In the name of radical Islamic-inspired nationalism, Mideast Christians of all
denominations, including Catholics, have faced devastating persecution for their
religious convictions. From the Gaza Strip and Egypt to Iraq to Turkey,
Christians have been murdered, had their churches burned to the ground and their
holy books destroyed, and have been demoted to secondclass citizens exposed to
libels and exploitation by Muslim neighbors.
Ostensibly with the purpose
of addressing these injustices and stemming the tide of a dwindling Christian
population in the Mideast, Pope Benedict XVI convened a special Vatican Synod in
Rome, composed of about 200 bishops mostly from Muslim countries. Yet these
bishops hijacked the synod and issued a statement Saturday that all but ignored
the plight of Catholics living in Muslim lands while singling out Israel’s
“occupation” for special castigation.
One of the synod’s leaders, Greek
Melkite Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, even reiterated anti-Semitic theological
positions that contradicted official Catholic positions as stated in Nostra
Aetate, a groundbreaking interfaith document drafted in October 1965 during the
Second Vatican Council that radically revamped the Church’s previous negative
views of the Jewish people.
Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish
Committee’s International Director of Interreligious Affairs, has now called on
the Vatican to issue a clear repudiation of Bustros’s “outrageous and regressive
comments.” We firmly join him in that call.
IT IS an undeniable fact that
the bulk of Christian persecution in the Mideast is perpetrated in the name of
Open Doors, an organization that tracks attacks on
Christians, regularly compiles a global “persecution index.” North Korea has
topped the list for many years.
However, of the top 10 countries on the
list, eight are Islamic and three – Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – are in the
Middle East. Egypt and Iraq are also listed in the top 20. The “Palestinian
Territories” is ranked 47, cited primarily as a conflict zone and also in part
due to the strife suffered by all Gazans, Christians included, as a result of
the destruction caused by Operation Cast Lead.
Open Doors takes pains to
note, however, that even before the offensive, which was directed at Hamas
terrorists, not Christians, “Many [Christian] believers had already left,
pressured by the growing influence of radical Islam...”
SO, IF radical
Islam is the principal persecutor of Christians in the Mideast, why was Israel
singled out? Apparently, by bashing Israel, Arab Catholic bishops as a
persecuted minority in the Mideast are attempting to go out of their way to
prove their loyalty to their Muslim brethren.
This is a common
socio-psychological phenomenon among Jews in response to anti-Semitism. Some
British Jews, for instance, have been known to become more British than the
Brits. Some of the most adamant communist ideologues in anti-Semitic Bolshevik
Russia were Jews.
So, too, Arab Christians have attempted to emphasize
their ethnic and cultural loyalties above their religious affiliation, not only
out of strongly heartfelt emotional ties to the Arab people, but also as a way
of neutralizing religious tensions.
When secular Pan-Arabism was still in
vogue, this tactic was much easier to pull off. Christians such as Popular Front
for the Liberation of Palestine founder George Habash, who was of Greek Orthodox
background, could join forces with Muslim terrorists under the banner of
However, with the rise of Wahhabism, the Muslim
Brotherhood, Al-Qaida, radical Shi’ism and other extremist Islamic movements,
Arab Christians have had an increasingly harder time integrating into their
respective societies. In a push to garner favor among Muslim extremists, the
temptation among the bishops to revert to pre- Nostra Aetate anti-Semitic
Catholic theology is evidently irresistible.
We can muster some
understanding, if not empathy, for Mideast bishops’ disingenuous and ultimately
self-defeating behavior, which will only perpetuate the persecution of
Christians by kowtowing to Muslim extremism. We cannot, however, excuse the
Vatican for allowing itself to be hijacked.
Bishops from this region have
distorted both church teachings and the facts to sully Israel, while the Vatican
has remained silent, in the process turning a blind eye to Christian
Pope Benedict XVI still has a chance to distance himself from
the synod’s declarations and make it clear that Bustros’s comments deviate from
Church teaching. That is the right and necessary thing for the pope to do – not
just for Jewish-Catholic relations, but also for the sake of the Middle East’s
persecuted Christian minority.