Vatican’s twisted priorities
Op-ed: instead of focusing on decline of Arab Christianity, Catholic Church chooses to demonize Israel
In a special interview with Die Tagespost last week, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, named by Pope Benedict to represent the Vatican in the Jewish State, declared that “Israel’s
existence as such has nothing to do with the Bible.” He then compared Christians’ condition in today’s Jerusalem with Jesus’ Passion: “We Christians never forget that even our Lord himself suffered and was mocked in Jerusalem.”
Twal's position on Israel and the Bible has been embraced at the highest levels in the Catholic Church. The Vatican synod in 2010 declared that Israel cannot use the Biblical concept of a promised land or a chosen people. “We Christians cannot speak about the Promised Land for the Jewish people”, the synod’s document said. “There is no longer a chosen people. The concept of the promised land cannot be used as a base for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians.”
A few days ago, Patriarch Twal responded enthusiastically to the agreement reached between Hamas and Fatah. He also denounced “the Judaization of Jerusalem” and attacked Israel for “trying to transform it into an only Hebrew-Jewish city, excluding the other faiths.” Elsewhere, Iraq’s Archbishop, Louis Sako, asked to “separate between Judaism and Zionism.” Indeed, in the most influential quarters of Christianity, Jews are still regarded as an apostate group not entitled to a sovereign state of its own.
Backed by the Catholic clergy, for the first time in history the Palestinians asked the United Nations’ cultural body to register Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity under the name of “Palestine.” According to Omar Awadallah, who heads the UN department in the PA Foreign Ministry, “Jesus is the Palestinian prince of hope and peace and Christians all over the world want that church to be a World Heritage site.”
In a period when the Vatican’s anguish at the catastrophic decline of Arab Christianity should be palpable, the Catholic Church chooses to demonize Israel and to increase its collaboration with the PLO. The confirmation comes from the intensity of high profile meetings in recent weeks and the participation of bishops not only from Arab countries, but from Europe and the United States as well.
A Vatican delegation comprising Ettore Balestrero, the Holy See’s Under-Secretary for Relations with States, and Archbishop Antonio Franco, Apostolic Delegate in Israel, just met in Ramallah with Palestinian ministers and officials for an agreement with the PLO. Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, in a first-ever interview for a cardinal on al-Jazeera, declared that Israel must adopt “an internationally recognized statute for that part of Jerusalem where the Holy Places of the three monotheistic religions are open to believers.”
Meanwhile, Catholic and Muslim dignitaries met in Beit Sahour for a conference on “How to live together in a future Palestinian state.” Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, and Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, attended the event organized by Al-Liqa, a Vatican ecumenical center. Sabbah signed a document condemning Zionism as “racial exclusivity” and “the ideology of empire and colonialism.”
Last January, eight Catholic bishops from Europe and North America, including UK Archbishop Patrick Kelly and French Archbishop Michel Dubost, visited Gaza. “I asked prisoners in the largest prison in Europe (in Evry) to pray for you,” Dubost told Gazans. The inference was clear: Palestinians are living in a big prison terrified by Israel. In the same period, Father Manuel Musalam, head of Gaza’s Catholics, met with Hamas leader, Mahmoud al Zahar, and declared that “Christians are not threatened by Muslims” but that everyone faces the same problem, that of Israel’s “humiliation.”
Last November, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, head of Lebanon’s Catholic Church, sent his envoy, Father Abdo Abou Kassem, to Tehran for a conference in support of a “Zionist-free middle east.” The conference was also attended by Hezbollah ideologue Mohammad Raad and by Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal.
If in the wartime period the Vatican had taken a moral stand against Nazism, the outcome might have been different for the Jewish people. But that was 1943. By 2012, the Church should know better. Yet it seems that as was the case in World War II, the Vatican is again pursuing a joint cause with evil forces to buy temporary security.
The Vatican’s criminalization of Zionism, which Arab Churches made a basic condition for Muslim-Christian rapprochement, grants the elimination of the Jewish State priority over defending the rights of their own beleaguered communities. After Arab nationalism failed to eliminate Israel, Arab Christianity and the Vatican are now building a Palestinian identity hostile to Israel and the Jews.
Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of the book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism