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The Pontifical Institute Notre Dame
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

The Pontifical Institute Notre Dame
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

The Pontifical Institute Notre Dame
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

The Old City wall across from the Pontifical Institute
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Netanayhu and the Pope : The Vatican's Relationship with Israel

by Rhonda Spivak March 26, 2014

The Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem completed in 1904  is 420 meters away from the David Citadel hotel , where Prime Minister Harper's delegation stayed during his hitoric visit to Israel in January. The Pontifical Institute is across from the New Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.


It is here in May 26 2014 that PM Netanyahu is to be meeting the Pope when he arrives in Israel (unless the visit is cancelled due to the strike by Israeli Foreign ministry officials).  Already there are commentators saying that this is the way for the Pope to humiliate the State of Israel by having Netanyahu come to him, rather than the Pope coming to the Knesset as he should for a State visit. (Note that from 1948 up until the 1967 Six Day War , The Pontifical Institute was in Jordan up until the 1967 Six Day War when Israel captured the Old City and East Jerusalem.)


On noticing the Notre Dame building,  I began  reflecting on the history of the Vatican’s relations with the State of Israel.


It wasn't until 1993 that the Vatican finally recognized the State of Israel! This was no accident—by 1993 the Vatican Finally felt it had to recognize Israel as by then even the Palestinians had negotiated the Oslo accords with the State of Israel.

The Vatican’s centuries old antisemitism  stems from its pronouncements that, as was written in the Gospel's, the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus.  The Catholic Church taught that the Jews were a cursed people who killed Jesus, and in rejecting Christ's gospel  they were condemned to wander the earth for eternity (hence the term "wandering Jew"). It taught that Jewish history effectively ended with the appearance of Christianity and that the Church constituted the "new Israel" (This is known as "replacement theology") and the Jews were eternally abandoned by God. In the eyes of the Catholic Church the destruction of Judea by the Romans, the fall of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the Jewish Holy Temple in the first century  signified  G-d's rejection and punishment of the Jews.  

It’s interesting to note that the Notre Dame Pontifical Institute is located across from New Gate—which again refers to the idea of  Christianity  replacing Judaism, just as the New Testament replaces the Old Testament. (The New Gate leads to the Christian quarter of the Old City.)
The deeply entrenched antisemitic theological doctrine of the Vatican resulted in Jews throughout Europe beginning in the Middle Ages begin banished, and ghettoized . It also resulted in the  levying of heavy fines on Jews, forced conversions, kidnapping of Jewish children to be raised as Christians, and the confiscation of Jewish property (including synagogues transformed into churches), as well as  anti-Jewish actions including the Crusades,  the Spanish  Inquisition, and Russian pogroms.
The Church helped promulgate the anti-Semitic hoax of a Jewish plan for global domination as set forth in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Interestingly, the first translation of this "blood libel" was translated by Arab Christians and published by a periodical of the Catholic Community in Jerusalem in 1926.
It is arguably impossible to fully understand the Holocaust without considering the fertile environment of antisemitism created over centuries by the Church which Hitler was able to draw upon and mobilize.  When Hitler rose to power in Germany, the Vatican was the first state to formally recognize the legitimacy of the Third Reich and maintained diplomatic relations with the Nazi government through the very end of the war.  Pope Pius XII chose to remain silent during the Holocaust notwithstanding many calls for help from the Jewish people, and similarly most Christian churches failed to respond, while others even collaborated with the Nazis. Quite shockingly, in 1943 at the peak of the Jewish genocide , Pius XII reaffirmed in his encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi, that Christianity superceded  Judaism and the Christian bible replaced the Jewish Bible, which had been abolished.
Regarding Israel, true to form, the Vatican initially opposed the British Mandate for Palestine that established Israel and, after the state's founding in 1948, it demonized Israel’s existence.  The founding of the Jewish State was problematic for the Catholic Church theologically since rendered invalid the church’s replacement theology and its doctrine about the Jewish people – that all Jews for generations to come were to be cursed and punished for deicide. In 1904, Pope Pius X told Theodore Herzl, Zionism’s founder, that he would never approve the movement as “the Jews have not recognized our Lord.” Most significantly, even as Jews were being gassed during the Holocaust, the Church was obsessed with preventing the creation of Israel and the return of Jews to their ancestral land. Why? Because this ran counter to Church theology that Jews were condemned to eternal homelessness for their crime of deicide almost 2,000 years earlier.
It  was not until 1965 that the  Vatican issued the Nostra Aetate, which released the Jews of today from responsibility for the death of Christ and also stated that the Jews  alive at the time of Christ, taken indiscriminately, were no more responsible for the death of Christ.  Note however that nowhere in  this 1965 document did it say that no Jew at the time of Christ was responsible for Christ 's death, given that it was the Roman governor Pontius Pilote who made the decision to crucify Christ.  Also of significance is that the document  failed to apologize for past Christian anti-Semitism and did not validate Judaism or recognize the State of Israel ( which by then had existed for 17 years !)
  The  1965 Nostra Aetate, states:

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ. Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.



When the Pope visits in May 2014, he will be attending mass in Bethlehem which will be boradcast, and there are commentators who say that the Pope prefers to attend mass there rather than Jerusalem as Bethlehem is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinians, while Jerusalem is run by  the Jews.
For more on this, see


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.