Christian Anti-Semitism, Part 2

The following lecture is gratefully dependent on David I. Kertzer’s The Popes Against the Jews (2001) and follows the format of his excellent volume.

In this lecture I will be taking up the role of the Catholic Church, its Popes and their relation to the negative image of Jews, from the period of 1814 to 1943.  Church statements and denials of its anti-Semitism during that time period, including the conclusions from an important 1998 Church investigation, have been egregiously vague. The investigation’s report contained a key passage which did cite a rise in anti-Semitism in the 19th Century. However, the responsibility for prejudice against Jews was alleged to have been from sociological and political forces rather than religious ones. 

Such a statement was disingenuous, as was quickly discovered.  In the same year as the investigation’s report, 1998, the Vatican Archives were opened, and in a few years, more documents from them became available to scholars. In addition, specialized scholarly literature from Italy and France during the late 1990’s also helped bring to light the hidden history of the Catholic Church’s anti-Semitism.

This history of the part played by the Catholic Church, which embraced and promulgated modern anti-Semitism, has been recorded and has been laid bare.  Both its official and its unofficial sources were major participants in the modern anti-Semitic movement at the end of the 19th century.  The Church’s claim that it merely fostered a negative religious view of Jews and not the debasing image of the political, social, cultural and economic harm caused by Jews is a lie.

Every single falsehood about the Jews was embraced and disseminated by the Catholic Church in the late 19th century and beyond.  Here are some of the most vicious untruths: “Jews are trying to take over the world,” “Jews are rapacious and merciless, seeking at all cost to get their hands on all the world’s gold, not caring how many Christians they ruin in the meantime,” “Jews are unpatriotic, foreigners who are threatening the well-being of the other people with whom they live. Therefore they need to have special laws enacted against them, restricting their rights and isolating them.”

The Jesuit journal, “Civilta cattolica, and other Catholic publications, were openly and viciously anti-Semitic, as we shall see shortly. It is true that the Church never officially sanctioned the wholesale extermination of Jews. Sometimes, even if quietly, it attempted to oppose it.  But the Church’s contribution to the prejudice against the Jewish people was undeniable.  It must be held, and should be held, responsible for its role in aiding and abetting the rise of the new anti-Semitism, which was more race-based than the older anti-Judaism once so prevalent.

With the demise of the Papal States when they were absorbed into a unified Italy in 1859-1870, and the decline of its influence, the Catholic Church undertook a long and losing battle against modernism. The Popes saw Jews, who were being emancipated in country after country, as having an important place in, as well as benefitting, from the changes so abhorrent to the conservative Church. Catholic Church doctrine rejected such modern concepts as freedom of the press, religion and speech as well as the idea of the separation between church and state. The Popes clung to their opposition to modernity and to the notion that the Jewish people were divinely appointed pariahs and Christ-killers.

This lecture will discuss the historical proof that the Popes were against the Jews, but also about the dangers of allowing a monolithic and powerful religion that believes that it is the sole repository of truth and the good to achieve hegemony.  Religions are very rarely tolerant. Most like to cast themselves as the sole path to salvation and their competitors as outcasts and agents of the Devil.  This lecture will sound a cautionary note about religion and will provide historical fact to affirm its message of the danger such rigid religious stances hold for society.

My last lecture discussed the Jewish people’s rights being severely restricted by both church and state until the end of the Middle Ages and beyond.  Now I would like to quickly survey what transpired from Pope Pius VI’s ascension in 1775 to the fall of Napoleon and the reinstatement of the weakened papal state in 1814. Pius VI reinstated many of the older laws against Jews that had been allowed to lapse. 

Jews were restricted to the ghettoes in a most severe fashion, were forced to wear the former yellow badge to single them out, were not allowed to hire Christians or converse with them, and had to hear the customary sermons, on a rotating basis, from Christian priests who denounced the Jewish religion.

The dismaying treatment of the Jews was relaxed with the advent of Napoleon and his army. But when he was defeated, the ghetto gates were closed once more. The Jewish people lost their equal rights and as I have mentioned, were required to wear the old hated yellow badges once more.  The new Pope, Pius VII, who had ascended to the office in 1800, appointed Cardinal Consalvi to be his secretary of state.  Consalvi proved to be one of the best officials the Catholic Church has ever had.

Consalvi was very invested in the concept of a more modern Catholicism, and tried to lead the Church into participation with the contemporary zeitgeist. Most of the other Cardinals were conservative, however, and quite opposed to many of Consalvi’s proposed reforms. Cardinal Consalvi worked diligently, until the Pope’s death in 1823, to usher the Church into the contemporary world, which included easing the social and political degradation of the Jewish people. But the ultra conservative bishops and cardinals firmly resisted such modernizing concepts.  The Pope, too, with the hierarchy pressing him, did not yield to the ideas of the perspicacious Consalvi. Pius VII believed it was the Pope’s duty to continue to treat the Jews as degraded because they were forever condemned for the killing of Christ.

In 1815, there was a very active effort to urge Jews to become baptized and convert to Christianity.  The place that Jews could go for such a purpose was called the “House of Catechumens”. The word Catechumen means a Christian convert who is being instructed in the doctrine and rites of the Christian church. Most frequently, young men who desired to get out of the Jewish ghetto and further their careers entered the House of Catechumens for baptism.  But as soon as a man gave his pledge to the Catholic Church, if he had a wife and children, an order was issued and the police entered the Jewish ghetto, taking the wife and children of the prospective convert into custody. The priests at the House of Catechumens would then spend two hours or so each day with the wife, emphasizing the rapture of baptism, and the torments of hell suffered by the unbaptized after death.  There were women who resisted and were allowed to return to the ghetto, but infant children brought to the House of Catechumens were frequently baptized without permission.  Sometimes both the husband and wife changed their minds about conversion to Catholicism after the required thirty-nine days of residence and were allowed to depart.  But they had to leave their baptized baby behind.  The child would be raised a Christian and not know his Jewish family.

The purpose of the House of Catechumens had been a custom since the 1500’s, but after being allowed to lapse for some time, was revived in the early 1800’s. The ghetto and the House of Catechumens became the two lynchpins of the Church with regard to the Jewish people.  The ghetto was to punish Jews and Christian baptism was to save them. Christians would be saved as well, with Jewish baptisms, because it was believed the Jews would be converted with the second coming of Jesus at the end of the world.

Many of the early converts became pledged to the Church. The men became priests and the women nuns.  The Church hierarchy particularly wanted to gain priests who had been former Jews, as it was thought such priests could proselytize more convincingly to the Jewish people.

Another egregious method the Catholic Church had for securing Jewish children was to claim that children who had received casual baptisms were Catholics.  Once in a while, either out of mistaken kindness or because a Jewish child was ill, a Christian servant or casual acquaintance would baptism a Jewish infant.  If the servant or acquaintance then told a Catholic priest what they had done, the child would be taken from its Jewish family by the Church.  This was the case even if the sick child had died and been buried.  The Catholic hierarchy would have the dead body dug up and reburied in Christian consecrated ground.

