by Dr. Eugene Fisher Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Fisher: You are a Vaticanista. Could you explain to our readers what a Vaticanista is?
Lisa:”Vaticanista” is the term invented by Italians to define journalists specialized in reporting on all aspects of Vatican related events, including the interreligious, and are accredited at the Press Room of the Holy See.
Dr. Fisher: When and why did you emigrate to the United States?
Lisa: I was born in Vienna and transported by my parents as a 2 year old on the transatlantic, “Normandie” (later destroyed by fire) in 1938 shortly after the infamous “Anschluss” by Nazi troops that united Austria with Germany. My father, Fritz Billig, a young independent, Viennese philatelist (later to achieve international renown for his “Philatelic Handbooks”, an encyclopedia on stamps and forgeries) traveled a great deal to enrich his list of customers, and as a passionate amateur photographer recorded the history of his times with his beloved Leica. Among his photos, some taken unseen with his professional angle-viewer, there were those of the early years of Nazi Germany documenting the infamous anti-Semitic slogans that sullied storefronts, a Nazi youth march, the swastika signs meant to distinguish the names of “Aryan” from Jewish tenants on condominium entrances, etc. This for him, was the “writing on the wall” warning him of an imminent catastrophe, so he set about securing his family the necessary documents for emigration and spreading the word to our Viennese Jewish relatives and friends. Unfortunately many were incapable of imagining that things could get so much worse, used as they were to an endemic national and historic antisemitism that, although nasty, permitted them to live and work freely. The immeasurable tragedy subsequently overtook them before they could act to procure their safety. Those that made it, through my father’s guaranteeing visas for them to the U.S., were hosted in our home in Jamaica New York, until they could become self-sufficient.
Dr. Fisher: When did you become a journalist for the Jerusalem Post and what type of articles did your write?
Lisa: I grew up in New York, received my B.A. and M.A. from Barnard College and Columbia University. For a summer and over a year I taught English to Foreign Students at the University of Puerto Rico and then all the five universities of New York City, including the New School for Social Research. In 1961 I accepted a teaching position at the American Overseas School of Rome.
After my marriage and my starting work at the World Jewish Congress office in Rome that was intent along with all other Jewish agencies at the time on advocating and promoting the “Document on the Jews” that was to become Vatican II’s “Nostra Aetate”, in October, 1965, I received a phone call from a college friend who had made Aliyah to Israel: Could I cover a breaking news story for the Jerusalem Post regarding Mordechai Louk, an Israeli Mossad agent found gagged and tied up in the boot of an Egyptian diplomat’s car about to be spirited out of Rome by plane?
I brashly accepted and with the help of my husband, Franco Palmieri, a professional Italian journalist and novelist, I rewrote his drafts three times, translated the last into English, and filed my story. That was the beginning of my relationship with The Jerusalem Post. During the early years I wrote about everything of interest to the Jewish and Israeli world – Italian politics, culture, Jewish life, and the Vatican.
I did a series of in depth stories about Pope St. John Paul II and the case of the Carmelite nuns of Auschwitz, but also free-lance stories such as a very special and exclusive interview – as a Jewish journalist - with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on “Jews and Judaism in the Universal Catechesis” published in Italian by “Studi Cattolici” and in English by “Midstream”. (Our conversation traveled between German, English and Italian).
When the format of JPost underwent editorial slimming, my rambling features became tighter. (A stint at three minute radio broadcasts for “Kol Israel” had provided me with good training.) In addition to political analyses I covered the visits of every Jewish delegation that came for papal audiences and who inevitably brought up the topic of the absence of diplomatic recognition of the State of Israel by the Vatican, until finally the Fundamental Agreement was signed just before New Years, December 30, 1993 and after the Madrid Peace Conference, following the PLO’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist in peace and Israel’s response of officially recognizing the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.
