The Popes Against The Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism by David I. KertzerThe Popes Against The Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism by David I. Kertzer

The Popes Against The Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism

byDavid I. Kertzer

Paperback | September 24, 2002

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In this meticulously researched, unflinching, and reasoned study, National Book Award finalist David I. Kertzer presents shocking revelations about the role played by the Vatican in the development of modern anti-Semitism. Working in long-sealed Vatican archives, Kertzer unearths startling evidence to undermine the Church’s argument that it played no direct role in the spread of modern anti-Semitism. In doing so, he challenges the Vatican’s recent official statement on the subject, We Remember. Kertzer tells an unsettling story that has stirred up controversy around the world and sheds a much-needed light on the past.
David I. Kertzer was born in 1948 in New York City. He is Paul Dupee, Jr. University Professor of Social Science and a professor of anthropology and Italian studies at Brown University. He is the author of The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. The Popes Against the Jews was a finalist for ...
Title:The Popes Against The Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-SemitismFormat:PaperbackPublished:September 24, 2002Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0375706054

ISBN - 13:9780375706059


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IntroductionEdward Cardinal Cassidy, Australian head of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, called in reporters to announce the long-awaited results of his investigation. It was March 16, 1998--eleven years after Pope John Paul II had asked the Commission to determine what responsibility, if any, the Church bore for the slaughter of millions of European Jews during World War II. For the Church, a more explosive subject could hardly be imagined. It had been thirty-five years since Rolf Hochhuth's play The Deputy had first raised the charge of papal complicity in the Holocaust, triggering Catholic outrage worldwide. Yet the suggestion that the Vatican bore any responsibility for what had happened to the Jews continued to grate on Catholic sensibilities. And so nervousness mixed with curiosity as the report was finally released to a public sharply divided between those worried that it might criticize the Church, and those who feared it would not.Heightening the drama and underlining the significance of the event, the Pope himself wrote an introduction to the report. John Paul II hailed the Commission document--"We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah"--as an important part of Church preparations for the upcoming millennial celebrations. To properly observe the jubilee, the Pope wrote, the Church's sons and daughters must purify their hearts by examining the responsibility they bore for sins committed in the past. He voiced the hope that by providing an accurate account of past evils, the Commission report would help ensure that such horrors as the Holocaust would never be repeated. The report's preamble echoed this theme, not only stressing the Pope's commitment to repentance for past sins, but also linking the proper understanding of the past to the building of a brighter future.At the heart of the problem, as the Vatican commissioners recognized, was the fact that the Holocaust had taken place "in countries of long-standing Christian civilization." Might there be some link, they asked, between the destruction of Europe's Jews and "the attitudes down the centuries of Christians toward the Jews"?Those who feared that the report might criticize past popes or past Church actions were soon relieved to learn that the Commission's answer to this question was a resounding "no." True, the report admitted, Jews had for centuries been discriminated against and used as scapegoats, and, regrettably, certain misguided interpretations of Christian teachings had on occasion nurtured such behavior. But all this regarded an older history, one largely overcome by the beginning of the 1800s.In the Commission's view, the nineteenth century was the key period for understanding the roots of the Holocaust and, in particular, the reasons why the Church bore no responsibility for it. It was in that turbulent century that new intellectual and political currents associated with extreme nationalism emerged. Amid the economic and social upheavals of the time, people started to accuse Jews of exercising a disproportionate influence. "There thus began to spread," the Commission members argued, "an anti-Judaism that was essentially more sociological and political than religious." This new form of antagonism to the Jews was further shaped by racial theories that first appeared in the latter part of the nineteenth century and reached their terrible apotheosis in the Nazis' glorification of a superior Aryan race. Far from supporting these racist ideologies, the Vatican commissioners asserted, the Church had always condemned them.And so, according to the report, a crucial distinction must be