I was appalled this weekend when I heard National Public Radio report that an Italian bishop had called the media coverage of the sex abuse scandal a "Zionist attack" on Catholicism. As if this were not bad enough, the bishop reportedly continued, saying that both the "freemasons and the Jews" are "natural enemies" of the church, and that "…deep down, historically speaking, the Jews are God killers."
His remarks were reported on a Web site called Pontifex. Now, the bishop – Giacomo Babini of Grosseto, who is retired, has since denied making those comments, but the Pontifex Web site is sticking by its story. And according to the British newspaper, the Guardian, "Babini has previously been quoted on the Pontifex website accusing Jews of exploiting the Holocaust, as well as criticizing homosexuality."
When the American Jewish Committee spotted the interview, it called Babini's remarks "slanderous stereotypes, which sadly evoke the worst Christian and Nazi propaganda prior to World War II." They demanded that the Italian Bishops' Conference condemn the remarks.
Later, Vincenzo Paglia, an official at the Italian Bishops' Conference, said that Babini's remarks were "entirely contrary to the official line and mainstream thought of the Catholic church." He could have added that they directly contradict the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
As I read all this, I recalled the interviews I've done with James Carroll, author of Constantine's Sword, the definitive work on anti-Semitism in Catholic history. Once, I thought that this was a waning prejudice; it was dying out. Now, I wonder… how many church leaders in Italy or elsewhere actually think such thoughts? This is abuse for which we need a policy of "zero tolerance."
Sadly, this bishop's remarks are another example of the self-focus of the Vatican in the wake of the sex abuse crisis. Official responses are not about the children abused. Rather, they try to characterize the Vatican itself as somehow a victim. In the process, Jews have now been re-victimized. How many more groups will be vilified before the Vatican "gets it?"
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