The Vatican used these events to justify their recognition of Israel, which had been impeded by the concerns of the Catholic Church regarding possible retaliations by Arab countries on their Christian minorities. Vatican spokesman Joachim Navarro in fact, explained that the time had come for diplomatic relations since “the PLO and Israeli representatives have met officially in Madrid, so why should the Holy See not also recognize the State of Israel?”
Dr. Fisher: When did you begin writing for La Stampa – Vatican Insider?
Lisa: Since its first issue in June, 2011. My initial contribution was an interview with the Israeli diplomat Nathan Ben Horin, who had volunteered and borne the scars of action first as a fighter in the French Resistance and then in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. He had served in Rome during various periods ranging from the 1960s, during the Second Vatican Council, through the 1980s. He was deeply committed to developing the potentials of “Nostra Aetate”, and he lent deeper meaning to this commitment by his honest approach in honoring the memory of the historical tragedies that had so deeply wounded past relations between Jews and Christians. He found valuable partners in his mission, working with Church pioneers in creating a new and fruitful dialogue.
Ben Horin revealed to me the details of his first-hand knowledge of several past, unsuccessful attempts of the Israeli government and the Holy See to establish diplomatic relations in those years. They came close to the goal several times, but always failed because of a last minute, unforeseen detail, or a premature leak to the press that provoked opposition.
Dr. Fisher: Recently, you have written important articles for La Stampa/Vatican Insider on the International Interreligious Conference on Jesus and the Pharisees and an interview with Dr. Etienne Veto, Director of the Cardinal Bea Center for Judaic Studies of the Pontifical Gregorian University, who argues that “Jews and Christians are the same.” Could you briefly summarize these and tell us if you felt that either or both represent significant breakthroughs in the Jewish/Catholic dialogue? Do they open avenues for future dialogues, whether official or academic?
Lisa:. Actually Gene, Fr. Etienne Veto did not say explicitly that Jews and Christians are “the same”, but rather that they “have the same roots.” He said, “We are against syncretism. We do not need conversion. I’m becoming a better Catholic in the process, and Jews tell me they are becoming better Jews. Seeing the same roots reflected in the eyes of the other enriches a vision of our own roots. And, in this case, they happen to be the same.” He described his overwhelming feeling of being “at home” in Jerusalem. “I sensed that the Lord did not want us to separate into two religions and that I must follow in this direction. Clearly, however, this does not call for conversions, just living together and believing that we can grow closer and closer until we become really One, through ways only God knows and can bring about.”
Fr. Veto practices and implements what he preaches, taking every opportunity to personally and professionally engage in dialogue and deepen friendship with the Jewish world. I think his deeply sincere and poignant testimony together with the glowing warmth he transmits could inspire others to follow up the same path.
As Director of the Cardinal Bea Center, he also contributed to the recent “Jesus and the Pharisees” international, interdisciplinary conference, an extraordinary success of great significance. It was organized by the Pontifical Biblical Institute and hosted by the Pontifical Gregorian University. AJC was one of the co-sponsors. The main architect of this conference, Prof. Joseph Sievers, worked in close contact with Michael Kolarcik, Rector of the “Biblicum” as well as with AJC’s International Interreligious Affairs Director, Rabbi David Rosen, and myself.
The Conference (whose three full days can be relived in the videos permanently viewable on the Gregorian University and Biblical Institute’s internet site (https://www.jesusandthepharisees.org) was a remarkable ground-breaking journey conducted by scholars and experts that moved in time and space from ancient Jewish and Christian as well as archaeological sources through Patristic Literature, Jewish interpretations, and Passion Plays, including a fascinating testimony of the metamorphosis of the traditional Oberammergau Passion Play from a horrifically anti-Semitic representation that once ignited massacres against the “God killing Jews”, to its present modern version which includes multi-religious actors where formerly the roles were strictly confined to Catholics.
The positive evolution of this world famous and controversial Passion Play was achieved through consultation and dialogue between the town’s leaders, the play’s director (whose family owns the town’s main hotel and has run the production for centuries) and experts from international Jewish organizations such as AJC and ADL.
Representations of the Pharisees in the movies were also reviewed, as well as the contents of religion text books and homiletics. The 3 day educational excursion culminated in a discussion on how to increase and further diffuse efforts to educate future generations against false and hateful stereotypes.
The raison d’etre of this conference was the persistence of the use of “Pharisees” in a negative sense in everyday language, signifying legalistic, arrogant, hypocritical, soul-less people, and is often employed to provide antitheses for ethical and virtuous actions. Even Pope Francis, who is doubtlessly considered as being a warm and great friend of the Jewish People and who can certainly not be accused of anti-Semitism in any form, has often used the term (apparently unaware of the possible consequences of his resuscitating ancient stereotypes) to decry contemporary unethical and hypocritical “clerical” behavior among Christians themselves, in opposition to the true spirit of the Gospels. Through the ages, “the Pharisees” has often been used as a derogatory synonym for “the Jews.”
During the concluding speeches, some important and practical educational principles were presented by Professor Amy-Jill Levine, the Jewish New Testament scholar and author who co-edited the well-known, innovative “Jewish Annotated New Testament”.
Dr. Fisher: You are the American Jewish Committee's Representative in Italy and Liaison to the Holy See. Have you insights into Jewish-Catholic dialogue that you would like to share with our readers?
Lisa: Considering the dramatic changes in the climate of Jewish-Christian relations in the past 100 years, changes that accelerated in an unprecedented fashion from Vatican II on, it is tempting and I believe correct to define this process as revolutionary.
In less than a century, the mindset of a 2000 year old historical pattern has been seriously challenged. The Church has largely undergone profound soul-searching and reckoning with a very painful past by leading forces within the Catholic Church from John XXIII onwards throughout the various papacies up to the present day.
The path was paved and illuminated above all by St. John Paul II’s unforgettably poignant historical gestures, the words and images of a series of events witnessed across the globe via modern media: the first official visit of a Pope to a synagogue, establishing diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel, Wojtyla’s denouncing anti-Semitism as “a sin against God and Man” - and to better appreciate this giant step forward it should be recalled that in 1965, in order to appease the vociferous opposition by Arab and ultra-conservative Vatican Council Fathers and win their votes, the authors of the final version of the “Nostra Aetate” document did not go further than to “deplore...manifestations of antisemitism”, and cautiously specify that the Church was “not moved by any political consideration, but solely by the religious motivation of Christian charity”.
And finally, St. John Paul II’s poignant prayer slipped with weak and trembling hands into a crack of Jerusalem’s holy Western Wall, the Church’s “Mea Culpa” on behalf of the “errors” of its “sons and daughters” that caused so much suffering, his pleas to God for forgiveness in the prayers marking the beginning of the Second Millenium in Rome – all these and more, have been imprinted into the new Christian-Jewish conscience. AJC and the other main representative Jewish organizations plus individual leaders have responded with increasingly positive views and statements regarding the importance of our friendship in facing the tremendous challenges of our times. Over and again we hear voices on both sides repeating that we share the same roots and basic values and must commit to uniting our efforts and joining forces to meet the serious challenges to creating a better, more peaceful world. We have moved from extreme pain and anger to a more mutually trusting relationship.
However, we are also aware that reactionary forces propelled by politics, and ideologies that spin out false utopian dreams which evolve into endless nightmares, obfuscating the basic value of respecting the sanctity of individual lives, that thrive on ignorance while antisemitic stereotypes and other forms of generalized hate continue to smolder just beneath the surface of our achievements and are still ready to re-emerge whenever and wherever our resolve begins to waver. Therefore, we cannot afford to weaken our commitment to dialogue as the only alternative to war and destruction. AJC and other Jewish groups are well aware of this, as are many of our Catholic partners.
