Israel, Palestinians & Mid-East
- Created: November 1, 2010
- Written by various authors
In a press conference on Saturday, October 23, 2010, Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyril Bustros, a leader of the recently concluded Special Synod of Bishops for the Middle-East, replied to a question in words that generated significant disagreement. According to John Allen's analysis (see below), he was asked in Italian, "In the 'Message,' [the synodal communiqué Message to the People of God] number eight talks about the dialogue with the Jews. That’s where you talk about the use and abuse of the Word of God and of faith itself. I would like to know why it’s under relations with the Jews, not relations with everybody — since normally in the West we hear that it’s not the Jews who use the Scriptures to justify their actions." Bustros responded in French as follows (Vatican translation provided by Allen):
This page offers selected essays or commentary on the incident, some of which use Bustros' comment to assess the entire recent Synod of Bishops. Links are provided both for the original items and to copies of the texts below. For reports on the Synod as it occurred, click HERE.
|"Israel and the Vatican"||Nov 11, 2010||Gerald McDermott, First Things|
|CJCUC Calls Upon Catholic Leaders to Discuss Religious Connection to Israel||Nov 4, 2010||Christian Newswire|
|Editorial: "Impatience with Israel"||Oct 30, 2010||The Tablet, editors.|
|Oct 27, 2010||National Catholic Reporter online, John L. Allen, Jr.|
|"ADL Protests Archbishop's Outrageous Remarks About Judaism"||Oct 25, 2010||Anti-Defamation League|
|"At Synod of Middle Eastern Bishops, B'nai B'rith Troubled by Disconnect from Vatican Teachings on Jews and Israel"||Oct 25, 2010||B'nai B'rith International|
|"Israelis not happy with synod statement, angry over bishop's remarks"||Oct 25, 2010||Catholic News Service, Sarah Delaney|
|Oct 25, 2010||Zenit|
|"AJC Criticizes Special Vatican Synod Statement on Middle East"||Oct 24, 2010||American Jewish Commitee|
October 24, 2010 – New York – AJC is dismayed by the final communiqué of Catholic bishops gathered in Rome for the Vatican’s Special Assembly on the Middle East for its one-sided focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"It is appalling that in their final statement of the Special Vatican Synod on the Middle East, the bishops did not have the courage to address challenges of intolerance and extremism in the Muslim countries in which they reside, and rather chose to make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict their first focus" said Rabbi David Rosen, AJC's International Director of Interreligious Affairs. Rosen, one of only a select few Jews to have received the Papal Knighthood, was the lone Jewish representative to address the Special Assembly.
In the Synod's final statement, Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, declared “The Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of the Palestinians, to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands.” The archibishop added: “We Christians cannot speak of the ‘promised land’ as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people – all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.”
Rosen responded, "The comments of Archbishop Bustros reflect either shocking ignorance or insubordination in relation to the Catholic Church's teaching on Jews and Judaism flowing from the Vatican II declaration Nostra Aetate. That declaration affirms the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish People, which is inextricably bound up with the Land of Israel. We urge the Vatican to issue a clear repudiation of Archbishop Bustros's outrageous and regressive comments."
Responds to Critics That Say Assembly Was Anti-Israel
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 25, 2010 (Zenit.org).- To understand the Mideast synod, it is necessary to read the final message its entirety, instead of focusing in on one or two voices, a Vatican spokesman affirmed in response to critiques coming from the Israeli government that the assembly was a forum for anti-Israeli sentiment.
In an interview on Vatican Radio today, the director of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi, affirmed that the Message to the People of God of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which was published Saturday, is the only "synthetic expression of the positions of the synod at this time," and that it's the "only text written together and approved by the synod."
"There was a great richness and variety of the contributions of the synod fathers," he explained, "but as such, one cannot consider each one as the 'voice' of the synod as a whole."
Additionally, he noted that reaction to the synod has been to a great extent favorable: "The evaluation of the synod in its entirety and of its working sessions, in the words of the Holy Father and in the common opinion of the participants and observers, appears largely positive."
