On My Mind: Do We Not Deserve the Same Consideration as Galileo?

November 6, 1992 - Three hundred and fifty years ago, the Inquisition of the Catholic Church was able to break the spirit and conviction of Galileo, the astronomer and physicist, who had dared to proclaim that the earth circles around the sun, and not, as the Church held, the other way around. But unlike hundreds of thousands of Jewish martyrs whom the cruel Inquisition could not break and who were burned at the stake for their religion, Galileo cowardly kneeled before the Inquisitor and recanted his views as false and erroneous, and publicly embraced the backward views of the Church. Galileo was placed under "house arrest" for the rest of his life, and his writings were banned by the Vatican Censor.

Now, 350 years later, the "infallible" Pope has been forced to admit that it was the Church which erred, and that Galileo, after all, was right. The Vatican officially rescinded its "condemnation" of Galileo and in elaborate ceremony in the Pontifical Academy of Science, where the Pope spoke publicly before the world's TV cameras.

Mind you, Galileo only received a relative rap on the fingers from the Church, without a "Papal Bull" or other solemn declaration being issued against him, since he so meekly recanted his Copernican views. Yet legally, the mere "condemnation" of his views required an official act to cancel the ban against him. Compare that to the countless Papal Bulls issued over the centuries condemning Jews, Judaism and the Talmud, which till this day have not been withdrawn or cancelled. Would you like to hear some examples of the hate-filled edicts still outstanding against us?

The Infamous Anti-Jewish Papal Bulls

Excerpt from a Papal Bull of Pope Paul III, 1542: "It is our desire that the Jews be converted to the Catholic faith. The Church must keep those Jews who have converted (called neophytes) far away from members of their former religion, lest they regress to their original pernicious practices. Clerics are urged to arrange marriages for the neophytes with Christians by birth." (Note: This is also the strategy of "Jews for Jesus" and other missionary groups - grab a Jew, fix him up with a Christian girl, and encourage them to marry so that their children are sure to be lost to the Jewish people forever.)

"If neophytes fail to correct themselves following a priestly admonition, and are discovered to be living as Jews and to have returned to their vomit, then the clerics should proceed against them in accord with the regulations of the Sacred Law, just as against perfidious heretics." Expert from a Papal Bull by Pope Paul IV (1555-59), forcing the Jews into Ghettos: "There can exist nothing more absurd and unseemly than the Jews. As long as they persist in their errors, as a result of their behavior they are servants, while Christians are free men. All their synagogues are to be destroyed except one. They should wear a badge of yellow color. From now on, and for all times, their quarters must be separated from Christians."

Expert from a papal Bull by Pope Pius V, in 1566: "The Hebrew race merits to be cast down head first. Its priesthood is lost, its laws stripped of their authority. It is driven asunder from its land, to wander through the world for so many generations, hated, the object of opprobrium. They are given to soothsaying, incantations, magic, superstition and evil practices, therefore, we decree that every Jew must depart from our Republic within three months, and that their goods become the property of the Roman Church."

Pope Clement VIII, 1593: "The vile and obdurate perfidy of the Hebrews does not even acknowledge the great mercy of the Holy Mother Church that has patiently awaited their conversion. But we now believe that such a nation must be totally expelled from the midst of the majority of our population. But in order that they not be driven too far from the path of salvation promised to the remnant of Israel, but to such closer states where they can be readily restrained, they must be enticed from their mental darkness to an acknowledgement of the true faith of the Holy Roman Church. Any Jew found here after this decree has gone into effect shall be punished by condemning him to the slave ship for as long as he shall live."

Excerpt from the Bull against the Talmud by Pope Clement VIII: "We Christians must not overlook the Jews' wickedness. We decree and condemn that godless work known as the Talmud, and other similar rejected and detestable writings and books. We forbid in all perpetuity all Jews, communities and individuals, from daring in any way to read, possess, buy, sell or publish any books or codices of the godless and often censured Talmud, and those other utterly worthless, cabalistic and abominable books that are forbidden and condemned, as well as any commentaries, treaties and writings in the Hebrew languages which are lewd and obscene works. Anybody, Jew or non-Jew, possessing any of such books must deliver them to Rome within ten days to the office of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition, the books to be burned. Anybody violating this decree is subject to confiscation of all goods and bodily torture."

Anti-Jewish Edicts Have Never Been Withdrawn

None of these outrageous and hate-crazed rantings against Jews, Judaism and our literature, have ever been rescinded or cancelled. When I inquired with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops about this unacceptable situation, which totally violates the tenets and spirit of the "Nostra Aetate" of 25 years ago, I received an answer from Dr. Eugene Fisher, the public relations spokesman for the Catholics: "There is no need for an 'official annulment and withdrawal' of the anti-Jewish Church legislation of previous ages. That has already been officially accomplished by the Second Vatican Council." This answer flies in the face of what happens when the Vatican really wants to atone for past errors - as in the case of Galileo. There, 13 years of investigation was carried out, leading to the official retraction. I repeat the question: Do we not deserve the same consideration as Galileo?

Vatican Council II

On the subject of the Second Vatican Council, raised by the good Dr. Fisher, I recommend the reading of the day-to-day account of what happened during that 4-1/2 year process, from June 1962 until December 1965. The declaration "On the Jews and Non-Christians" led to anti-Semitic attacks on the crudest sort by many Cardinals, and excruciating and agonizing discussions, with compromise after compromise necessary until a consensus could be reached. A large portion of the "Church Princes" meetings in Rome were simply unable to force themselves to say anything exonerating the Jews. To them, the Jews must remain forever condemned, and the Church's single-minded purpose must remain to force them into conversion.