Dr. Fisher: You published an interview about “Jews and Judaism in the Universal Catechism” with Joseph Ratzinger twenty-five years before he was elected as Pope Benedict. How did his views on Jews and Judaism evolve over the years and during his pontificate?
Lisa: In Joseph Ratzinger’s early life as a priest, a teacher and a Cardinal, unlike his predecessor and his successor, Joseph Ratzinger did not have Jewish friends and had almost no experiential familiarity with contemporary Jewish life or thought; nor was he acquainted with the different aspects of Judaism’s evolution and the manifold different forms of its expression through the centuries . He was and has remained, above all, a professor, a Catholic intellectual, a devout theological scholar, bent on an unending search for correct interpretations of the Holy Scriptures. He has always been most respectful towards Jews and Judaism, especially in light of his special sensitivity as a German national who was at first regarded with suspicion. This was quite evident in the great attention he paid to avoiding any possible anti-Jewish insinuations in the work he directed regarding the editing of the Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church - as he told me during our conversation.
Previously, as the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (ex “Holy Office”) in the early 1990s, he accepted an invitation by Rabbi David Rosen to speak in Jerusalem at a conference on “Religious Leadership in a Secular Society.” His description of Judaism was still rather stilted at the time, but he did not hesitate to declare in an interview with me that “the Jewish People have a right to this land”.
The initial veil of mistrust by many regarding the naming of a Teutonic Pope was quickly dispelled at the outset. Ratzinger’s abhorrence of the Nazi regime and his high consideration for the Jewish People is reflected in his writings, particularly noteworthy in his long essay, “The Sacred Scriptures and the Jewish People”. The warmth he expresses in personal encounters with representatives of the Jewish religion is authentic.The obstacles for him lie in the meanders of theological subtleties that define Christian beliefs but have also been misused in a triumphalist, super-sessionist sense in the past, glorifying Christianity by relegating the Jewish religions to being – at best -- “incomplete”, whose purpose was merely to prepare the way for and be replaced by Christ.
Since his resignation and changed status as “Pope Emeritus”, Benedict XVI has taken to solitary reflections regarding the Vatican’s official documents concerning the Church’s religious relations with Jews, and the remaining theological conundrums of apparently unsolvable contradictions, such as the eternal coexistence of different covenants found in the Torah and in the New Testament.
He finds them disturbing and, not satisfied with their depiction as “Divine Mysteries” (as described by Cardinal Koch at the 2015 Vatican presentation of the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews’ document commemorating Nostra Aetate’s 50th anniversary, “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable”), Ratzinger seeks to better explain their true meaning and their hidden truths.
He has a conservative character that attributes great value to having a solid Catholic tradition, which for him defines the all important Christian religious identity. (In fact, contemporary internal disputes within the Catholic Church often resort to placing at opposite poles the “traditionalist” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the “pastoral” Pope Francis, who is depicted as the Christian Voice for the oppressed).
More than any other recent Pope and more than Francis himself, Joseph Ratzinger has repeatedly spoken out against the dangers of the secularization of society, of “syncretism” and of “relativism”, which has often been translated as “New Age” thought, or as agnosticism, or atheism or simply as inferring that there are several different, but equally valid paths towards Enlightenment and God as practiced by the world’s religions.
Apparently deeply disturbed by the dispersive anti-traditional forces of our times, Ratzinger has taken to a strong defense of his Christian identity, attracting a considerable following among the more conservative wing of the Catholic Church. In the course of his path of research and introspection, he has come close to backtracking on assertions in recent Vatican documents that were hailed by Jewish leaders as landmarks in the history of Christian-Jewish relations.
A remarkable achievement was accomplished in 2015 when 48 leading Orthodox rabbis from around the globe signed an “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity”. They affirmed “Now that the Catholic Church has acknowledged the eternal Covenant between G-d and Israel, we Jews can acknowledge the ongoing constructive validity of Christianity as our partner in world redemption, without any fear that this will be exploited for missionary purposes.
