Isn’t it possible for the Pope to be Jewish? And if the Catholic Church someday elected a Jewish pope would that most likely help or harm Catholic-Jewish relations?
THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:
Timely topic one year after the breakthrough election of the first Western Hemisphere pope, Francis of Argentina, who succeeded the first two non-Italian popes in centuries.
The questioner notes a bit by Jay Leno, late of “The Tonight Show,” who told passersby the new pope was Jewish to trick them into giving false reactions. Gags aside, yes, it’s absolutely possible to have a pope who’s Jewish in ethnic identity and appreciation of that heritage — so long as he affirms those aspects of the Christian religion that differ from Judaism. Jesus’ apostle Peter was Jewish, after all, and he’s Catholicism’s first pope.
Not only that. In the 2005 papal election one feasible candidate was Jewish. More on him below.
Jewish popes have long been the stuff of legend. Orthodox Rabbi Berel Wein’s history blog says Jews even made the incredible claim that Peter abandoned Christianity and reverted to Judaism. Seven other stories:
* Pope Zosimus (who reigned in A.D. 417-418) was Greek but there were unsubstantiated reports he was also an ethnic Jew, perhaps because his father was named Abram.
* Pope Gregory VI (1045-1046), who abdicated soon after his election, supposedly came from Rome’s Pierleoni family of prominent Jewish converts to Christianity.
* Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) or Hildebrand, considered a great church reformer, was also possibly from the Pierleoni line.
* Pope Anacletus II (1130-1138), named Pietro Pierleoni, was unquestionably from that Jewish clan. Ah, but he was never actually a pope, according to the Catholic Church. In a hastily called election he won the support of a majority of cardinals while another faction that considered him corrupt met the same day to elect Innocent II (1130-1143), who migrated to France. Innocent is on the church’s official list of popes while Anacletus is branded a schismatic “antipope.”
* Pope Alexander III (1159-1181) might have been Jewish, according to unsubstantiated reports stirred by his amiable policy toward Jews.
* “Pope Andreas” was a figure of Jewish medieval folklore not found on the list of actual pontiffs. The story, first printed in Yiddish in 1602, claimed that Christians kidnapped him as a boy and he rose through the church ranks to the papacy while remaining a religious Jew at heart. Rabbi Wein says this tale “has had remarkable staying power in the Jewish world and is recounted in many books.” The legend most likely originated with an actual case of such repellent religious kidnapping in Germany.
And more recently: