Got news? Vatican, Jews at odds

Last month a conflict erupted between Catholics and Jews, and it has gotten a good deal of attention in publications focusing on those community. But it still seems to be a complete non-issue for the mainstream media.

Here’s the background from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

The Vatican and the Jewish world are at odds over a U.S. bishop’s rejection of a biblical rationale for Israel as a Jewish state.

Greek-Melkite Bishop Cyrille Salim Bustros of Newton, Mass., said at an Oct. 23 news conference that for Christians, “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.”

Bustros was presenting the final document, or “Message,” of a monthlong Vatican synod of Middle Eastern bishops.

The advent of Jesus, he said, meant that Jews “are no longer the preferred people, the chosen people; all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.” Bustros added that “sacred Scripture should not be used to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestine.”

Not surprisingly, this caused quite the stir. The ADL’s Abe Foxman, who may be a bit hypersensitive to these things, wrote in a letter to the Vatican’s liaison to the Jewish community that Bustros had effectively said “Judaism should no longer exist.”

The Vatican downplayed the controversy, but the riff in Catholic-Jewish relations was unmistakeable, particularly for those Jews who believe in the Jewish state — the vast majority of Jews in both Israel and the Diaspora.

Next in the cycle of a news story were the op-eds. Here’s one from the Jerusalem Post asking “What Bible is the Vatican reading?” and another from WorldNetDaily that asks the same question and states “If Jews aren’t chosen, neither are we.”

In the latter from WND, Joseph Farah, after quoting a bunch of passages that talk about Jews as God’s chosen people, wrote:

I could go on and on. In fact, in Jeremiah 23:7, we are promised that this regathering of the Jews in Israel will one day be viewed as a bigger miracle than the Exodus: “Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.”

Even more importantly for Christians, however, is the fact that our own salvation comes through the promises to the Jews. That’s why it is so astonishing to me that we find this kind of illegitimizing of the prophets coming from the church. See Romans 11. As Paul wrote, by faith in Jesus, or Yeshua, a Jew, we are “grafted in” to the promises.

Now, you don’t have to agree with that. And you don’t have to believe that the state of Israel was predestined because the Bible talks about Jews returning home. But even the casual observer should at least be interested in the fact that a Synod of Catholic bishops would come out of a month-long session and deliver a message like Bustros did.

Add to that the history of tension between Catholics and Jews, from the Inquisition on through Catholic bishops being turned away from the Western Wall and blaming Israel for Christian flight from the MIdeast, and you have the makings of a very obvious news story.

It’s a bit stale now, the omission is awfully glaring.

PHOTO: Pope John Paul II at the Western Wall, from a post about the former Vatican ambassador to Israel saying “it was better when there were no diplomatic relations.”

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  • Jon in the Nati

    If Abe Foxman is hypersensitive to these things (and he probably is, given the ADL’s hair-trigger), then Abp. Bustros may be quite sensitive the other way. He is Lebanese by birth and ancestry, and lived there for most of his life; the Arab-Israeli conflict has impacted his people as well.

    To me, this casts his remarks in a somewhat different light, without either condemning or approving them.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    I’m sure you’re correct, Jon, but that shouldn’t really factor into Bustros’ biblical hermeneutics.

  • Jerry

    and blaming Israel for Christian flight from the MIdeast

    This is worth noting given the number of Christians including bloggers here who blame Muslims for this Christian flight. Maybe the truth is messier than anyone wants to accept.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    It is not uncommon in history for a third party to be squeezed unfairly when two other bigger or more powerful parties are in conflict as is happening to Christians all across the Middle East. And Jon is right about the different prisms through which Abe Foxman and the archbishop–based on their roots– see events.
    As far as Biblical understanding, a few off the wall comments by an archbishop at a press conference holds no water as official teaching of the Catholic Church–and it is only official teaching that counts in the end.
    And, of course, what it means to be God’s Chosen people means many different things to not only Christians, but also Jews. Considering what the Jewish people have suffered through history is (if my memory serves me correctly) why Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof said something along the lines of “If this is the way you treat your chosen people–couldn’t you please choose someone else.”

  • Hector

    I realise that this may be irritating to some, but Archbishop Bustros is simply expressing perfectly ordinary, unexceptional, and garden-variety Christian theology that dates back to the First Century. Look at the Letter to the Hebrews, for example.

    I don’t think the Jews are a ‘Chosen People’ anymore, and I believe the Old Covenant was superseded and abolished when Christ died on the cross. I realise that Jews see things differently, and that’s fine, but from my point of view Archbishop Bustros is absolutely correct. I think that there’s a _historical_ and _demographic_ case to be made for a Jewish state: the Jews deserve a country in the same way that the Japanese, the Nepalis, the Poles, and the Somalis deserve a country, because they’re a distinct national group with the right to self determination. It would have been better for the world if that homeland had been located somewhere other than Palestine- in Kaliningrad, perhaps- but what’s done is done, and Israel has a right to exist. Having said that, I’m completely unsympathetic to claims that ‘we deserve to own the Land of Israel because God said so’, and I’m thoroughly appreciative of Archbishop Bustros for saying so.

    The fondness for Israel among right-wing Protestant evangelicals really infuriates me, as does the way they twist and distort Christian theology to make their case.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Regardless of whether that is true, That’s not the point. The point is that based on the reaction this caused someone from the MSM should have written about this.

  • Julia

    But even the casual observer should at least be interested in the fact that a Synod of Catholic bishops would come out of a month-long session and deliver a message like Bustros did.

    The Synod did not come out with this message. It was a separate press conference.