As stated by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s Bilateral Commission with the Holy See under the leadership of Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, ‘We are no longer enemies, but unequivocal partners in articulating the essential moral value for the survival and welfare of humanity’. Neither of us can achieve G-d’s mission in this world alone.” This document was followed two years later by the better known, slightly more sober, second all-Orthodox Jewish statement, “Between Jerusalem and Rome.”
Ratzinger’s essay on relations with Jews published last summer by the German review, “Communio” seemed at first to question and challenge these advances in mutual understanding, but subsequent to the Pope Emeritus’ correspondence with a group of German rabbis followed up by personal meetings, the problems seem to have been clarified and laid to rest for the moment. Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, it took 9 months for the Vatican to sponsor a translation of the article into Italian. This delay reinforced the impression among “vaticanisti” that the Vatican would continue to give official recognition only to the specialized Vatican departments entrusted with producing documents that required approval from the present Papal Authority.
Ratzinger’s essay was treated, to all effects, as the private, personal opinion of an unofficial, albeit high-ranking theological scholar.
Dr. Fisher: Could you comment on the rise of Antisemitism in Italy? In Europe in general?
Lisa: AJC has indicated that the sources of contemporary antisemitism fall into 3 major categories: 1) the Far Left, 2) Islamism (or Islamist extremism) and 3) the Far Right.
The rise of anti-Semitism in Western Europe traceable to these three sources can be described as follows.
1) political exploitation by pro-Palestinian political forces on the Far Left whose goal is not that of achieving a fair two-state solution for Israel and Palestine that would foresee peace and security for both sides but whose goal is, rather, to arouse anger and hatred against Israel, aiming at the destruction of the Jewish State, which is to be replaced by the one “democratic” State of Palestine, whose destiny, as should be clear to any reasoning being, would be an ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population led by a Hamas, Fundamentalist, Islamic tyranny. As it is well known that the majority of European Jews have emotional as well as familial ties with Israel, the “anti-Zionism” of BDS and related groups is in reality synonymous to anti-Semitism.
2) European Islamist Extremism feeds on the ignorance and previous conditioning of Muslim immigrants, who have been taught to hate Jews and Israel in mosques and in schools of their countries of origin, whose educational standards are severely under par, that chronically toll a severe dearth of respectable textbooks and where, as a result, children are conditioned from early years on by fundamentalist forms of Shariah.
They have had no experience or history of the separation between Religion and State laws, but are instead familiar with women and girls being treated as second class citizens if not as slaves in social systems tailored to the rule of male chauvinism. Then, of course, economic and social hardships that create feelings of inequality for first, second and third generation Muslim immigrant families in European societies provide further fodder for hatred aimed at Jewish co-citizens, once again used as Scapegoats. Our cherished concepts of liberty, equality, democracy and freedom have no meaning in these mini or maxi oppressive social environments.
3) The Extreme Right in Europe takes on different forms in different countries. These groups are often “fellow-travelers” of a disgruntled anti-immigrant European Right that fears a takeover of European civilization by a Sharia governed Muslim population that, without birth control, will multiply exponentially and decide (or wreck) the future of European civilization -- ironically, by means of our very democracies themselves, which were built on the blood and tears of generations of Europeans who fought and died for their firm beliefs in freedom and equality for all. Far Right extremist groups are paradoxically strong in countries like Poland and Hungary where the immigrant population is numerically much smaller than in other areas of Europe.
Again paradoxically, these political factions are often stalwartly pro-Israel while at the same time harboring the ancient germs of ageless, venomous anti-Semitic tropes.
I feel that while undoubtedly these descriptions depict the nature of the rise of antisemitism in countries like the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Sweden, etc., these categories break down into nuanced sub groups that incorporate additional elements in Italy and above all in Eastern European countries like Poland and Hungary.
