Author Rebuts Criticism of Popes on Jews
This is the cover of Were the Popes Against the Jews? Tracking the Myths, Confronting the Ideologues by Justus George Lawler. The book is reviewed by Eugene J. Fisher. (photo: CNS)
16 Jul 2012 Were the Popes Against the Jews? Tracking the
Myths, Confronting the Ideologues by Justus George
Lawler. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (Grand Rapids,
Mich., 2012). 405 pp., $35.
Reviewed by Eugene J. Fisher
Justus George Lawlers Were the Popes Against
the Jews effectively rebuts the negative critique of the popes of the 19th and 20th centuries in David Kertzers
2001 The Popes Against the Jews and in those of even
earlier books by Daniel Goldhagen and John Cornwell. In
so doing, Lawler makes a significant contribution to what
has become an ongoing discussion among scholars and
journalists. He carefully analyzes Kertzers presentation,
showing where he fudges and manipulates historical facts
Lawler tracks Kertzers anti-papal attacks from the
pontificate of Pope Pius IX through those of Leo XIII and
Pius X, XI and XII. In Kertzers view, each was not only
theologically triumphalist toward Judaism and presumed
the ancient Christian teaching of contempt that held Jews
collectively responsible for the death of Jesus, but also
propagated modern racial anti-Semitism, making the
Vatican the antechamber of the Holocaust. Kertzer
accuses the popes of inventing the phrase Satanic
synagogues, speaking of Jewish dogs running in the streets of Rome, and fostering and spreading ritual murder charges against Jews.
Lawler meticulously researches each accusation,
providing the necessary historical context to understand
the papal utterances as well as numerous statements and
actions of popes seeking to defend and help the Jews in
time of need.
Though incisive and in many ways decisive of the
historical questions it takes up, Lawler is not a theologian and does not seem to be familiar with the important
literature in the field of Catholic-Jewish studies. He often omits or misinterprets developments concerning the
Second Vatican Council's declaration on Catholic-Jewish
relations, Nostra Aetate, No. 4, and subsequent official documents of the Holy See and of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the works of the Catholic scholars in the field.
For example, Lawler erroneously equates the
concepts of fulfillment and supersessionism, defining
the latter as super-added when, in fact, the word means
to take the seat or place of, which is in effect to reject the churchs fundamental teaching on the ongoing validity of Gods covenant with the Jewish people. He likewise equates modern Judaism with the state of Israel, though many Israelis as well as American Jews have been as
critical of specific actions of various Israeli
administrations over the years as is he.
Lawler reprints a lengthy and negative review he
wrote in 1965 of Father Edward Flannerys
groundbreaking The Anguish of the Jews, ignoring the substantially revised second edition of the book. Father Flannery was my predecessor as director for Catholic-Jewish relations at the (then) National Conference of Catholic Bishops, so I take this slight a tad personally.
Tags: Vatican Jews Papacy Catholic-Jewish relations