The Jewish people protested the forced baptisms for centuries, but got nowhere. The Church’s position was that Christians should not surreptitiously go around baptizing Jewish children, but once baptized, the child was a Christian and could not be returned to its birth family.  David I. Kertzer states that: “In three and half years from the middle of 1814 through 1818, Church authorities sent the police into the Roman ghetto on twenty-two different occasions, always at night, to extract Jews by force and taken them to the House of Catechumens. In that brief period alone, the police took seventeen married women, three fiancées and twenty-seven children.

One can only imagine the conflict such women experienced. They and their children had been “pledged” to the Church by their husbands who wanted to convert. The men wanted to get out of the ghetto and this gave the Church a chance to try to get their families to convert as well.  Small children brought to the House of Catechumens were often immediately baptized as Christians and after baptism, would never be returned to their mothers. Slightly older children, separated from their families, sometimes fell prey to the manipulations of the priests and accepted baptism. Some women refused to convert and would leave their infants behind.

From mid 1814 to the end of 1818, sixty women and children had been removed from the ghetto and brought to the House of Catechumens.  Some women left, but scholars say that it was a one way trip for infants. The kidnapping and baptism of Edgardo Mortara in 1858 was a famous case.  The child was supposedly baptized by a Christian servant girl.  He was taken by the Church and Pope Pius IX took him under his wing.  Edgardo became a Catholic priest.  It is now considered doubtful if the girl had really baptized him as she claimed.  She was trying to obtain a dowry from the Catholic Church at the time she stated that she had given the child baptism.

I have spoken about the Jewish ghetto several times in earlier lectures. I would like to devote a few minutes to the topic, as it was a source of misery and frustration for not only Jews, but for many Christians. Christian citizens lost money in cities where Jewish people were forced to live in areas that sealed them up from the rest of society. The ghettos were walled areas, guarded so that people were unable to slip out. The free passage of daily business became prohibited, to the loss of all parties.

Leo XIII became pontiff in 1823, and quickly moved to have statues of naked women covered, men who walked closely behind women arrested and taverns prevented from serving alcohol.  He also found the waltz obscene.  He was an unpopular Pope, but that was not his great concern, as he saw his purpose was to bring society back from modernity.  The Papal States were a hive of unrest, with revolutionary citizens in revolt against the theocratic government.  In Ravenna, Italy, five hundred people were found guilty of subversion and several were executed.  Two young men were beheaded in Rome in 1825.

Re-Christianization of society was the new Church campaign, in which the Jewish people occupied a prominent place, a place the Pope and his conservative churchmen believed to be divinely ordained, as Christ-killers. The Pope’s underlings, both cardinals and bishops, willingly carried out Leo XIII’s orders to force Jews to remain in their ghettoes. At one point prior to ascending as Pope, Leo had overseen a small enlargement of the Roman ghetto, in order to quell the complaints of the Jewish inhabitants that they were overcrowded.  He also reinstituted the 1584 forced sermons that all Jews had to attend, on a rotating basis, during which the priest would lambast their rabbis, beliefs and practices.  The sermon was given after the Jewish services on the Saturday Sabbath at the synagogue.

Let us keep in mind that the Inquisition was still operant during this period, and those officers helped return the Jewish people to the ghettoes.  The Inquisition’s investigations claimed that Jews were doing all sorts of heinous things outside the ghetto. 

It was reported that Jews had opened stores and businesses, that Jewish men were having relationships with Christian women, employing Christian servants and so on. Such accusations confirmed the notion that Jews should remain in the ghettoes.

An 1825 treatise in Rome’s Ecclesiastical Journal resurrected the ideological hatred of Jews. The article claimed Jews were guilty of deicide, crazed with the desire for money and with the desire to ruin Christians.  The writer alleged that, and I quote: “They (Jews) wash their hands in Christian blood, set fire to churches, trample the consecrated host, kidnap children to drain them of their blood, violate virgins and so on…” The author, Father Ferdinand Jabalot, a Dominican, also claimed that the Talmud enjoined Jews to cheat Christians at every opportunity.

Jews were forced to close their businesses and to leave their homes to return to an overcrowded ghetto where there was scant opportunity to earn a decent living. The Pope, who died in 1829, was succeeded by Pius VIII, who died within twenty months of ascension.  He found time, prior to his passing, to order all the Jews in the Papal States closed into one of the authorized ghettoes.

All during this time, some Catholic cardinals and archbishops of cities were writing to the Popes, complaining of the regulations against the Jewish people, particularly the one forcing them into overcrowded ghettoes.  In many cases, the Church’s lesser hierarchy was not only concerned about the humanitarian aspects of depriving the Jewish people of income, but of the economic difficulties into which Christians had been placed by the new enforcements.

In one large city, the absence of Jews from its annual large trade fair hurt the fair as well as the merchants who provided lodging for Jews who came to town for it.

In other cities, cardinals protested against the laws forbidding Jews from hiring Christians.  The Jewish people had employed Christians to do things like lighting fires on the Sabbath, as the Jewish religion prohibited its members from such work on their holy day. If caught hiring Christians, Jews were subjected to large fines and when they couldn’t pay, they were imprisoned. Christians who had been employed at such work lost needed income when they were no longer allowed to perform the tasks. As a result of such regulations, the Jewish ghetto communities spent many long winter nights without heat or light. 

The return of the old regulations ruined a textile factory begun and owned by several Jewish families in Foligno, Italy.  The owners had carefully hired Christian overseers to manage the Christian workers.  This factory was an excellent source of income for Christians.  It was forced to close when the Jewish people of that city were ordered back to the ghetto in 1829.  The Inquisition held fast to the notion that Jews were to be treated according to the Church’s interpretation of the will of god. Economics, it was believed, should not be the issue. The Vatican did not intervene despite receiving a plea from the Bishop of Foligno.

In 1835, Pope Gregory XVI, established a commission to study the Jewish ghetto.  He was responding to complaints that the overcrowded ghetto was breeding diseases of all sorts. The result of the study was that Jewish wholesalers were once again allowed to work outside of the ghetto.  In addition, a modest ghetto enlargement was decided on.  

In 1836, a newer commission was appointed and one member, Prince Pietro Odescalchi, reported back to the Church about the ghetto conditions he had seen in person. He told the Church hierarchy that about 1800 people were living in misery; the ghetto was constructed to hold 2,000 people and actually housed 3500. There were eight to ten people sandwiched in tiny, fetid rooms, with little air, fire or light. In 1837, a new cholera epidemic broke out and people were forced to live in stench-filled rooms because of the diarrhea, one of cholera’s symptoms.  The spread of the disease must have been inexorable and swift. Pope Gregory insisted that all the prohibitions against the Jews were part of the Church’s canon and apparently justified.

