The anti-Israel Catholic synod

The Catholic Church, it seems, no longer even pretends to be impartial in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it has done at times in the recent past.

Catholic Church (do not publish again) (photo credit: Avi Katz)
Catholic Church (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
CONTRARY TO THE largely positive interpretation in The Jerusalem Report (“Hearing Tolerance,” January 17), the recent Catholic Synod on the Middle East marked a sharp regression in attitudes towards Israel.
Carefully prepared for almost a year, the synod, held in Rome last October, produced a rash of anti- Jewish and anti-Israel statements on both political and theological issues.
Instrumentum Laboris, the preparatory document sent by the Catholic Church’s Holy See to the bishops last June, set the tone with a censorious paragraph on the Israeli occupation. The synod’s “final message” was equally one-sided, stating that the Palestinians “are suffering the consequences of the Israeli occupation: the lack of freedom of movement, the wall of separation and the military checkpoints, the political prisoners, the demolition of homes, the disturbance of socioeconomic life and the thousands of refugees.” Besides Iraq, the only country singled out for criticism in the Middle East was Israel.
The Catholic Church, it seems, no longer even pretends to be impartial in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it has done at times in the recent past. The final communiqué also calls for “the application of the [UN] Security Council’s resolutions and taking the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories.”
But it makes no reference to the other side of the coin: the Security Council demand of the Arab side for “termination of all claims or states of belligerency.”
Jerusalem is mentioned twice in the final message. Once with anxiety “about the unilateral initiatives that threaten its composition and… demographic balance,” and later with language reminiscent of the internationalized “corpus separatum” of the 1947 UN partition resolution (which the Arabs rejected), envisaging a political solution in which “the Holy City of Jerusalem will be able to acquire its proper status, which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim.”
During and after the synod, the Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, the cleric chosen to draft the synod’s conclusions, made declarations denying the Jewish people’s biblical right to the Promised Land. “We Christians cannot speak about the Promised Land for the Jewish people. There is no longer a chosen people. All men and women of all countries have become the chosen people. The concept of the ‘Promised Land’ cannot be used as a basis for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians. The justification of Israel’s occupation of the land of Palestine cannot be based on sacred scriptures,” he declared.
This idea is reinforced in the final message, which, under the heading “Cooperation and Dialogue with the Jews,” argues that “recourse to theological and biblical positions, which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices, is not acceptable.” The Catholic Church thus presumes to teach Jews how to read the Jewish Bible.
Other senior clerics were even more extreme. On Vatican Radio, Edmond Farhat, a Maronite Apostolic Nuncio, described Israel’s place in the Middle East in terms of a rejected foreign implant: “The Middle Eastern situation today is like a living organ that has been subject to a graft it cannot assimilate and which has no specialists capable of healing it. The foreign body not accepted gnaws at him and impedes him from taking care of his general state.
The Middle Eastern Muslim is in crisis. He revolts,” he averred. These declarations constitute a sharp departure from previous church statements. And, in my view, the change in tone stems from a growing fear of Islam. In Regensburg in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI spoke out against Islamic fanaticism. One had the impression that Europe had found a defender against the fundamentalists. But three months later the pope was obliged, probably by the Vatican administration, the Curia, to travel to Islamic Turkey and to visit a mosque in Istanbul. Nowadays, the church is so fearful of Islam that when the bishop of the Turkish city of Iskanderun was killed by a Muslim last June, no voice of protest was raised. The Vatican may well have concluded that while Israel is a safe target, it is dangerous to attack Islamic fundamentalists who might kill high-ranking Catholics in retaliation.
Ironically, the result has actually been a sharp rise in Muslim violence against Christians. Islamic fundamentalists may well have interpreted the synod’s decisions as a license to act. In some places, like Lebanon, where Iranian influence is growing, the local Christian community feels increasingly threatened by Islam. In others, there has already been bloodshed: For example, in Baghdad where 48 Catholics were murdered during a mass last October, and in Alexandria where 21 Copts were killed by a suicide bomber this January.
Following the collapse of Israeli diplomacy towards the Vatican, it is high time this country radically changes its approach. Israel should allow the fiscal exemptions it has promised the Vatican in the Holy Land, but, at the same time, demand that any new local bishops be appointed by mutual consent and that the Vatican cease its verbal sniping at Israel.
Sergio Minerbi, a senior Israeli diplomat until 1989, is a scholar specializing in relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews and the author of ‘The Vatican and Zionism’ (1990).