made. What arose in the late nineteenth century, and sprouted like a poisonous weed in the twentieth, was "anti-Semitism, based on theories contrary to the constant teaching of the Church." This they contrasted with "anti-Judaism," long-standing attitudes of mistrust and hostility of which "Christians also have been guilty," but which, in the Vatican report, had nothing to do with the hatred of the Jews that led to the Holocaust.When I read the news story of the Vatican press conference, and later read the text of the Commission report, I knew that there was something terribly wrong with the history that the Vatican was recounting. It is a history that many wished had happened, but it is not what actually happened. It is the latter story, sometimes dramatic, sometimes hard to believe, often sad, that I try to tell in the pages that follow. Just how little this history is known was driven home to me by reader reactions to my recent book The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. The book tells of a six-year-old Jewish boy in Bologna, Italy, who, in 1858, was taken from his family on orders of the local inquisitor. Having been secretly baptized by a servant--or so it was claimed--the boy, the inquisitor argued, was now Catholic and could not remain in a Jewish household."You mean there was still an Inquisition in 1858?" readers asked. "I thought the Inquisition was back in the 1500s or 1600s." I also kept hearing--especially from non-Jewish readers--how amazing it was for them to learn that forcing Jews to wear yellow badges and keeping them locked in ghettoes were not inventions of the Nazis in the twentieth century, but a policy that the popes had championed for hundreds of years.Although various histories of the fraught relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jews have been published, most focus on a more remote past. Others examine Church doctrine, engage in biblical exegesis, or analyze various other texts, and so do not capture the actual struggle between the Church and the Jews. Someone, I thought, needed to write a book about the Church and the Jews in modern times, one that would use original archival documents--many never before examined--to tell a story that has remained in important ways unknown.This last point is worth emphasizing, because while recent scholar- ship--especially in Italy--has brought to light important new information about the Vatican and the Jews, much has remained buried in the archives. In this light, Cardinal Ratzinger's announcement in 1998 that, for the first time, the archives of the Holy Office of the Inquisition were being opened to scholars, offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Sources never before seen by scholars were now available, offering the tantalizing prospect of new insights into Church history. This book rests heavily on these newly available documents from the Inquisition archives, as well as from other Vatican archives that have become open to researchers in recent years. Together with evidence that has been reported in the specialized scholarly literature--mainly in Italy and France--over the past few years these new sources shed light on a history that until now has remained hidden.Back in early 1998, news of the impending release of the Vatican report on the Holocaust had brought hope that the Church itself might help rectify the ignorance that surrounded the history of the Church's dealing with the Jews. Pope John Paul II had done much to foster an ecumenical spirit and warmer relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews, and he had called on the Commission to be fearless in confronting the truths of the past. The Commission did not take its task lightly, studying the question for over a decade before formulating its conclusions. Surely, thirty-six years after the Second Vatican Council opened, the time had come for the Church to face up to its own uncomfortable past.The report's key passage on the rise of modern anti-Semitism explains:By the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century, Jews generally had achieved an equal standing with other citizens in most states and a certain number of them held influential positions in society. But in that same historical context, notably in the nineteenth century, a false and exacerbated nationalism took hold. In a climate of eventful social change, Jews were often accused of exercising an influence disproportionate to their numbers. Thus there began to spread in varying degrees throughout most of Europe an anti-Judaism that was essentially more sociological and political than religious.The anti-Semitism embraced by the Nazi regime, the report goes on to say, was the product of this new social and political form of anti-Judaism, which was foreign to the Church, and which mixed in new racial ideas that were similarly at odds with Church doctrine.This argument, sadly, is not the product of a Church that wants to confront its history. If Jews acquired equal rights in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was only over the angry, loud, and indeed indignant protests of the Vatican and the Church. And if Jews in the nineteenth century began to be accused of exerting a