Any reference to past persecutions and massacres of Jews by the Church was met by stunned objections, and in the end, the sponsors of the Declaration were defeated. They could not even get approval for identifying the hundreds of years of crimes against the Jews, including the Church's role and silence during the Holocaust, as "persecution" (Latin: persecutio). They had to settle for the meaningless expression "harassment" (Latin: vexatio), and for including the condemnation of anti-Semitism together with condemnation of all "injustices."

The final Declaration, therefore, is a greatly watered-down document, which cannot by any means give Jews full satisfaction, especially as it strongly alludes to a call for conversion of all Jews: "Just as the Church repudiated all injustices inflicted on any man, so she likewise deplores and condemns hatred and harassment of the Jews. The union of the Jewish people with the Church is a part of the Christian hope. Indeed, the Church awaits the entrance of this people into the fullness of the people of G-d established by Christ." (Mind you, we Jews are called "this people," and the Christians are called "the people of G-d.")

To think that in the mind of the Church all they did to us during centuries of the worst crimes imaginable was nothing more than "harassment"! Can one expect true atonement for such people? No wonder that the anti-Jewish edicts and Bulls remain on their books. We evidently cannot expect to share the fate of Galileo. Dr. Fisher's assertion that the Second Vatican Council "accomplished" the annulment and cancellation of the anti-Jewish legislation therefore does not hold water.

Jewish leaders who are professionals in dealing with the Catholic Church, seem to have overlooked the enormous obstacles to any relationship between Jews and the Church - these anti-Jewish measures which have never been withdrawn. This is a serious omission which should be addressed before they proceed further in their inter-faith activities. It is also a matter for Israel's Government to consider before discussion normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican.

Nuns at Auschwitz Aim at Conversion of Jews

The ink was hardly dry on the Declaration of the Second Vatican Council, with its call for the conversion of world Jewry, when a world-wide appeal was made in 1985 for funding a convent at Auschwitz for Carmelite nuns. The appeal said the convent would be presented as a gift to the Pope after his visit to Poland. The convent's purpose would be "the conversion of strayed brothers," referring to the Jews.

When Jews found out about the convent, an outcry of protest was heard. Years of bitter recrimination and nasty reaction from the Polish clergy ensued. It soon became apparent that he Church planned the convent to serve as a memorial for two alleged Christian martyrs of Auschwitz: Father Kolbe and Edith Stein. The convent would thus become a "gift" to the Pope, as he had singled out these two individuals for sainthood. This was, of course, another blow to Jewish sensitivities: while we had 6 million martyrs from our faith during the Holocaust, the Church could only find two individuals whom they thought would qualify: Father Kolbe, a known Polish anti-Semite, who by some accounts only accidentally ended up in Auschwitz, and Edith Stein, a confused Jewish girl, who at one point had converted to Christianity.

The rest is history, which most people already know. The many efforts to move the controversial convent away from Auschwitz, although attempted innumerable times, have not resulted in any action. When the Church saw that its original designs for the convent as a strictly Catholic-Polish memorial at Auschwitz would not succeed, they switched plans. They proposed to establish at Auschwitz a "Center of Information, Meetings, Dialogue, Education and Prayer," a plan met with little enthusiasm by Jews, as the memorial would retain its Christian nature, erected on a site drenched in Jewish blood. It seems to have been overlooked that such a Center would serve the same purpose as the convent - "the conversion of strayed brothers."

Sir Siegmund Sternberg's Efforts

Sir Siegmund Sternberg, a British Jew who has maintained good relations with the Church, and who has also worked toward the removal of the convent, received a letter dated September 30, 1989, from the highly controversial Polish Cardinal Glemp, in which he contrasted the "moderating voice" of Sir Siegmund, a Reform Jew, with the "shrill voices" of such idealistic and dedicated Orthodox militants as Rabbi Avi Weiss of Riverdale, Glemp proposed to Sir Siegmund: "The best solution would be to work on a new Center."

Sir Siegmund has no doubt done much of his attempt to have the convent removed. Although he has not succeeded in this, he has nonetheless gotten high praise from the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Lord Jakobovits, who in a personal letter wrote: "He (Sir Siegmund) is a dear friend of mine (even if there are items on which we disagree), and he has enormous achievements to his credit, building bridges of understanding with other faiths, notably the Roman Catholics, and lately embracing Eastern Europe."

Sir Siegmund also wrote directly to me, stating that the proposed "Center of Information, Meetings, Dialogue, Education and Prayer" is not his own creation, but was agreed to at a Jewish-Christian meeting in Geneva on July 22, 1986. I apologize if in another column I erroneously put the blame for this on Sir Siegmund. Therefore, anyone objecting to such a Center should not blame Sir Siegmund!

Now that three years have passed, world Jewry is deeply suspicious of the ultimate purpose of that "Center." Reform Jews are the only ones pressing for theological dialogue with the Church, which can only lead to missionary activities and a challenge to Judaism. Mainstream Jews maintain the halachic prohibition, promulgated by Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik in 1964, against such interfaith dialogue. That is the reason why in a previous column I criticized Sir Siegmund's recent attempt not only to support the Center, but also to invite Sister Teresa, the anti-Semitic Carmelite head of the convent, to assume a leadership role in the proposed Center. When, to top it all of, Sister Teresa refused his request, and he begged her "to pray" to change her mind, I found it a demeaning act, insensitive to the memory of our martyrs at Auschwitz, and to the entire tragic history of Christian-Jewish relations.

Revoke Those Hateful Edicts!

The above sampling of unrevoked Papal Bulls - forerunners of Hitler's atrocities against Jews - tells us what the Catholic Church must do before we can take their claim that they like to perform "atonement" seriously. They must revoke those hateful anti-Jewish edicts, by official acts of the Pope, similar to his revocation of the condemnation of Galileo!