Italians have lately produced some shockingly nasty anti-Semitic comments on social media that are substantially non other than the usual, resuscitated, classic antisemitic stereotypes, now applied in a political context as slanderous accusations against Jews who favor the welcoming of desperate migrants and their integration into European society. In Eastern Europe, George Soros – a highly successful financier and international philanthropist, whose critics and enemies always refer to in subliminally anti-Semitic tones as “a Hungarian Jewish Holocaust survivor”, hinting at his having resorted (as a child!) to dubious means for his survival – is indicated as “The Demonic Enemy” and as the Scheming Manipulator of an uncontrollable influx of migrants pushing at the frontiers of nations. His aim, according to his detractors, is to destabilize Europe, break down the continent’s national structures and cherished traditions, replacing the indigenous population and civilization with a flood of homeless, jobless, radicalized Islamist migrants, turning Europe into a multicultural cauldron.
In other words, in popular imagery, Soros is being used as an antisemitic icon - the proverbial Jewish Scapegoat for the frustration and anger of populations over economic hardship, governmental corruption and mismanagement. As we know from dire experience, the Scapegoat strategy has always been used by the ruling classes to deflect attention from their own responsibilities, repeatedly provoking Europe’s periodic, historic, violent anti-Semitic uprisings and pogroms.
In Italy the lowering and the leveling of cultural standards, the vulgarization of public speech, and also country’s reluctance to examine and include in school programs the objective history of the origins of Fascism and the subsequent undeclared civil war during the years when Mussolini reigned supreme, has freed and dispersed post-war taboos and restraints that had for decades impeded public expression of antisemitism.
Thus, a parliamentarian recently blithely recited as “facts” some of the artfully created antisemitic lies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, the Czarist sponsored “fake news” book of slander against Jews aimed at creating needed scapegoats for the regime, and later adopted and presented as “gospel truths” by Hitler, the Nazis, and even later, up to the present day, by Arab countries. The Italian parliamentarian (of the 5 Star Movement) was reprimanded, but permitted to maintain his MP position and title. The social media, moreover, are rampant with antisemitic conspiracy theories and slurs against public Jewish personalities in the media and elsewhere. Soccer matches are rarely free from anti-Semitic epithets plastered onto walls and fences, printed on banners, worn on shirts, or simply shouted out at rival teams.
However, to date, the percentage of anti-Semitic physical aggressions in Italy is, thankfully, practically inexistent and certainly incomparably smaller than in countries like France and Germany. This may be partially due to the equally small percentage of Islamic immigrants in this country – although anti-Semitic and anti-Israel conditioning in this section of the Italian population is tangible and can be heard and felt when wandering through streets and engaging in conversations in the bars and restaurants of neighborhoods where Muslim immigrants gather.
In Eastern European countries and particularly in Poland, there survives a festering, still open and bitter resentment over an unresolved, unreconciled conflict regarding the role played by Jews for and against Communism. Like all other people in these countries, Jews were active both pro and con – but were inevitably scapegoated as “Enemies of the People” from all sides, not excluding officials of the Polish Catholic Church. Negative stereotypes in this area of the world are fortified by vestiges of the age-old slander of Jews contained in the perverse “teaching of contempt” that still survives in areas of the Catholic hierarchy. Indeed, they should have become obsolete nearly 6 decades ago following the promulgation of “Nostra Aetate”, but they are still alive and kicking in ecclesiastic, government and media circles.
These are the basic ingredients of East European anti-Semitism, a particularly virulent form that defies the repeated warnings by Pope Francis, Benedict XVI, and St. John Paul II that “an anti-Semite cannot be a (true) Christian.”
Dr. Fisher: Pope Francis is the only pope ever to have co-written a book with a Jew. He has made strong statements condemning antisemitism and promoting the dialogue. What more can or should the Church (all of us, not just the pope) do to counteract antisemitism and promote better relations between Jews and Catholics?
