Were the Popes against the Jews? Tracking the Myths, Confronting the Ideologues

Were the Popes against the Jews? Tracking the Myths, Confronting the Ideologues

Were the Popes against the Jews? Tracking the Myths, Confronting the Ideologues

Were the Popes against the Jews? Tracking the Myths, Confronting the Ideologues


How many people know that a modern pope publicly referred to Jews as "dogs;" that two other modern popes called the Jewish religion "Satan's synagogue"; that at the beginning of the twentieth century another pope refused to save the life of a Jew accused of ritual murder, even though the pope knew the man was innocent? Lastly, how many people know that only a decade before the rise of Hitler, another pope supported priests who called for the extermination of all the Jews in the world?

The answer has to be "great numbers of people" since those accusations appeared in David I. Kertzer's The Popes Against the Jews (2001), a book which had been lauded in major journals and newspapers in the U.S. and the U.K., and which by 2006 had been translated into nine foreign languages, while Kertzer himself according to his Website, had become "America's foremost expert on the modern history of the Vatican's relations with the Jews." It is thus undeniable that very many people in very many countries have heard of the appalling misdeeds and misstatements mentioned above -- even though, in fact, not one of them was ever perpetrated by any pope.

But Were the Popes Against the Jews? is not only about the disclosure of these shocking slanders, however fascinating and important such an exposé is. In the broader perspective, it is about the power of ideology to subvert historical judgments, whether the latter concern the origins of anti-Semitism and the papacy, the distortion of documents to indict Pius XII, or the fabrication of Pius XI as "codependent collaborator" with Mussolini (the announced subject of Kertzer's next book). Justus George Lawler's confrontation with ideologues will gratify all who are seeking not triumph over opponents, but peace and justice for all.


To the question in the title of this book, were the popes against the Jews? the answer is, of course they were. Their entire tradition was built on the belief that Judaism prepared the way for Jesus and his message, both of which the Jews had rejected. However, a completely different and far more complex answer would have to be given to the more precise question, was the papacy against Judaism and the Jewish people in the manner in which it has been depicted in numerous recent works written by some Catholics, nonbelievers, and Jews? in these books the popes were described as disdainful, contemptuous, and vengeful toward Jews and their beliefs.

Answering that question is the purpose of the present book — which has its own brief history. a year or two after the appearance of the paperback edition of Popes and Politics: Reform, Resentment, and the Holocaust (2004), and while aimlessly thumbing through the book, the thought occurred to me that what was now needed was an evaluation of the flood of works that had appeared around the beginning of this century on the church and the papacy in relation to Judaism and the Holocaust. Usually when a writer is speculating on a possible future project, the best way to give it a sense of concrete reality is to give it a name. Since several of these books appeared to be self-serving polemics, I thought the ideal title might be from W. H. Auden, “a low dishonest decade.” Unfortunately, that phrase had already become cliché, so it made sense to just give it a simple and direct working title, and a more precise and explanatory subtitle. Thus was conceived Historians Against History: Inventing Catholic Scapegoats 2000-2010. the subtitle made clear that this project, if it ever came to fruition, would be a critique of the critics, many of whom were writing in the shadow or under the influence of The Deputy by Rolf Hochhuth.

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