I strongly disagree with Caroline Glick’s conclusion in her May 27 article that Pope Francis “is leading the Catholic Church in a distressingly anti-Jewish direction.” I can understand Caroline’s distress at some of the pope’s actions and words but it is important to have balance and not draw wrong conclusions.
Pope Francis is totally committed to reconciliation between the Church and Israel. I would like to demonstrate this under five headings: 1. State of Israel Pope Francis in his first Encyclical in November 2013 affirmed God’s everlasting covenant with the Jews: “We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable’ (Rom 11:29).”
It is noteworthy that Pope Francis reappointed Father Raniero Cantalamessa as preacher to the papal household.
Fr. Cantalamessa, a renowned bible scholar and teacher, in his book The Mystery of Christmas affirmed the everlasting covenant, writing, “We share with the Jews the biblical certainty that God gave them the country of Canaan forever (Genesis 17:8, Isaiah 43:5, Jeremiah 32:22, Ezekiel 36:24, Amos 9:14). We know that the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
Other senior Catholic leaders have publicly affirmed the eternal covenant with the Jews. For example, Cardinal Schoenborn from Austria stated “Christians should rejoice in Jews’ return to Israel as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.” He stressed “the doctrinal importance to Christians of not only recognizing Jews’ connection to the land, but also ensuring that Christian identification with the Jewish Bible not lead to a ‘usurpation’ of Jewish uniqueness.
Only once in human history did God take a country as an inheritance and give it to His chosen people.”
2. Anti-Semitism Pope Francis has been at the forefront in condemning anti-Semitism.
It is not just when he is meeting Israeli dignitaries like President Shimon Peres last week, when he said, “There is need for a firm rejection of…
anti-Semitism in all its possible expressions,” but he has been involved in educating ordinary Catholics around the world on this issue.
In his November Encyclical Pope Francis teaches: “As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion. Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.”
Under Pope Francis’s tenure the Vatican continues to make immense strides in combating anti-Semitism.
For example, there have now been 22 meetings of The International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC). The ILC is the official forum for ongoing dialogue between the Vatican and international Jewish leaders. Its 22nd meeting took place in Spain, from 13-16 October, 2013.
It condemned the current rise of anti-Semitism and the growing phenomenon of Christian persecution.
3. Church and Israel linked together There are on going attempts at the de-judaization of Jesus, Mary and the apostles in popular Middle East Christian culture. Pope Francis in his Encyclical in November wrote, “The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (Romans 11:16-18).”
He was echoing the teaching of Nostra Aetate and Pope Benedict that “the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the good olive tree that is the people of the Covenant (Romans 11:17-24).
In other words, we draw our nourishment from the same spiritual roots.” (Apostolic Exhortation Sept 2010).
4. Replacement Theology Caroline Glick implied that Pope Francis had adopted “replacement theology during his homily in Bethlehem.”
I am confident this is not the case. Caroline observed that “In his sermon [Latin Patriarch Fouad] Twal accused Israelis of being the present-day version of Christ killers by referring to the Palestinians as walking ‘in the footsteps of the divine child,’ and likening the Israelis to King Herod.” Pope Francis, however, did not affirm these comments but turned them around by comparing all of us to Herod.
Senior Catholic clergy who espouse replacement theology are actually denying the official teaching of the Catholic Church clearly expressed in the Declaration Nostra Aetate, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in numerous declarations by John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. The official RC position on replacement theology is very clear. Senior Vatican Cardinal Walter Kasper set it out in 2003 in a major paper on “Anti-Semitism: A wound to be healed” that: 1. The Church does not replace Israel, but is grafted onto it.
2. A complete break between the Church and the Synagogue is in contradiction to sacred scripture.
3. God did not abandon his Covenant with the Jews.
This clear teaching on replacement theology is reaffirmed by many Catholic theologians around the world. Father Dermot Lane of Ireland wrote in his recent book Stepping Stones to Other Religions: “God’s Covenant with the Jews has never been revoked… and therefore theories of supercessionism, substitution and replacement, which have been in existence since the second century, must now be put aside.
These new perspectives are now an essential part of what it means to be Christian and Catholic in the 21st century.”
“It is time for the Church in Israel to definitively reject replacement theology, come back in line with mainstream Catholic teaching and humbly return to a healthy appreciation of its Jewish roots.”
5. Christians as fully fledged citizens: Israel is the only country in the Middle East in which the number of Christians is growing – up from 34,000 in 1949 to 161,000 in the 2013 census. So I was encouraged that Pope Francis stated to President Peres that, “A variety of Christian communities live and work in the State of Israel. They are an integral part of society. Christians wish to contribute to the common good and the growth of peace… as fullfledged citizens who reject extremism in all its forms and are committed to fostering reconciliation.”
Perhaps he had in mind courageous Palestinian Christian leaders like Father Gabriel Nadaf and Naim Khoury who stand with Israel in spite of strong Muslim opposition.
There are also a significant number of local Muslims who have become Christians in the past seven years and pay a big price for coming out of Islam – sadly the PLO’s proposed constitution has adopted Sharia Law, under which such Christians face the death penalty.
In his meeting with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople Pope Francis also expressed profound concern for persecuted Christians in Egypt, Syria and Iraq – we need to keep them in prayer.
Pope Francis has repeatedly said, “a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite.”
I would like to assure your readers that Pope Francis is leading the Church to rediscover the Jewish roots of our faith, to honor our elder brothers and see true reconciliation between Israel and the Church in the days ahead.
I end with Pope Francis’s parting words to President Peres: “Mr. President, I assure you of my continued prayers for the institutions and the citizens of the State of Israel…. Peace be upon Israel and the entire Middle East! Shalom!” Here he was echoing Psalm 122 that he had earlier placed in a crack in the Western Wall.
The author is a Catholic lay leader in Ireland.