In 1843, Prince Metternich of Austria, sent the Vatican a letter protesting the Pope’s repression of the Jewish people.  The Rothschild family, wealthy and powerful Jews, protested as well. They had become a very rich banking family and Saloman Rothschild was close friends with Metternich. Metternich’s Austrian troops had secured the Papal States for the Vatican during a revolution. The only way the Vatican had Papal States any longer was in a great part due to Austrian support.  Metternich had also persuaded Rothschild to make a large loan to the Vatican.  Although such powerful men protested the measures taken against the Jewish people, and despite the changing zeitgeist, the Pope held fast to all the prohibitions enacted against Jews.  Until very recently, Metternich’s letter was buried deep in the Vatican archives.

In 1840, the horrific accusation of ritual murder committed by the Jewish people against Christians was brought around again in Damascus, Syria.  A well-beloved Capuchin monk, Father Tommaso, was murdered.  Jews were immediately suspected. Several Jewish citizens, all of them prosperous and respected, were tortured and harassed for confessions for over a year. The Christian and Muslim communities in the city were in an uproar against Jews. Several Jewish men died under torture; others gave false confessions. It was alleged that the monk was killed for his blood, which it was believed the Jews needed to sprinkle over matzo meal to make their Passover bread. 

Most of the Jewish men were finally released, at least those who were still alive.  English and Austrian troops, in the area because of a war that had broken out over a territorial dispute, were winning. When they expressed their hostility about the ill-treatment of the Jewish citizens to the viceroy, he was compelled to put an end to the false investigation. Forced to appease the English and Austrians, the viceroy ordered the Jews released.  His action provoked the very great anger of the Pope, the Capuchin Order, and the French.  The case was finished, but the belief that the Jews had murdered the monk endured for years.  Many Christians believed the canard.

In 1834, a translation of an earlier scurrilous work appeared in Romania and was passed on.  It was said to be very rare because “Jewish gold” had made it disappear. The document had originally been written in 1803 by a Jewish convert to Christianity who had become a monk. In the volume, he listed the reasons Jews practiced ritual murder: (1) Because of their hatred of Christians, they believed they made a sacrifice to god when they killed a Christian; (2) they needed Christian blood for their magic; (3) because Jews suspected that Jesus might be the Messiah, they believed they would be saved by sprinkling themselves with Jewish blood.”

 The writer alleged that he had learned these secrets, which he called “the mystery of the blood,” from his Jewish father.

 In addition to the libelous Romanian volume, the revival of the old blood libel from the Middle Ages added to the terror and anger of many Christians.  Purim was added to the list of Jewish holidays Christians needed to fear. However, it was the Passover that was much more dangerous than Purim.  At Purim, Jews merely murdered Christians. But on Passover, it was rumored that Jews killed Christians and used their blood. They also tortured their victims in order to reenact Christ’s torture.  An additional rumor circulated that Jews sprinkled Christian blood on themselves to heal sickness, but especially to heal the babies’ wounds who had been newly circumcised.

Even the Talmud was resurrected as a source of Jewish hatred against Christians.  (See, Christian anti-Semitism, Part One.)  By making use of mistranslation, quotations out of context and particularly blatant invention, supposed Talmudic injunctions against Christians were revealed. Here are some of the false quotations: “The Jews must curse the Christians three times each day and ask god for their destruction and their extermination;  god permits the Jews to seize the property of Christians in any way they can, by ruse, trickery, usury or theft.  Jews must views Christians as wild beasts and animals and treat them accordingly, … and if ‘one of us’ encounters a Christian at a precipice, he should push him off.”

The anger about the earlier Damascus “ritual murder” affair was not allowed to abate, and was fed by the repeated din of false accusations against the Jews.

The Christian community continued to be outraged by the release of the innocent Jewish prisoners in Damascus. Christians believed that the monk had been murdered by Jews who been released because of Jewish political connections and well-placed bribes.  In 1840, Moses Montefiore, the leader of the Jewish expedition to Alexandria, tried to come to the relief of the Jewish people from the false rumors.  He was well-connected and persuasive and believed the Vatican had not been involved in the Damascus case. He went to Rome with the hope that he could convince Gregory XVI to make a statement that would condemn charges of ritual murder against the Jewish people.  On January 11, he left Rome, never having been granted an audience by the Pope.

However, the end of an era was fast approaching.  By the end of 1869, the Pope convened the First Vatican Council in Rome.  The bishops confirmed the Pope’s infallibility on doctrinal issues as official Church doctrine.  Pope Pius IX was extremely pleased. Shortly before this, Pius IX had also been pleased to reward a French scholar, Henri des Mousseaux for his volume, The Jew: Judaism and the Judaization of the Christian Peoples. The 1869 book claimed that the Talmud commanded the Jewish people to cheat and kill the Christian whenever he had the occasion to do so.  Pius IX gave the author his benediction and awarded him the Cross of the Commander of the Papal Order. Kertzer states that: “Many years later, in 1921, as the Nazi movement began its ascent, Alfred Rosenberg, chief party ideologist, oversaw and edited the first German edition of the book.”

However, in August of 1870, the French troops which had been guarding Rome were withdrawn to fight with Prussia.  The Italian government was finally able to allow its army to march on the Holy City. 

In 1870, Italian soldiers broke through the city’s walls and proclaimed Rome the Italian State’s capital. The Catholic Popes imprisoned themselves within the Vatican and never went outside it for about fifty-eight years.

The Popes, although free to go wherever they wished, liked to give the impression that they were prisoners inside the Vatican.  It was 1929 before the Vatican recognized the legitimacy of the Italian State.  From the point of view of Pius IX and his clergy as well, the forces of evil had overtaken society.  Those forces were strong enough to be thought to have come from the devil.  The Catholic Church was very near to seeing Jews as the “occult” force responsible. After all, the Jews had benefited from the misfortune that had befallen the Church.  Jews no longer were confined to ghettoes, no longer prevented from buying property or engaging in any professions, no longer even barred from being friends with Christians.

From the era beginning around 1814 until the end of World War II in 1945, there was an increase in the intensity of the anti-Semitism of the Catholic Popes.  Anti-Judaism, as we learned in the first part of this two part talk, was embedded in the earliest writings of the nascent Christian Church.  Hatred of the Jewish people surged to its most vicious level during the Middle Ages, waned somewhat, and then underwent a resurgence in the 1800’s and 1900’s. But there was a difference that emerged in the later era. Some of the earlier Popes had tried, even if half-heartedly, to quell the worst of the mob violence against Jewish citizens.  The later Popes, from the 1800’s on, made almost no attempt to ameliorate the terrible living, working and political conditions of the Jews.

The modern Popes allowed, and frequently helped propagate, the revival of the false blood ritual rumors, the confinement of Jews to ghettoes, forced baptisms and lies about the Talmud.

With the advent of the new era at the end of the 19th century, the Popes had come to see the Jews as not only beneficiaries, but also as activists in all that was modern and detested by the Catholic Church. It was an interesting turn of events- the Popes voluntarily shut themselves in the confines of the Vatican, and the people they had formerly kept sequestered, the Jewish citizens, had gained their freedom.  David Kertzer states: “… Jews in the eyes of leading churchmen, had now rapidly become insolent and evil masterminds plotting the destruction of the Church and all that was holy.”