disproportionate and dangerous influence, and if a form of anti-Judaism "that was essentially more sociological and political than religious" was taking shape, this was in no small part due to the efforts of the Roman Catholic Church itself.As this book will show, the distinction made in the report between "anti-Judaism"--of which some unnamed and misinformed Christians were unfortunately guilty in the past--and "anti-Semitism," which led to the horrors of the Holocaust, will simply not survive historical scrutiny.The notion that the Church fostered only negative "religious" views of the Jews, and not negative images of their harmful social, economic, cultural, and political effects--the latter identified with modern anti-Semitism--is clearly belied by the historical record. As modern anti-Semitic movements took shape at the end of the nineteenth century, the Church was a major player in them, constantly warning people of the rising "Jewish peril." What, after all, were the major tenets of this modern anti-Semitic movement if not such warnings as these: Jews are trying to take over the world; Jews have already spread their voracious tentacles around the nerve centers of Austria, Germany, France, Hungary, Poland, and Italy; Jews are rapacious and merciless, seeking at all costs to get their hands on all the world's gold, having no concern for the number of Christians they ruin in the process; Jews are unpatriotic, a foreign body ever threatening the well-being of the people among whom they live; special laws are needed to protect society, restricting the Jews rights and isolating them. Every single one of these elements of modern anti-Semitism was not only embraced by the Church but actively promulgated by official and unofficial Church organs.The Commission's neat distinction between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism was not new to the 1998 document. In the wake of the Second World War, scholars and theologians close to the Church began to look for a way to defend the Church from the charge of having helped lay the groundwork for the Holocaust. The anti-Semitism/anti-Judaism distinction soon became an article of faith that relieved the Church of any responsibility for what happened. Before long, millions of people came to assume its historical reality.Given the important role played, as we shall see, by the Jesuit journal Civilta  cattolica in this history, I was especially struck by the use of this distinction in a recent history of the journal. Written by the well-respected Church historian and Jesuit priest Giuseppe De Rosa, the book was published on the occasion of the journal's 150th anniversary in 2000.Father De Rosa notes with regret Civilta cattolica's century-long campaign against the Jews, observing that the journal only changed course in 1965, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. "It is necessary, however," he adds, "to note that these [hostile articles] were not a matter of 'anti-Semitism,' the essential ingredient of which is hatred against the Jews because of their 'race,' but rather anti-Judaism, which opposes and combats the Jews for religious and social reasons." He then lists some of the charges that were regularly made in the journal's pages: "that the Jews battled the Church, that they practiced the ritual murder of Christian children, that they had enormous political power in their hands to the point of controlling governments and, above all, that they possessed great wealth, earned by usury, and thus had incredibly strong economic influence, which they used to the detriment of Christianity and Christian peoples." Father De Rosa adds, quite correctly, that the Jesuit journal was not alone in making such accusations, for they filled the pages of many mainstream Catholic publications.By way of illustration of Civilta cattolica's anti-Judaism (as opposed to anti-Semitism), he offers some passages from articles in the journal authored by Fathers Rondina and Ballerini in the 1890s. These tell of Jews' thirst for world domination, their hunger for gold, and their belief that Christians are no better than animals. Wherever the Jews live, in the words of these authors, they "form a foreign nation, and sworn enemy of [the people's] well-being." What should good Catholics do about this terrible threat to their livelihoods and happiness? The answer offered in the pages of Civilta cattolica was clear: The Jews' "civil equality" must be immediately revoked, for "they have no right to it," remaining forever "foreigners in every country, enemies of the people of every country that puts up with them."There is an unsettling logic behind both Father De Rosa's use of the anti-Judaism/anti-Semitism distinction, and that of the Vatican Commission itself, for they share a disturbing subtext. They suggest that if the attitudes and actions promulgated by the Church can be labeled "religious," they can be minimized and, in any case, shown to be of a very different kind than the truly dangerous forms of anti-Semitism. Such a distinction also permits the Roman Catholic Church to argue that it played no role in spreading the hatred of the Jews in Europe that helped make the Holocaust possible.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