His comments responded directly to the "disappointment" expressed by Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister, that the synod, which concluded Sunday, had become "a forum for political attacks on Israel in the best history of Arab propaganda." He added, in comments to the Jerusalem Post, that "the synod was hijacked by an anti-Israel majority."
The Israeli minister referred in particular to comments made Saturday at the presentation of the final message, during with the Greek-Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros of Newton, Massachussets, said that "the concept of the promised land cannot be used as a base for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians." He aded that "sacred Scripture should not be used to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestine."
The archbishop's comment was not an exact expression of the synod's message, in which the fathers said that it was time "to commit ourselves together to a sincere, just and permanent peace," and that "both Christians and Jews are called to this task by the Word of God."
"Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable," the message continued, without specifically referring to Israel or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The final message also recognized the suffering of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
On one hand, the fathers considered the sufferings of the Palestinians "who are suffering the consequences of the Israeli occupation: the lack of freedom of movement, the wall of separation and the military checkpoints, the political prisoners, the demolition of homes, the disturbance of socio-economic life and the thousands of refugees."
On the other hand, the fathers also considered the "suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live," and on "the situation of the holy city of Jerusalem."
The synod's message urged a "'just and lasting peace," and called on the international community "to work to find a peaceful, just and definitive solution in the region."
By Sarah Delaney
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Several prominent Israelis expressed concern over a statement by the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, which said Jews cannot use the Bible to justify injustices.
But tensions increased when a U.S. bishop told reporters at the synod that Jews could no longer regard themselves as God's "chosen people" or Israel as "the Promised Land," because Jesus' message showed that God loved and chose all people to be his own.
The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said Oct. 25 that the final message of the Synod of Bishops reflected the opinion of the synod itself, while the remarks by Melkite Bishop Cyrille S. Bustros of Newton, Mass., were to be considered his personal opinion.
The statement by Bishop Bustros provoked an immediate reaction from Israel. In a statement, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said the Vatican should distance itself from what the bishop said and that the remarks should not be allowed to jeopardize their relations.
Bishop Bustros spoke at a news conference at the Vatican Oct. 23 to present the message agreed upon by the synod participants.
Father Lombardi told reporters the final message was "the only approved, written text" issued by the synod.
"There is a great richness and variety of contributions offered by the synod fathers that, however, should not be considered as the voice of the synod in its entirety," he said in the statement.
The overall assessment of the work of the synod fathers is "largely positive" in the words of Pope Benedict XVI and in general opinion, Father Lombardi said.
Under the section dedicated to relations with Jews, the synod message warned against inappropriate use of the words of the Bible. It said that "recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable." It was generally interpreted to refer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In his own elaboration of the passage, Bishop Bustros said, "For us Christians, you can no longer speak of a land promised to the Jewish people." The coming of Christ, Bishop Bustros said, showed that Jews "are no longer the preferred people, the chosen people; all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people."
What the bishops wanted to say, he said, is that the theme of the Promised Land can't be used "to justify the return of Jews to Israel and the expatriation of Palestinians."
In the Israeli statement issued Oct. 24, Ayalon said, "We express our disappointment that this important synod has become a forum for political attacks against Israel, in the best tradition of Arab propaganda."
Ayalon called on the Vatican to distance itself from Bishop Bustros' comments, which Ayalon said "are a libel against the Jewish people and the state of Israel and should not be construed as the Vatican's official position."
Ayalon also said that the synod had been "hijacked by an anti-Israeli majority."
In a telephone interview with Catholic News Service Oct. 25, Mordechay Lewy, Israel's ambassador to the Vatican, called Bishop Bustros' comments "outrageous" and said, "the Vatican should take a clear distance from them because it will give every Jew a reason to be suspicious of rapprochement with the Catholic Church."