 I should now like to turn to the Catholic Church’s significant contribution to modern anti-Semitism.  There is no doubt that the Church did contribute substantially to that virulent concept, despite its continuous denials to the contrary. The Popes used the power of the Catholic press to promulgate the most egregious anti-Semitism. By the end of the 19th century, people had become fairly literate and freedom of the press and better print technology had made newspapers and other print media popular.  Both Pius IX and his 1878 successor, Leo XIII, were well aware of the importance of newspapers and periodicals for influencing the people. Here are some statistics: by the early 1870’s, 130 Catholic periodicals were being published, including 20 newspapers in Italy alone.  By the start of the 20th century, Italy had about 500 Catholic periodicals, including 30 dailies. Most of those publications had two marked characteristics: a strong loyalty to the Pope, and a new, strident anti-Semitism.

The most notorious of the publications was the aforementioned Civilta cattolica, which had begun in 1850 with strong backing from the Pope, and against the protests from the head of the Jesuits, who disliked the Order intervening so publicly in political affairs. The writers were all Jesuits, a kind of collective, and the journal was regarded as the voice of the Pope himself. It was overseen by a Holy See official and had to conform to official guidelines.  The Pope received a copy five days before publication in order to review and approve the contents. Most of the other Catholic publications regarded it as the most authoritative source for the Vatican’s opinion on current events.  They quoted it and the daily Vatican paper, L’Osservatore Romano, constantly.

The word, anti-Semitism, was coined in 1879 by a German.  In addition, an 1871 best selling tract, titled The Talmud Jew, written by a Catholic priest and published in Germany, became an influential work that contributed to the rise of modern anti-Semitism.  Civilta cattolica took up the ideas in the tract, and moved on from there, picking up the priest’s scurrilous themes and giving them a papal imprimatur.  Most of the articles repeated the complaints that the Jewish people and society had been better off when the Jews were oppressed and in ghettoes.  Such statements were made in a strident manner.

But a new and lethal claim was added, which had previously been singular to the Spanish Inquisition begun in 1478. It was the charge that Jews were a race, and a pernicious race in addition. Father Oreglia, the publications director of Civilta cattolica, wrote that while other people were both Catholic and Italian, or English, or Protestant and whatever nationality of their nation, “… it is a great error to believe the same is true of Jews. For the Jews are not only Jews because of their religion… they are Jews also and especially because of their race.” He found Jewish people who had left their religion the greatest danger to society, and claimed that they had only strayed for material gain. He insisted that if they had been born Jews, so they had to remain.

Sensitive to the growing respect for the Jewish people in Europe, Oreglia made sure to protest love for them despite their wicked proclivities.  The anxieties that were afflicting people in a rapidly changing social, economic and political scene, including the rise of socialism, were exploited by the Church’s publications.  Jews and their Talmud were blamed for all society’s ills.  The Jews were portrayed by the Vatican as the masterminds at the head of a plot to bring about the destruction of the Catholic Church. The articles and editorials in the Catholic press helped the rise of modern anti-Semitism.  That the Popes were behind such claims is beyond dispute.  To state otherwise is mendacious disservice to history.

The Church, with its accomplices from the Catholic press, brought back all the charges from the Middle Ages- they claimed Jews committed ritual murder, cited the vast Jewish conspiracy against Christians and yet again misquoted, quite deliberately and with unashamed forgery of many passages, the Talmud and other Jewish books. The Catholic press also set out to falsely ‘prove’ Jews ritually murdered young children to obtain their blood.  As I mentioned earlier, the blood was alleged to have been sprinkled over the matzo meal used for Passover bread.  Civilta cattolica, L’Osservatore romano and other publications reported at least twenty-two alleged ritual murders in 1887-1891 alone.  The fear and folklore of vampires, most likely linked with Christian beliefs about the blood of Christ being drunk during the Communion rite, was apparently projected on to Jews.

The irony of the accusation was that Jewish people who practiced their religion were specifically not allowed to drink blood, being prohibited from doing so by the Old Testament. That prohibition is still in force in the Jewish religion. The Catholic press also alleged that Jews were said to be enjoined by their holy works to kill Christians.

Father Oreglia claimed to have received a report from Port Said, Egypt, that Jews had become desperate near Passover, and unable to find a Christian child, had kidnapped a Muslim one. The priest alleged that the Jews had baptized the child, and then slit his throat.  Oreglia claimed this was a common practice, but the consolation was that the Muslim child would go to heaven, carried there, he said, by the devil.  The devil, of course, was aided by his helpers, the Jews. 

Having glanced at the background of the Catholic press, particularly in Italy, I would now like to turn to France and modern anti-Semitism. The Jews had been expelled from France in 1394.  There were only about 500 Jews living in Paris when they were finally given full French citizenship in 1791.  However, by the last two decades of the 19th Century, there were 75,000 Jews who were living in France and who were citizens. These people had entered many fields, such as the civil service and the military officer corps. According to Kertzer, by the end of the century, over 20% of the owners of France’s major financial institutions were Jews. Jewish citizens were very prominent in large banking and high finance and Jews had also served as ministers of finance and justice in the government.

Such gains made the Jewish people a lightning rod for the blame of what was wrong with the modern world.  In France, the lower Catholic clergy, the Assumptionist Order, and a Catholic publication called La Croix, were most responsible for the rise of anti-Semitism. The alleged Jewish conspiracy was joined to Freemasonry, another enemy of the Catholic Church.  The Pope and the Church hierarchy disseminated the allegations made against Jews by a popular anti-Semite, Edouard Drumont. The irony was that the Catholic Drumont was on bad terms with the Catholic hierarchy and the Pope kept a public distance from him. However, the Catholic press was allowed to take up his anti-Semitism with enthusiasm.

In 1896, Drumont was active and vocal at a Christian Democratic Conference in Lyon. By then, the Pope had become so incensed by Drumont that he refused to bless the gathering, which was rife with anti-Semitism of the most egregious kind. Shortly after the influential convocation, a wave of anti-Semitism swept through France, linked to the famous Dreyfus Affair of 1894.  This was the case of Alfred Dreyfus, a thirty-nine year old Jewish artillery captain.  He was falsely accused of selling French military secrets to the Germans.  Despite his adamant denials, he was court-martialed and convicted in 1895 and sent to the infamous Devil’s Island Prison off the coast of French Guyana. At the very first, the public had not been very invested in the case. That was soon to change.

In 1897, the new head of French Counter-Intelligence discovered a letter in the waste basket of a German military attaché. It was addressed to Count Esterhazy, a major in the French Army.

Upon investigation, the writing on the document that convicted Dreyfus was found to be identical to Esterhazy’s, who was deeply in debt and desperately needed money.  In a strange turn of events, some French officials then had Esterhazy forge documents to prove Dreyfus guilty. The Catholic press was vociferous about Jewish plots to thwart justice and Civilta cattolica suggested repealing the French nationality of Jews.