Q: Why did you write this book?A: In 1997 I published a book, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, the story of a small Jewish boy who, in 1858, was forcibly taken from his parents on orders of the Inquisitor of Bologna and sent to a Catholic institution in Rome. The Church still had police powers in parts of Italy and the Inquisitor had been told that the family’s Catholic maid had secretly baptized the boy. So my interest in how the Church treated the Jews goes back a way. But it was two events in early 1998 that led me to want to write this new book. A Vatican Commission, charged by the Pope with determining whether the Church bore any responsibility for the rise of modern anti-Semitism and for the Holocaust, reported that the Catholic Church had played no role whatsoever. At the same time, the Vatican announced that scholars would, for the first time, be allowed into the archives of the central office of the Inquisition. From what I knew about the history of Vatican relations with the Jews, I was skeptical about the Commission’s report, and found the prospect of working in the long-sealed Inquisition archives too exciting a possibility to pass up. Q: What is its main premise? A: While anti-Semitism has an ancient history, the development of modern anti-Semitism, of the sort that would make the Holocaust possible, arose only in the late nineteenth century. The Vatican maintains that modern anti-Semitism did not grow out of the long history of Christian anti-Judaism, but from new nationalist movements that arose in Europe in the nineteenth century. What I show in the book, based largely on documents found in the Vatican archives, is that the Vatican was very much involved in the development of modern anti-Semitism. I also show that the distinction made by the Vatican today between religious anti-Judaism, which the Church acknowledges to have marked its past, and social-economic-political anti-Semitism, which it claims not to have embraced, is not tenable. The Vatican championed a view of the Jews as sinister enemies of the state and of the people, and, well into the twentieth century, called for keeping them quarantined from healthy Christian society.Q: Are you arguing that the Catholic Church is responsible for the Holocaust?A: I argue that the Catholic Church shares responsibility for making the Holocaust possible. This of course is not to argue that the Holocaust was the outcome of Catholic Church action alone, an assertion that would be ridiculous. First of all, the Christian roots of anti-Semitism go back centuries, and affected Protestantism as well as Catholicism. Germany in fact had a Protestant majority, though a very large Catholic minority. Moreover, Nazism, as a secular religion, was no friend of Catholicism. But if we look at what happened in Germany, Austria, Poland, France, Italy, and other countries during the Holocaust, I think we can only make sense of it by understanding how the Catholic Church, along with other Christian churches, encouraged people to view the Jews. Q: So what is the Catholic Church guilty of? A: The Catholic Church promulgated the view, into the twentieth century, that the good people of Europe were endangered by the presence of the Jews. Into the twentieth century, the Vatican spread the belief that Jews were required by their religion to torture and murder Christian children to use their blood for their Passover matzah. The Vatican was involved, secretly, in building Europe’s most important anti-Semitic political party -- the Austrian Social Christian party -- at the turn of the twentieth century. When Mussolini announced the racial laws in 1938, throwing Jewish children out of public schools, throwing their parents out of their state jobs, stripping Jews of membership in professional societies, the Pope voiced no objection to any of these measures. Indeed, the Vatican indicated that they were in harmony with Church policy. The list could go on....Q: Is the Catholic Church today still perpetuating Jewish stereotypes, even if in subtle ways?A: Unfortunately, it took the Holocaust to lead the Church to radically rethink its attitude toward the Jews. With John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council, the centuries-old vilification of the Jews was at last rejected, the liturgy was altered to remove offending elements, and catechism was changed to remove references to Jews as killers of Christ. The current pontiff, Pope John Paul II, has done a great deal to improve Church relations with Jews, as evidenced by his visit to the Rome synagogue and, more recently, his visit to Israel. Yet the Church’s legacy does keep popping up, as is inevitable. For example, I just returned from Bologna, where I visited a newly restored church right off the main piazza. Its beautiful oratorio is dominated by a set of statuary depicting an episode from the New Testament. A plaque helpfully explains the scene. While mourners surround the body of the Virgin Mary, who has just died, an evil Jew has come to desecrate her corpse. Fortunately, an angel appears and strikes down the Jew. Images of this sort are still around in the churches of Europe.Q: Leading up to the Holocaust, were there