He said that while he had "no problem" with the 44 resolutions approved by the synod, he disagreed with parts of the synod's final message, including the passage that provoked Bishop Bustros' remarks.
"The Israeli government does not use the Bible to determine our political borders," he said.
Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee and the only Jewish representative to address the synod, said it was "appalling that in their final statement ... the bishops did not have the courage to address challenges of intolerance and extremism in the Muslim countries in which they reside, and rather chose to make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict their first focus."
Rabbi Rosen, who addressed the synod Oct. 13 in his capacity as Jerusalem-based adviser to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, said Bishop Bustros' statement reflected "either shocking ignorance or insubordination in relation to the Catholic Church's teaching on Jews and Judaism flowing from the Vatican II declaration 'Nostra Aetate.'"
He urged the Vatican to issue a "clear repudiation" of the bishop's remarks.
The 185 bishops and patriarchs with full voting rights at the synod represent the dwindling number of Catholics in mostly Muslim countries in the Middle East, although eight synod members came from Israel.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was discussed at length by synod participants.
During a Mass to close the synod Oct. 24, Pope Benedict urged greater commitment to finding a lasting peace in the region.
In a front-page article in its Oct. 23 edition, L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, called the construction of new Jewish settlements in the West Bank "those houses that block peace."
- - -
Contributing to this story was Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem.
At Synod Of Middle Eastern Bishops, B’nai B’rith Troubled By Disconnect From Vatican Teachings On Jews And Israel
B’nai B’rith International is deeply concerned that the just-concluded Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops indicates unsettling views regarding Jews and Israel among Catholic clergy and laity in the Arab world.
B’nai B’rith is greatly disappointed that rather than promoting reconciliation and self-reflection in the region, the assembly focused on amplifying Arab political positions and narratives on the Jewish state.
While efforts had been made to encourage the assembly to meaningfully address challenges Christians face in the Middle East, Israel was ultimately singled out for outsized and blunt opprobrium. The assembly failed to reflect papal celebration of Jews’ return to their homeland and recognition of Israel’s right to self-defense. It also neglected to acknowledge Israel’s diverse democratic society and protection of Christian life, in contrast with many of its Arab neighbors.
Diverting from a responsible Catholic approach, the polemical “Kairos Palestine” document was promoted on assembly sidelines by key Arab Catholic figures, one of whom even suggested the threat of a “one-state solution” to the conflict—the replacement of Israel.
Most offensive, at a concluding press conference, the head of the assembly’s communiqué drafting committee asserted that a notion of Jewish “chosenness” is an illegitimate basis for claims to the land of Israel. Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros said: “The Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of the Palestinians, to justify the occupation…We Christians cannot speak of the ‘promised land’ as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people—all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.” Bustros’ regressive views negate Jews’ covenant with God. These sentiments baselessly accuse Israel of invoking spiritual distinctiveness as a foundation for government policy. On the contrary, Israel has repeatedly offered to divide sacred lands, even in the face of violent, often religion-fueled, political rejectionism.
We urge Pope Benedict XVI—who is now considering the assembly’s conclusions—to restore a fair, constructive voice in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East. It is particularly in the Middle East that the church’s stated opposition to anti-Zionism must be actively shared.
New York, NY, October 25, 2010 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today expressed deep concern at remarks by a Greek Melkite archbishop based in the United States who suggested, as part of a Holy See conference in Rome on the Middle East, that Judaism should no longer exist. The League called the remarks by Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, "the worst kind of anti-Judaism, bordering on anti-Semitism."
Archbishop Bustros, who belongs to the Greek Melkite Church and resides in Newton, Mass., reportedly stated that God's Covenantal promise of land to the Jewish people, "was nullified by Christ" and that "there is no longer a chosen people."
The archbishop was in charge of the committee that drafted the final report for the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, a two-week conference that concluded October 23 in Rome.
The following is the full text of the letter from Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, to Cardinal-elect Kurt Koch, the newly appointed President of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews:
Dear Cardinal Koch:
We write to protest the shocking and outrageous anti-Jewish comments made by Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros in connection with the final communique of the Bishops Synod on the Middle East.
