Sunday, October 31, 2010

the catholic church and israel

This month there was a meeting of Middle Eastern Catholic bishops in Rome which produced a number of interesting statements on the conflict in Israel/Palestine. I was mainly struck by three things. First, in spite of the fact that in the U.S. the Catholic Church seems to be associated with very conservative political stances when it comes to sexuality and in spite of the massively negative negative feelings related to the international child sex abuse scandal, the Church often takes relatively progressive positions when it comes to peace, international relations and human rights.
Bishops from the Middle East who were summoned to Rome by the pope demanded Saturday that Israel accept U.N. resolutions calling for an end to its "occupation" of Arab lands. In a final joint communique, the bishops also told Israel it shouldn't use the Bible to justify injustices against the Palestinians. During the meeting, several bishops blamed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for spurring the flight – a position echoed in their final paper. While the bishops condemned terrorism and anti-Semitism, they laid much of the blame for the conflict squarely on Israel. They listed the "occupation" of Palestinian lands, Israel's separation barrier with the West Bank, its military checkpoints, political prisoners, demolition of homes and disturbance of Palestinians' socio-economic lives as factors that have made life increasingly difficult for Palestinians.

Secondly, it was bizarre to me that one particular Archbishop was singled out for criticism by the Israelis, essentially for making a theological statement.
"We Christians cannot speak of the 'promised land' as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people," said Archbishop Cyril Bustros, a native of Lebanon who is currently a Melkite Greek Catholic bishop in Newton, Mass.

"This promise was nullified by Christ," Bustros said at a Vatican press conference marking the end of a two-week session of the Synod of Bishops. "There is no longer a chosen people -- all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people."

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon called Bustros' statement "a libel against the Jewish people and the State of Israel," and expressed "our disappointment that this important synod has become a forum for political attacks on Israel in the best history of Arab propaganda."
So in order to not libel the Jewish people one has to believe in the eternal and unique chosenness of the children of Israel? It reminded me of the controversy which surrounded the release of Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ. On the one hand the film was accused by the ADL of being antisemitic. On the other hand the film was largely based on the Biblical account of Jesus' death and fleshed out by a number of other Catholic sources (the stations of the cross, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Anne Catherine Emmerich, and The Mystical City of God by María de Ágreda). According to some sources, when Pope John Paul II saw the film he responded by saying "It is as it was." So even though the ADL's criticism was largely aimed at Mel Gibson, on another level what was really being criticized was Biblical (especially Catholic) Christianity as such.

The clearest example of this sort of duality is the scene in the movie where the (presumably Jewish) crowd calls out for the criminal Barabbas to be saved rather than Jesus (as). And so in Aramaic the crowd shouts out regarding Christ, "His blood be on us and on our children." On the one hand the ADL can blame Gibson for putting the line in his movie, but on the other hand the line comes straight out of the Gospel According to Matthew. So is the ADL's problem with the film or the New Testament?

Similarly, can the perspectives expressed at this recent gathering of Catholic clergy by dismissed as anti-semitism or should they be given more respect as reflecting basic Catholic teaching on the Middle East?

The third thing that really struck me was the fact that Archbishop Bustros' assertion that the Jewish covenant is no longer in effect has actually been supported by some Orthodox Jews (see the end of the covenant) so it seems somewhat odd to criticize Gentiles for holding what amounts to the same position.

From Huff Post:
Catholic Bishops Demand Israel End Occupation of Palestinian Land
U.S. Bishop Says Jews Have No 'Exclusive Right' To Israel

From the Vatican Website:

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