Catholic organizations took some of the lead in helping along the anti-Semitic riots that began to sweep across France.  The rioters shouted: “Death to Dreyfus! Death to the Jews!” By the first few months of 1895, Jewish shops were destroyed, and there were many attacks on synagogues and individual Jews.  The Vatican official newspaper, L’Osservatore romano, observed in 1897 that if Dreyfus betrayed France, it was no surprise because he was a Jew. It went on to say that Jews were deicides and that Jews were also in the front ranks of traitors. 

Dreyfus was retried in 1899, which aroused L’Unita cattolica to claim that Jewish gold was buying acquittal for a traitor and that the colossus of Jewry was taking over France.  But by this time, Pope Leo had finally become aware and concerned about the anti-governmental tone of the anti-Dreyfus movement, and a more moderate tone began to issue from the official Vatican paper, L’Osservatore romano.  Dreyfus was again found guilty at his new trial and given a reduced sentence of ten years. In an act of political theatre, he was then pardoned by the French President and finally allowed to go free. The disgruntled Catholic press shifted its attention from France to Hungary in search of crimes committed by Jews and began to address an alleged ritual murder committed there.

L’Osservatore romano reported that in a small Hungarian town, the corpse of a small boy was found and his blood had been drained by the Jews.

This lecture will now move to Austria.  Modern Austrian anti-Semitism can be traced to the 1848 Revolution.  At that time, a Catholic priest, Sebastian Brummer, began a newspaper called “The Vienna Journal of the Church.” He used the publication to blame the Jewish people for the de-Christianization of Austria. Over the next decades, a broader conservative Catholic political movement began to form and increase.

Pope Leo XIII had, as we have seen, been somewhat restrained when dealing with the French political situation.  France’s government was hostile to the Church and viewed the Catholic anti-Semitic and conservative movement as a threat to the State. Therefore Leo XIII walked a careful path between Catholic anti-Semitism and the Vatican’s desire to appease the French government.

But Leo and his Church hierarchy perceived a variety of threats to the Church in Austria, such as Jews, modernity, capitalism, Free Masonry and so on.  Leo saw the opportunity for the formation of an organization that would support the Church, and he decided to use anti-Semitism as an efficient tool for mobilizing the Catholic masses.  Over the years until the end of the 19th Century, a broad conservative, Catholic political movement began to take shape in Austria. 

There were other primarily secular leaders of political groups who were anti-Semitic, but many of them were also against the Church.  Such men often had no personal animus against Jews, but like the Church, found it convenient to mobilize the citizenry.  However the secular parties were not generally successful or popular in Austria, nor did they grow very rapidly.

It was the Christian Socialist Organization, formed in Vienna in 1887, that was the lynchpin of a massive, powerful anti-Semitic movement.  Its first program, led by Karl Lueger, was a call for exclusion of Jews from the army, civil service, judiciary, retail trade, medicine and the teaching of non-Jewish students. Lueger was elected to Parliament in 1885 and met L.P. Liechtenstein there; the two began a partnership which led to the Christian Socialist Movement, called the Christian Social Party.  The party platform called for social reform and identified the Jewish people as the enemy.  The Austrian Church hierarchy was intent on distancing itself from the party, but the lower clergy was enthusiastic in its support for it.  Pope Leo XIII was also an enthusiastic supporter as he needed help to foil the movement toward secularity in Austria.

The Pope’s nuncio in Austria was chided for his attempt to distance the Catholic Church from the increasingly rowdy anti-Semitic movement.  The Archbishop of Prague and the Archbishop of Vienna were both unhappy with the Christian Social Party and the Archbishop of Prague visited the Pope to voice his worry.  He was concerned about the anti-governmental, socialist trend of the party, as well as the encouragement it was giving to priests to defy their bishops.

The Pope referred the matter to the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, which was headed by Cardinal Rampolla, the secretary of state. Rampolla was in complete agreement with the Pope and approved of the Christian Social Party.  It was telling that the Master General of the Dominican Order, while deploring the influence of the Jewish people in Austria, believed a strong warning from the Vatican should be sent to the heads of the Party, which would urge them to tone down their anti-Jewish rhetoric.  He, too, was ignored. The Congregation’s study decided that there was no anti-Semitism in the Christian Social Party.  The report stated that the group was merely combating an economic system that oppressed people and Jews happened to be dedicated to that economic system.

On May 6, 1895, a large ceremony took place in Vienna. The heads of the Christian Social Party pledged their allegiance to the Pope, the Church doctrine, and the Church hierarchy in Vienna.  They also denounced the Jewish people.  The leaders claimed that Jews were parasites who were a threat to Austrian society and must be driven out.  It was obvious that the heads of the Party were very sure of the Pope’s blessing on their campaign.

A little earlier, around the month of February in 1894, reports had begun to come in about attacks against Jewish people in Galicia, a region now part of Poland, but then part of the Austrian Empire.  A priest was leading those attacks against the impoverished Jewish population there.  The priest was investigated, and the Pope and papal secretary instructed the cardinal inquisitors to insist that the he must take a public vow to obey his superiors.  He did take the vow as he was ordered, but in a few years, there were a series of attacks on Jewish citizens in Galicia once again.

This time, the Austrian government demanded the Vatican take action. The government not only blamed the Catholic priest, but the Pope as well.  This official command infuriated the Holy See. The papal nuncio tried to convince the government that the Jews had brought the violence on themselves.  The accusations and counter- accusations did not stop. As the 20th century began, the modern anti-Semitic movement gained in popularity.  The strong support from the Vatican and the lower clergy of Austria had been a significant factor in the Christian Social Party’s success.

The papal nuncio’s 1899 letter, until recently buried in the secret Vatican archive, to Pope Leo XIII is very clear about the Vatican’s role in the growth of anti-Semitism in Austria. Those who try to claim, either from misinformation, or from disingenuous fabrication, that the Vatican had no real part in or responsibility for the rapid growth of the Christian Social Party in Austria, have been proven wrong.  The nuncio wrote that he had acted on the instructions from Pope Leo XIII, and that he had given some of Leo’s instructions to the leaders of the Party as well. He reported that all the actions combined had managed to seriously frighten the partisans of Masonic Judaized liberalism.

The poisonous atmosphere in Austria and the surrounding areas increased and became more vicious. A lieutenant of the Christian Social Party had begun to end his speeches with the humorous suggestion that the Austrian government should offer a cash reward to any good Christian who killed a Jew. In 1901, attacks on Jews spread to Hungary.  The anti-Semitic movement began to widen across central Europe and Pope Leo XIII and his secretary of state had helped it significantly.

