. Given the Catholic Church’s
long and dark history of anti-Jewish persecution, it is only fitting that the
pope himself speak out loudly and clearly on this issue. It is incumbent upon
Pope Benedict to transform this turn of events into a profound opportunity to
atone for what the Church has done to the Jewish people through the
Ironically, it was 45 years ago today, on October 28, 1965,
that the Second Vatican Council approved a document known as Nostra Aetate,
which heralded a sea change in the Church’s position toward Jews. In its wake,
much has been accomplished in enhancing relations.
But Bustros and his
hate-filled rhetoric now threaten to undermine nearly half a century of dialogue
and progress. What a terrible shame that would be.
For while the Church
may pride itself on preaching love and tolerance, when it comes to its attitude
toward the Jews, it still has a long way to go.