    By the way, I tried to alert Get Religion that nobody was paying attention to this historic synod where incredible things were being discussed and GR wasn’t interested either.

  • Julia

    And the Synod was two weeks long, not a month.

    I still have not seen any MSM report on the address given at the Synod by the Syrian Catholic Archbishop whose cathedral was attacked in Iraq; or that his presences at the Synod in Rome is why he wasn’t at his Cathedral when it was attacked; or that the Patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church was one of the people chairing the Synod itself.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Sorry, I must have missed your email. But you’re exactly right.

  • Chip

    The point is that based on the reaction this caused someone from the MSM should have written about this.

    New York Times October 23

  • Maureen

    Nostra Aetate very clearly states that “according to the Apostle [Paul], the Jews, because of their ancestors, still remain very dear to God, Whose gifts and calling are irrevocable.” So yes, the Jewish people are still God’s chosen people. What’s different is that Gentiles who become Christians have been “wild olives” grafted into the chosen people; and that both Jews and Gentiles who became Christians have allowed themselves to accept the fullness of the New Covenant which completes and perfects the Old. But that doesn’t mean Jews stopped being God’s chosen people.

    The problem is that, other than the Pope, most of the Vatican Curia departments only have authority over the Latin Rite Church. They can’t say anything about Syriacs or Maronites or Ruthenians or what have you. The other Synod bishops didn’t mostly have that authority either, because they mostly seem to have been Maronites or Chaldeans or whatever, and not Syriacs. So probably the Vatican has been busy trying to find another Syriac patriarch or whatever, to give a statement about this, and there’s probably a lot of protocol and cultural barriers to getting this done quickly. (Especially since the Curia thinks snails are fast runners.)

    Everybody wants the Pope to do things collegially and by the numbers — until something happens, and then they want him to be a temporal monarch and despot again. Ya gotta pick one, and it ain’t the one with the Swiss Guard Ninja Death Squads.

  • John M

    Most Arab-American Christians whose opinions on Israel I’m aware of are, shall we say, not pro-Israel (Helen Thomas and Octavia Nasr, anyone?). Farah is a notable exception. I think it’s clear that his theology is driving him on this one (Romans 9-11, anyone?), but I’d be curious where he’s come on the Israel question in his lifetime, or more broadly, Arab-American Christian (or just Arab Christian in general) views on Israel. The Palestinian Christian minority is, IMHO, COMPLETELY underreported in the whole Israeli/Palestinian mess. Which is to say, they are almost totally ignored.


  • Hector

    Re: They can’t say anything about Syriacs or Maronites or Ruthenians or what have you.

    Just a quick note: most ‘Syriacs’ are not Catholics. There is a small Syriac Catholic Church, but there’s a much larger Syriac Orthodox Church, in communion with the churches of Egypt and Armenia.

    Re: Farah is a notable exception.

    Farah shows every sign of buying into the farrago of nonsense that is the fever dreams of the Tim La Haye, pro-Israel evangelical crowd. It’s possible to make a cogent and compelling secular argument for the right of Israel to exist, and it’s possible for Christians to make such arguments on the basis of natural law and on the right of all peoples to self determination. It’s not possible, in my opinion, for Christians to make a specifically biblical argument based on the Old Testament for the modern state of Israel, which is exactly what Farah is doing. The New Testament is very clear that the old covenant no longer applies, that the church is the new Israel, and that God has no more chosen people, but loves all peoples and nations of the world equally.

  • Julia


    Here’s John Allen’s coverage of the Synod about the Catholic Church in the Near East.

    In particular, read the last entry dated Oct 25th which addresses the statements that are causing so much consternation.

  • John Pack Lambert

    It is Muslims who assasinate, kill, murder, threaten and terrorise Christians in the middle east. Unless you think it is Israeli agents who do the suicide bombings in Iraq, or who do the gang-rapes of Christian girls in Egypt, it is hard to see how it is not the Muslims who are driving the Christians from the Middle-East.

    Even those who want to blame it on Israel at heart are engaging in the general behavior of deneying that Muslims are responsible for anything. Unlike the case for other people, the assumption is that Muslims are secondary reactionists and not capable of acting for themselves. If you think this is a negative, demeaning view of Muslims, than I would remind you that it is not my view, but the view of the mainstream media.

  • John Pack Lambert

    There are actually several pro-Israel Christian Arabs. Another one worth mentioning is Brigitte Gabriel, if for no other reason than that she is allegedly part of the growing anti-Islamic feeling and trend in Oklahoma.

    On another note, here is a link to a review of a book about the persecution of Christians by the Palestinian Authority Government.

  • Martha

    So one bishop, from a church in communion with Rome, at a conference of bishops from the Middle East makes a comment after the conference and suddenly this becomes Official Vatican Policy.

    Can we please get reporters who know the difference between (a) the Vatican (b) the Pope (c) the rest of the Universal Church (d) opinions and sound bites and press releases (e) declared dogma, doctrine and discipline?

    Is that too much to ask?

  • Julia


    It’s a lost cause. They know what they know because they learned it in Sunday School. don’t confuse them with contrary facts. That’s what my law partner told me in asserting that everything said in the DaVinci Code about the Catholic Church was true. She learned all of it in Sunday School.

  • Jerry

    John Pack Lambert, you apparently did not read that link that Brad made available and I commented on:

    Some bishops have singled out the emergence of fanatical Islam for the flight. But others have directly or indirectly accused Israel of discriminating against Arab Christians and impeding solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    So your argument is apparently with those Catholic bishops.

    What I did was make the observation that the situation is not as simplistic as you assert based on that news story.