David Kertzer has described the breakdown in logic he found when scrutinizing the Catholic Church’s denial that it had nothing to do with the rise of modern racial anti-Semitism.  Here is his presentation of the argument. The Catholic Church insists that (1) one of the defining features of modern anti-Semitism is the view that Jews constitute a separate and inferior race; (2) the Church has always condemned racial thinking; (3) so the Church could not have been involved in the development of modern anti-Semitism.  Kertzer states that the Church could not accept unilaterally inferior views of Jewish people, as Jesus was born a Jew; salvation was available to Jews who converted through Christian baptism, which went against ideas of permanent racial inferiority and evil.  So, since (1) modern anti-Semitism entails the notion of Jewish biological inferiority; (2) and the Catholic Church has never embraced a belief in Jewish biological inferiority; (3) the Catholic Church can bear no responsibility for the rise of modern anti-Semitism.

However, there were, first of all, quote after quote from churchmen and the Catholic press that called the Jewish people a Jewish race. Many articles and letters publicly dwelt on what they considered so-called Jewish features and on the false tale of the unattractive distinctive stench of the Jews.  Church nonsense about Jews having a bad smell most likely came from the tales about Jews being associated with the devil, who was believed to have a sulfurous odor.  Such hateful and disgusting statements about Jews’ biological features, as well as the claim that all Jews had those same features, reveal the underlying belief of many Catholics that Jewish people were a race.

Secondly, Kertzer points out that if the Church claims it had no belief in Jews as a race, but contributed to every other aspect of modern anti-Semitism, how can the Church be considered innocent? Here are some of the other aspects of modern anti-Semitism promulgated by the Catholic Church and its press. “There is a secret Jewish conspiracy to take over the world; Jews seek to do Christians harm; Jews control the press; Jews control the banks and have financially ruined innumerable Christians; Jews are immoral by nature; they care only for money and will do anything to get it; Jews are responsible for communism; Judaism commands its adherents to murder defenseless Christian children and drink their blood; Jews seek to destroy the Christian religion; Jews are unpatriotic, ready to sell their country to the enemy; for the large Christian society to be protected, Jews must be segregated and their rights limited.” The Catholic Church and its hierarchy vilified Jews constantly, publicly and egregiously.  But then its representatives stated that no violence should be visited on the Jews.

The historical hypocrisy of the Catholic Church has been well established.  Its claim that it forbade violence against the Jews, while perpetuating all the traditional libels about them and stoking the flames of hatred and violence against them is one of the most significant and homicidal lies told by an institution traditionally associated with mendacity and deceit.

During the last two decades of the 20th century, the Popes used anti-Semitism as an important tool in their campaign to build large political support for the Catholic Church.  No matter how often the Vatican issued hypocritical statements that there should be no violence against the Jewish people, the truth was quite different. 

The Popes and their secretaries of state allowed the numerous Catholic presses and publications to disseminate hatred and prejudice against the Jews. They also worked behind the scenes to carry on correspondence with anti-Semitic clerics like the Catholic priest, Henri Desportes.

Desportes was the writer of the 1899 The Mystery of the Blood Among the Jews, which revived the old allegations about ritual murder.  The Catholic press of those years was replete with horrific tales of the murder of Christian children for their blood at the hands of the Jews.  Not one of such tales had any truth, but the falsehood was believed in many quarters.  Desportes’ book was egregious enough to cause the English Archbishop of York and the Duke of Norwich to write to the Vatican.  They were disturbed that Desportes and his supporters were claiming the book had the approval of the Pope.  They requested a denial of such claims and the Duke of Norfolk added that the outbreaks of violence against Jewish people in Austria were becoming alarming.

Despite claims that the Pope had not even seen the book, the truth was that he had at least received it and approved of it.  In 1890, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Rampola, wrote to Desportes to thank him for copies of the volume.  He said: “I placed one copy in the venerable hands of the Holy Father, and I am happy to inform you that his holiness received your filial gift with gratitude, and that from the bottom of his heart he sends you his Apostolic Benediction.”

The Pope and Cardinal Rampola placed the English complaints with the Cardinal Inquisitors to conduct an investigation.

The Inquisitors put the investigation into the hands of Merry de Val as a special consultant. De Val would succeed Rampola as secretary of state in three years.  De Val was partly chosen because he was a descendant of a saint worshipped particularly in Spain.  The saint, Dominquito de Val, had been crucified by Jews when still a child, according to the false allegations of the Church.  De Val’s ancestor was one of the child martyrs the Church had created for veneration. 

The Inquisitors were dubious about the English request, citing the influence on it by the powerful Jews of London. The report said that the London Jews had reached such an unchallenged rule that they now wanted to pretend they were defended by the Holy See.  In 1900, after a dragged-out inquiry, the Inquisitors reported officially to Cardinal Rampola. They said that, with Pope Leo XIII’s approval, the conclusion was that “no such declaration of the Jews’ innocence {of ritual murder} could be made.”

Pope Pius X was also requested to do something to deny ritual murder allegations against the Jewish people  His behavior, in the midst of a famous ritual murder trial, illuminates how little the Vatican had changed its views even into the 20th century. Let us keep in mind that both Leo XIII and Pius X were intense anti-modernists, disliking freedom of the press, equality for all, and other reform movements of the modern world. They had begun to associate such reforms with Jews and socialism.

Before I pass on to the trial, I would like to mention that the newly revealed secret Vatican papers have proved that Pius X not only knew about, but actually provided a subsidy to the Sodality of St. Pius V, begun by Umberto Begnini, a Catholic prelate and newspaper publisher. 

His paper was anti-modernist, as was the Sodality. The Sodality was not only a bastion of anti-modernity, it also proved to be an espionage ring. Begnini kept files on both clergy and lay people he suspected of disloyalty and of liberal sympathies, and such information was passed on to the Vatican. Rampant anti-modernism and paranoia seems to have overtaken the Catholic Church hierarchy and the Jews remained prime suspects in what was viewed as the degeneration of society.

Pius X was most urgently requested to do something in the following 1913 case.  Medel Beilis was a Jewish worker at a Jewish owned factory in Kiev, Russia. A young boy had been murdered on the factory grounds in 1911, and Beilis was accused of killing him.  The facts of the case made it clear that the Russian authorities had framed him for the murder as a pretext to keep Russian anti-Semitism at a fever pitch.  Perhaps they were also unable to find the real perpetrator and needed to save face. The Catholic European press threw itself into the frenzy, and aided significantly in keeping the fantasy of Jewish ritual murder alive.

Jewish rights organizations in Europe and North America had sprung up during the new era, and they tried to turn to the Pope to quell the rising fury and false charges against Jews.  Lucian Wolf, head of the foreign relations committee of the main Jewish/British organization, his counterpart in Berlin, Paul Nathan, Lord Rothschild and others tried to get the Vatican secretary of state, Merry de Val, to certify that a 13th Century Encyclical by Pope Innocent IV and a report in 1758, written by a cardinal at the request of the Holy Office, both of which defended Jews against the charge of ritual murder, were authentic.  The Pope never spoke about those documents and de Val refused to legally certify them. 

The Vatican also allowed the rabid Catholic press in most European nations to continue their intense anti-Semitic allegations of Jewish ritual murder. Those who would defend Pius X as having been against the anti-Semitic thinking and behavior of that era are quite mistaken or quite disingenuous. Neither the Pope nor his secretary of state ever made any statement repudiating the falsehoods about Jewish ritual murder.