any heroes in the Catholic Church, people who defended the rights of Jews?A: I show in my book that there were always people in high positions of the Church who sought more humane treatment of the Jews. For example, when the Pope was restored to power over the Papal States in 1814, following Napoleon’s defeat, the Vatican faced the question of whether to make the Jews go back into the ghettoes. Napoleon had, of course, freed them years earlier. Cardinal Consalvi, the Vatican Secretary of State, passionately pleaded with Pope Pius VII not to reestablish the ghettoes. Yet, he argued in vain. Or, to give another example, at the turn of the twentieth century, the Archbishop in charge of the British Catholic Church pleaded with Pope Leo XIII to end the Vatican campaign that branded the Jews as sadistic murderers of Christian children. The Pope referred the matter to the cardinals of the Inquisition, who rejected the Archbishop’s plea, writing in a private note that the archbishop who made the complaint had clearly become a "dupe" of the Jews. Of course, as the Holocaust itself got underway, there were bishops in Germany and elsewhere who pleaded with Pope Pius XII to take a firm public stand against the Nazi slaughter of the Jews, and some of them paid with their life. As we know, the Pope did not heed their call. Of course, if we look at priests, nuns, and Catholic laity, there were many thousands who risked their lives to hide Jews.Q: Why did you decide to focus on the Popes, rather than the various levels of the Catholic hierarchy? A: Throughout the book I try to get as close to the Popes as I can. There are a number of reasons for this. Of course, given the Pope’s authority in the Church, knowing what the popes wanted done and what they thought is absolutely central to my task. But I was also concerned to deal with a common defense found in the Church. It goes something like this: yes, as in any large organization you can find extremists in the Church, people filled with hatred. But the popes were always protectors of the Jews, and indeed the Jews often turned to the popes just because of their well-known generosity in dealing with them. Fortunately, newly available Vatican archives allowed me to find out just what the popes themselves were doing as far as the Jews went. That said, the book also looks at others in the Vatican hierarchy, and shows their role in the rise of modern anti-Semitism. Q: How did you find such incriminating information about the Church and its historic treatment of Jews? A: The Church deserves a great deal of credit for making its archives open to scholars. I have mentioned the central archives of the Inquisition, which were opened only in 1998, but the Vatican Secret Archives have been opened to researchers much longer. The papal records dealing with the formative period of modern anti-Semitism, in the late nineteenth century, were opened for the first time in 1979. At the moment, with minor exceptions, no Vatican records after 1922 can be consulted, so I had to turn to other sources in dealing with the most recent period. Other information is more publicly available. For example, the two publications most closely tied to the Vatican historically-- the Vatican’s own daily newspaper, L’Osservatore romano, and the Jesuit bi-weekly, Civiltà Cattolica-- were both filled with the most grotesque kinds of anti-Semitism.Q: It’s surprising you were given access to the archives, given your history of writing sometimes unflattering things about the Church. How did you obtain permission?A: Well, there are actually several different Vatican archives, and each one is a separate story. Perhaps of greatest interest from this point of view is the archive of the Inquisition. When Cardinal Ratzinger announced that archive’s opening, the New York Times asked me to write an op ed about it, which I did. In order to get permission to work there, I had to send in a request directly to Cardinal Ratzinger, along with a letter of recommendation. I asked my friend, historian Carlo Ginzburg, to write for me, as in announcing the opening of the archive to scholars, the Cardinal had cited Ginzburg’s request of 19 years earlier (the Church moves slowly!). There was tremendous interest in the scholarly community in what would be found in the Inquisition archives, yet only twelve places for scholars had been provided for. Just why my request was approved I can only guess, but again I think it is a tribute to the Church that it was granted.Q: Even though you’ve studied interfaith relations extensively, did any of the information you discovered in the Archives shock you? A: I found much that I had not known about the role played behind the scenes by the Vatican in the growth of modern anti-Semitism. I also found out things about the earlier period I found shocking. For example, I learned that in the first half of the nineteenth century, when the Pope controlled Rome, Jewish women and children were regularly seized by papal police from their homes in the ghetto and locked in the Church institution set up to convert the Jews. While the women were free to go after forty days confinement if they still refused to accept baptism, their small children were baptized