By stating that God's Covenantal promise of land to the Jewish people, "was nullified by Christ" and that "there is no longer a chosen people," Archbishop Bustros is effectively stating that Judaism should no longer exist. This represents the worst kind of anti-Judaism, bordering on anti-Semitism.
Archbishop Bustros contradicts decades of official Vatican and papal teachings which affirm God's ongoing Covenant with the Jewish people at Sinai, and calls on Christians to appreciate the Jewish people's religious self-understanding, including its spiritual attachment to the land of Israel (CF. The 1985 "Notes on the Correct Way To Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church 25").
As we prepare to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Vatican Second Council and the adoption of Nostra Aetate, which launched a historic new and respectful theological and familial relationship between Catholics and Jews, we urge that you swiftly and publicly correct Archbishop Bustros's shocking and damaging statements.
We also respectfully ask that the Vatican clarify whether Archbishop Bustros' interpretation of the Synod's final report reflects the intention of the Synod on these profound theological matters.
We look forward to your response.
by John L Allen Jr on Oct. 27, 2010
We in the media have a genius for grabbing a small but sensational piece of a bigger picture and banging it like a cheap drum, which usually produces a fun-house mirror view of reality: Relatively small things seem huge, while bigger and more significant things shrink into near invisibility.
To take the most obvious recent example, whatever the big picture is for Islam in America, it certainly isn’t an epidemic of Qur’an burnings. Yet the mere threat of such an event from a Florida pastor whose entire congregation could fit into a phone booth held the world hostage for a month thanks to saturation “will he or won’t he?” coverage.
In some ways, reaction to the close of the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East is following the same script.
The synod produced 44 propositions for Pope Benedict XVI and a 5,000-word final message, both of which contain a bewildering array of insights and ideas for solidifying the Christian presence in the Middle East and contributing to its great dream -- which is that the tiny Christian minority, hanging on by the skin of its teeth, can somehow catalyze a democratic revolution in the region, building societies based on religious freedom and equality before the law.
Yet the only storyline that’s had any traction in the American press is Israeli and Jewish backlash to a comment by one synod participant in the closing press conference on Saturday.
In a nutshell, Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Bustros, who heads the Eparchy of Newton, Massachusetts, told reporters that Christ “abolished” the notion of a “Promised Land” for Jews, because the Kingdom of God is for all. (Bustros was speaking in French and used the word abolie, while the English translation given over the headphones was “nullified,” which is the term that appeared in many English-language reports.)
While there may have been a few other aspects of the synod which didn’t go down well in Israeli and Jewish circles, this was the shot heard ‘round the world.
Theologically, Bustros’ comments seemed to revive what the late Cardinal Avery Dulles called “crude supersessionism” -- meaning that the coming of Christ rendered Judaism irrelevant. That position has been widely held to have been rejected by the Second Vatican Council and subsequent papal teaching, such as a November 1980 speech by John Paul II to a delegation of Jews in Germany in which the late pope referred to “the Old Covenant, never revoked by God.”
Politically, many Israelis took Bustros’ remarks to suggest a wholesale rejection of the legitimacy of Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.
Reaction has been swift and severe.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon complained that the synod had turned into “a forum for political attacks on Israel in the best history of Arab propaganda.” The Anti-Defamation League in the United States claimed that Bustros had essentially said that “Judaism should no longer exist,” and that it’s “the worst kind of anti-Judaism, bordering on anti-Semitism.”
The Jerusalem Post editorially called upon Pope Benedict to repudiate Bustros.
“Pope Benedict XVI still has a chance to distance himself from the synod’s declarations, and make it clear that Bustros’ comments deviate from Church teaching,” the Post editorial said. “That is the right and necessary thing for the pope to do -- not just for Jewish-Catholic relations, but also for the sake of the Middle East’s persecuted Christian minority.”