Fortunately for Beilis, and probably on account of the heated international cry against the Russian charges, he was found “not guilty.” The Catholic press linked Jewish ritual murder to Jewish desire for world domination and refused to accept that Jews did not commit ritual murder.  The Catholic publications reported many so-called cases of ritual murder, past and present, and rumors abounded that the Russian government had made sure Beilis would be found innocent, because the Russian government did not want to be pilloried any longer by the international outrage.  In 1914, this excerpt appeared in Civilta cattolica, written by a Father Silva: “The Jew drinks blood all the time.” The priest claimed he had found texts revealing Jewish people drank blood like milk.  He then stated that “… the Jew must keep in mind that he must not simply murder the Christian child, but make sure the child dies in the most painful manner possible.” Let me repeat the date of the priest’s canard: 1914!

The lecture will now turn to the state of affairs for the Jewish people in Poland, and specifically to the religious mission of Achille Ratti, the Vatican librarian, to Poland in 1918.  Ratti was to become Pope Pius XI in 1922.  He was chosen for the delicate mission to Poland by Pope Benedict XV. 

Ratti’s mission to Poland will shed light on the future Pope’s guidance of the Church during the rise of fascism in Europe and the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930’s.  The Vatican has forbidden access to Ratti’s papers after he became Pope.  His years in Poland have made it just under the deadline and scholars are generally agreed that the papers from that period of his life shed light on his mind, thoughts and attitude.

Poland had a large population of Jewish people, about three million, during the era under discussion.  In many small towns during the 1880’s and 1890’s, Jews owned the only general store, were the only money lenders and sometimes the only livestock dealers.  Christian peasants were frequently forced to go to Jewish business people for credit.  When Catholics were turned down for loans or accepted and then became indebted, their dislike of Jewish people increased.

The anti-Semitism of the Polish people broke out fiercely at the end of World War I. Russian Czarist forces were defeated in 1915, and Poland was invaded by German/Austrian troops.  Poles, looking to blame someone, found Jewish citizens an easy target. They claimed Jews had welcomed the invaders. As it began to be clear that Poland would remain a unified state, there was a call for protection of Polish minorities, with some local Jewish organizations attempting to win a measure of autonomy for the Jewish people. Such attempts set off a wave of hate, culminating in pogroms throughout Poland. Local populations, joined by some elements of the demobilizied armies, started to riot, massacring Jewish people and burning down their homes, businesses and synagogues.  The national press repeated all the old charges against the Jews, including ritual murder.

 The massacres took place in Cracow, Kielce, Lublin, and dozens of towns in Galicia.

Achille Ratti was sent to Poland by the Pope to work with the Polish prelates and to shore up the Catholic Church’s position in Poland.  When Ratti took up his study about the religious, social and political situation of the country, he repeatedly heard that Jews were causing Poland’s problem. At the same time, he learned of the Polish belief that Jews were in league with the Bolsheviks.  As new atrocities against the Jews took place, the international press began to blame the Catholic Church for encouraging the violence in Poland. Despite the unfavorable publicity which the Church was undergoing, Ratti continued to show disinterest in Jewish welfare, although the Pope had instructed him to look into the matter.  In fact, according to scholars, he “…did everything he could to impede any Vatican action on behalf of the Jews and prevent any Vatican intervention that would discourage the violence. “ Ratti did not ever warn the Vatican about the persecutions against the Jewish people but tried instead to alert the Pope to dangers from the Jews.

Ratti claimed the Jews in Poland were unlike other European Jews, that they were an unproductive element in Polish society.  The Polish Jews, he claimed, were shopkeepers, lenders, dealers and so on, that oppressed the Christian population.  Ratti blamed the violence on the Jews themselves and sometimes downplayed the violence visited on the Jewish citizens.

Ratti’s final report to the Vatican contained one section labeled “The Jews.” In 1990, the Vatican published a series of books, which made the most important documents from the Vatican archives more accessible. 

One of the books was about Ratti’s Warsaw Mission.  But David Kertzer explains that this volume’s text is interrupted with many parenthetical insertions which provide summaries instead of the original text. It is necessary to read the original version to understand the unconscionable statements made to denigrate the Jewish people. For example, there was a markedly anti-Semitic section that described Jewish biological features that were supposedly different from the Catholic population.  The report claimed that Jews were short, had large noses and so on.  The original text also alleged that the Jewish people were loan sharks and dealers in contraband. According to Kertzer, who has read the original, untampered with report, Jews were additionally depicted as an insidious foreign force, eating away at the Polish nation, and preventing Poland from realizing its national aspirations.  The Ratti report also claimed that the stories about the horrendous attacks on Jews in Poland were inventions of the Jews themselves. 

Ratti had already left Poland by 1921, but he had left behind his most trusted secretary, Pellegrinetti, who finished the mission’s report. While it might be misconstrued that the secretary was responsible for much of the misinformation about the Jewish people in the report, the facts are quite different.  It is important to keep in mind that Pellegrinetti had read all of Ratti’s earlier correspondence on the Warsaw Mission to Poland and diligently worked up the findings of the final report to please his superior.  Pellegrinetti inserted the conspiracy theories circulating about the Jewish people into the study and added that the Jews sought to form a Judaic Poland.  He also accused Jewish Poles of being responsible for communist attempts to undermine Poland.

Needless to say, Ratti was well pleased with his loyal secretary’s report on the Warsaw Mission.

After becoming Pope Pius XI, he named Pellegrinetti the papal nuncio to Serbia and then promoted him to Archbishop.  The report on the Jewish people and Ratti’s correspondence with the Vatican secretary of state are a revealing glimpse into the mind of the man who would become the Pope.  Pius XI’s attitude toward Jews has been exposed by the newly released documents. In 1932, Pope Pius XI told the fascist Mussolini that while Italian Jews were basically good, the Jews in Central and Eastern Europe were a threat to healthy Christian society.  He told Mussolini that he had learned these facts when he had resided in Poland.

When Pope Pius XI died in 1939, Jews in many parts of Europe had already lost the equal rights they had won a century earlier.  They were living, as well, in a growing climate of fear and violence. It is impossible, within the time limits of this lecture, to do more than glance at some of the most egregious instances that led up to and encouraged the Nazi Holocaust from 1939-1945.  But this lecture will glance at some highlights of the evolution of modern anti-Semitism and the responsibility the Catholic Church bore in that ultimately murderous development.

An excellent place to begin is with the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This document clearly displays the role that Catholic anti-Semitism played in the rise of the Nazis and of fascism in the 1920’s. The Protocols was purported to be a document recently discovered that detailed the plot of the Jews’ secret plan to take over the world.  Make no mistake- although we modern, secular people may contemptuously ridicule such phantasmagoric conspiracy notions, there were many people who believed in its reality.  The book has some purchase even in the present day. When I owned a rare and out-of-print bookstore some years ago, I had about a request a year for the Protocols.  