immediately. The women were told they would never see their children again if they refused to accept baptism themselves. For the later period, I must say that what most shocked me was the persistence of the Vatican commitment to the charge of Jewish ritual murder into the twentieth century. I still find this hard to fathom.Q: Will the Catholic Church be taken by surprise by what you found or is this information already known at the Church’s highest levels? A: There is much in the book that will be new even to high officials of the Church today. But in answering your question we should keep in mind that the Catholic Church is a large and complex institution. While the Vatican’s official position is that the Church played no role in the rise of modern anti-Semitism, there are many good Catholics who know very well that this is untrue. My book provides a great deal of previously unknown evidence to show just how extensive the Vatican’s role in the development of modern anti-Semitism was. In some circles of the Church it will not be welcome reading. Q: How do you think the current Pope will respond to this book?A: I would like to flatter myself by thinking that the Pope would read the book, but of course that is unlikely. However, I see myself as having embraced and responded to the Pope’s own call for a clear-eyed look into past Church treatment of the Jews. The Pope has argued that only by properly understanding this past can we look forward to a brighter future, and I would like to think that my book will play a significant role in this process.Q: What can the Church do to take full responsibility or to make restitution? Is restitution even possible?A: I am not a theologian, nor a moral philosopher, and I am not especially interested in apologies, much less restitution. What does bother me is the misrepresentation of history and an unwillingness to confront the past truthfully. Let me give a small example. A couple of days before the beatification of Pope Pius IX in September 2000, I did a live national Italian radio debate with a monsignor from the Vatican congregation for the promotion of saints. In that debate, in response to the claim that Pius IX was kindly disposed to the Jews, I cited his remarks at an audience in 1871 in which he referred to Rome’s Jews as "dogs" who were running barking through the streets, molesting the good people of the city. The next day, at a Vatican press conference, in response to a journalist’s question about my remarks, the Vatican official said that no responsible historian would put any credence in what I had said. When the journalist subsequently contacted me about the quote, I referred him to a volume titled "The Speeches of Pio IX" published by the Vatican in 1872, edited by a priest. In addition to giving him the page number where the quote about the dogs was to be found, I pointed out the page of the preface which reported that the Pope himself had read and approved the proofs of the book before publication. If there were any apology I am interested in from the Vatican at the moment, I guess it would be for what was said about me at that press conference. But I’m not holding my breath.Q: Why are you interested in this subject? Is there personal significance for you? A: As I mention in the introduction to my book, when I was a child my father was director of inter-religious relations for the American Jewish Committee. It was right after World War II, and he spent a great deal of his time working with Catholic clergymen to improve Church-Jewish relations. He had great respect and affection for these Catholic colleagues, and he was never so proud as when he received a special medal from Rome honoring him for his efforts to bring about Catholic-Jewish reconciliation. I would like to think that, through a very different path, I am in this book doing something to build on my father’s work.Q: Are you hopeful for the future of Jewish-Catholic relations?A: Yes, I am. If we put things in a larger historical perspective, the amount of progress made in recent years has been tremendous. I do think, though, that until we can all confront the truth about the past, a dark cloud will remain.

Editorial Reviews

“Important. . . . Fascinating. . . . [A] riveting piece of historical detective work.” --The New York Times“Scrupulous....Significant and compelling.” —The Washington Post“The material is dynamite.” --The Times (London)“Popes Against the Jews . . . demolishes the findings of We Remember.” --The Boston Globe “This reviewer is grateful to Kertzer for having written such a compelling narrative. His thesis is shocking and disturbing. . . . An important book.” --The Irish Times“Riveting.” -- Globe & Mail (Toronto)“Kertzer [has the] extraordinary ability to present the most painful, religiously radioactive material with a coolness that makes his findings . . . devastating. . . . Its superb, meticulous scholarship is a benchmark by which other books on the subject must now be judged.” The Forward“A profoundly well-documented book. . . . It is a work of brilliant narrative quality, an oppressive, unremitting and enraging report on what may be the most lethal period of official and quasi-official Catholic anti-Semitism.” --Providence Journal