Lisa: Much could be said in reply to this most important question. There is still so much that needs to be better analyzed and better understood from a multidisciplinary perspective. However, a few of the things that need to be done are quite obvious, and I hope the following considerations will be helpful.
AJC holds that public denunciation of anti-Semitic speech and incidents by respected, influential political and/or religious authorities is essential. They set examples and draw moral limits for acceptable behavior. Anti-hate laws and anti-prejudice training is also important. These rules also hold for anti-Zionist slander (note: not to be confused with legitimate criticism of the Israeli government) as well as for other forms of antisemitism. Further, we need to convince all governments to adopt and use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “working definition of antisemitism" and spread knowledge about and familiarity with it.
Regarding the specific role of the Church, well first of all I think more control should be exercised over anti-Semitic remarks in speeches by Church officials, and public disapproval by the Church be expressed in a more outspoken way. Here is a recent example of clerical antisemitism.
In Poland, the Bishop of Tarnow, Andrzej Jez, during his recent Holy Thursday sermon, cited a 1937 edition of the Polish periodical Nasza Sprawa that referenced the 10th World Zionist Congress of 1911 and asserted that Jews control the media, that decades ago they launched a plot against the Church, and are today responsible for certain accusations of misbehavior by priests in Poland. “A certain nation” plotted early in the 20th century to divide and slander the Catholic Church, Bishop Jez said.
Rabbi David Rosen, AJC’s International Interreligious Affairs Director reacted by stating that “Bishop Jez’s outrageous anti-Semitic comments betray the profound example and commitment of St. John Paul II to a relationship of true mutual respect in keeping with the groundbreaking Nostra Aetate document adopted by Vatican Council II more than 50 years ago. The tepid response by Catholic leaders in Poland to Bishop Jez’s outlandish sermon is deeply disturbing.” He seconded the view expressed by Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich who said Bishop Jez’s sermon shows “there is a problem that needs addressing inside the Catholic Church in Poland.”
Several other examples of anti-Semitic comments by high Church officials in different parts of the world equally reveal deep hatred and a regrettable lack of knowledge and educational background - in dire contradiction with the responsible and authoritative role that has been entrusted to them. This too points to the need for greater commitment by Church authorities to higher universal standards for Catholic education, especially in the global formation of seminarians. It would be desirable that scholastic programs incorporate courses on Judaism, on the history of Jews in Europe and their contributions to European civilization, as well as on the history of Zionism, Israel and the Middle East, and of course, more capillary and in-depth teaching of the essential documents on religious relations with Jews produced since “Nostra Aetate”.
An area where both Catholic clerics and lay people could also become more active is in showing greater awareness of the negative potentials of New Testament and Patristic studies that do not include teaching the historical background of the period. This is essential if we are to avoid too literal, face value, superficial, and therefore anti-Semitic interpretations of the texts by new generations who have not lived through World War II and are unacquainted with the history of the origins and roots of Christianity or the competitive struggle for expansion by Christianity’s early converts. As mentioned earlier, professor Amy-Jill Levine could certainly reference such work.
Another area that has perhaps not been sufficiently fine-combed for anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic assertions and interpretations is that of Patristic Literature – the writings of the Church Fathers during the first five centuries, when competition between the older and younger fraternal religions was at its highest.
And finally, but not conclusively, as a lifelong activist in Jewish-Christian Friendship circles and in the Religions for Peace movement (formerly known as WCRP – the World Conference on Religions for Peace), I am also convinced that personal friendships are a wonderful and most effective means for overcoming prejudice that is often born out of ignorance of the other. Friendships between people of all the world’s religions, inclusive of non-believers and atheists (who are and always have been discriminated against by religions that acquire political power and unduly overtake the reign of Caesar) allow mutual discovery of common values, facilitating the joint construction of bulwarks against the ever mounting threats of antisemitism and of the destruction of democratic systems via a lack of consensus regarding the basic principles that provide our roots and are expounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.