Here is the history of the fraudulent work. Maurice Joly wrote a satirical political pamphlet in 1864.  His satire outlined a plot involving the French Emperor, Napoleon III. It had nothing to do with the Jewish people.  But a few years later, a German anti-Semite decided to plagiarize parts of Joly’s work and substitute a plot involving a secret meeting of rabbis that was held every hundred years.  The rabbis were accused of planning nefarious plots for each new century.  Then the Russians got ahold of this spurious canard, and in an effort to undermine the reform movement, Russian agents renamed the pamphlet The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and printed it in 1903. Eventually it was published in English, French, German, Italian and many other languages. The Protocols claimed to be the newly found minutes of a meeting held by a secret international directorate of Jews plotting world conquest.

But when the Protocols was first published in London in 1920, a leader of the British Jewish community demonstrated that it was a hoax.  The London Times also published a series of articles in 1921 that added details to prove the Protocols were a crude forgery.  However, fantasies are frequently difficult to eradicate even when they are exposed as falsehoods, and the Protocols became the bible of the anti-Semitic movement.  The document was an amplification of what Catholic Church publications had been claiming for years and therefore seemed quite persuasive to many Catholics.

L’Osservatore romano solemnly claimed that Jews should be shown tolerance but first must give up their racial hatred of Christians and desire for world domination.  That was one endless theme of the Catholic press. The other repeated theme involved the claim that there were two types of anti-Semitism. 

The publications claimed that the Catholic one was the correct one, as it was morally engaged in helping emancipate Christians from Jewish oppression.  A large group of Catholic clergy who wanted to see the Jewish people converted to Christianity but treated with fairness and without the repeated din of anti-Semitism, was peremptorily disbanded by the Catholic hierarchy.  The press in Germany followed the vicious anti-Semitic example of France and Italy with enthusiasm.

Even though Pope Pius XI publicly shed tears for the plight of the Jews, the same egregious prejudice against Jewish people remained at work behind the scenes in the Vatican. In 1938, Pius XI invited an American priest, Father John La Farge, to help draft an encyclical that would condemn both racism and anti-Semitism.  La Farge’s draft, with the help of three Jesuits, discussed the opposition of the Catholic Church to racism and anti-Semitism.  But unsurprisingly, the section on Judaism repeated the old notions about the Jews’ desire for material domination and financial gain. It also brought up once again the fictive divine malediction against the Jews because they had not recognized their savior.  By 1939, Pius XI was dead. Pope Pius XII never had the encyclical released, and it was buried in the Vatican archives.  Pius XII was most interested in repairing the Church’s relations with Hitler.

The brutalities of Mussolini and his Italian fascists, and the inhuman excesses of the Nazi Party in Germany and elsewhere, have been detailed in many fine volumes. The emphasis of this lecture is on the events as the Holocaust was just beginning, particularly on the response of the Catholic Church and its Pope, Pius XII, to the unconscionable sweep of inhuman violence and barbarism that enveloped Europe.

In 1943, after the fall of Mussolini, German soldiers marched down the Italian peninsula and rounded up 1,000 Jews in Rome. Cardinal Maglione discussed the affair with the German ambassador as the Cardinal was very agitated by the German aggression.  Fortunately for history, the Cardinal wrote down what had occurred at that historic meeting.  The Cardinal strongly hinted to the German Ambassador that the Holy See might have to express its disapproval of the Jewish seizures publicly.

The German Ambassador advised the Cardinal that the order for the seizure of the Jewish citizens had come from the highest place (i.e. Hitler.) He hinted that if he were forced to repeat the Cardinal’s words to the German High Command, they would be upset.  The Cardinal then left it to the Ambassador whether or not to repeat what he had said to the High Command, about their “friendly” conversation.  Then he left the matter to the German Ambassador, appealing to his “humanitarian sentiments.”

Here is the end of the conversation between the two men.  Please keep in mind that Cardinal Maglione was the Pope Pius XII’s secretary of state and represented the Vatican.  He said to the German: “Your Excellency has told me he will try to do something for the poor Jews.  I thank you for it.  As for the rest, I leave it to your judgment.  If you think it more opportune not to mention this conversation, so be it.”

Two days later, over a thousand of the Jewish citizens rounded up in Rome by the Germans were placed on a train bound for Auschwitz.  According to history, only a handful would leave there alive.

Religion kills, as I have frequently repeated during the course of this lecture series.  I believe this particular lecture has put to rest the canard that the Catholic Church was responsible solely for religious prejudice against the Jewish people, rather than modern racial anti-Semitism.  Anti-Semitism was embedded in the Christian Church from its earliest beginnings.  It reached virulent heights in the Middle Ages. When it re-emerged in the 1880’s and 1890’s, its more intense and deadlier aspects, including racial anti-Semitism, helped culminate in the Holocaust of the 1940’s.

Where religion is present, there is also the presence of obfuscation, prejudice, hatred, fear and superstition.  Religion fosters violence and hatred of people who believe differently, or who do not believe at all, because each religion believes it has sole access to absolute truth.  I have been focusing on the Catholic Church, but almost every religion has been historically guilty of believing that its doctrines are the exclusive source of human salvation. 

In the case of the Catholic Church, the Jewish people were the object against which its violence was directed. Jews were perceived as a necessary target because they had been cast as the villains who denied, betrayed, and killed the Christian god in early Church mythology. Because religion is based on falsehoods and fear, it feels compelled to defend itself with violence and hatred against those who would deny or expose its nefarious lies and malfeasance. In the past, it was the Jews.

Who will it be in the future?  Religion’s simmering violence is easily directed against anyone, but most particularly the people who are advocates of the modern, secular world.  

It is absolutely necessary for the secular community to be aware that given the opportunity, religion will strike out and attempt to silence the voices of rationalism, of science and of humanism. Our voices.

Religion is not harmless, it is not well-meaning, and it is not tolerant. We need to render it harmless, through the law, through influencing public opinion, and through exposing its mad gibberish to reason. We need to show it for the monster it was in the past and would become today if allowed to achieve hegemony once again in the West.  As Voltaire cried so many years ago, “Ecrasez  l’infame!” “Crush the Infamous Thing!” “Ecrasez l’infame!”


More books and articles may be found in the bibliography for Part 1 of Christian Anti-Semitism.

Carroll, James. Constantine’s Sword. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Gladwell, Adele O. and James Havoc, Eds. Blood and Roses: The Vampire in the 19th Century. London: Creation Press, 1992.

Gregorovius, Ferdinand. The Ghetto and the Jews in Rome. Trans. Moses Hadas.  New York: Schocken, 2002.

Hsia, R. Po-Chia. The Myth of Ritual Murder. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.

Isaac, Jules. The Teaching of Contempt: Christian Roots of Anti-Semitism. Trans. Helen Weaver. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

Kertzer, David I. The Popes Against the Jews. New York: Vintage Books, 2001.

Lawler, Justus. Popes and Politics. New York: Continuum, 2002.

Nicholls, William. Christian Anti-Semitism: A History of Hate. Northvale, New Jersey: J. Aronson, 1993.