Without trying to settle the debate over what Bustros said, or whether the pope needs to address it, there are four important bits of context to bear in mind if we’re going to think straight about what’s really at issue.
Not “the Vatican”
Some reports billed the contretemps as a new chapter in tensions between “the Vatican” and Israel and/or Judaism -- analogous to earlier controversies over Pope Benedict’s speeches at Auschwitz and Yad Vashem, the Latin liturgy and its Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews, and the lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying traditionalist bishop.
Those comparisons are misleading, however, because they involve official papal speeches and policy decisions while this case pivots on a comment from a single Eastern Catholic bishop.
We have been down this road before and should know better: More times than anyone can count, a Vatican official or a bishop who happens to be in Rome says something careless and it gets billed as a “Vatican statement.” Spokespersons for the Vatican are then compelled to disown it, insisting that it was merely a “personal opinion.”
That’s the case again this time, as Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, told reporters that the only official statements of the synod are contained in its final message and in the propositions. Lombardi’s clear implication was that Bustros was speaking only for himself.
I realize that there’s a tendency to leap to Machiavellian assumptions about everything that happens in the Vatican -- that everything is somehow scripted from on high and no official or visiting prelate would dare speak out without explicit papal approval.
In truth, however, things are far more loosey-goosey. There’s no “war room” in the Holy See where spin doctors meet at 8:00 a.m. to work out the day’s message; there’s no script approval when senior officials or bishops meet the press.
In that sense, the real story here may be more about the Vatican’s continuing PR problem than any change in its theology of Judaism.
In any event, if one wants to know the official teaching of the Catholic church vis-à-vis Judaism, there’s a wealth of material to draw upon -- beginning with the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. A one-off comment from a single prelate does not, and by definition cannot, carry anything like the same weight.
Don’t exaggerate Bustros’ importance
Theologically all bishops may be equal, but sociologically and politically some are more equal than others. When the Vatican’s Cardinal Secretary of State says something, he’s presumed to be speaking for the pope; if it’s the Cardinal-Archbishop of Paris, or Milan, or New York, we’re talking about one of the premier movers and shakers in the Catholic world.
Archbishop Bustros, to be honest, is awfully far down that informal food chain. Official Vatican numbers say that his Greek Melkite eparchy counts a grand total of just over 25,000 faithful, scattered across the entire United States.
In reality, there are plenty of individual Catholic parishes in America with larger congregations. Ordinarily, nobody would think that when Fr. Joe at Our Lady of Angels says something outrageous, he’s automatically speaking for the Vatican or the Catholic church writ large. The same sense of perspective ought to apply to Bustros.
Without comparing Bustros to Pastor Terry Jones or his Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, there is nonetheless an apt analogy in terms of media coverage and public perceptions. Just as Jones galvanized far more attention than his actual sociological footprint justifies, there’s a similar danger in overplaying Bustros’ standing.
That’s not to say, of course, that Bustros is alone. It’s undeniably true that many Arab Christians have a tendency to be uncritically supportive of the Palestinians, in an effort to prove their Arab credentials. It’s also true that while “crude supersessionism” may not be official church teaching, it certainly endures in some quarters of Catholic thinking.
Nor is Bustros himself a complete nobody. Observers say he’s theologically well trained, and was among the Eastern bishops tapped to review drafts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church back in the late 1980s and early 90s. Some church-watchers believe he might be in line for an eventual appointment to help lead the Greek Melkite church in his native Lebanon.
Nonetheless, to think that Bustros plays a central role in shaping Catholic teaching or practice over-sells his place in the grand scheme of things.
Trying to be inclusive
Context is usually the first casualty of any controversy and in some ways that’s the case this time around too. Looking at the entirety of what Bustros said last Saturday, the thrust of his remarks was that Christians ought to be concerned with everybody -- in the case of the Middle East, both Israelis and Palestinians.
In other words, Bustros was trying to be inclusive -- even if his language created a very different impression.
Here’s a transcript of the full exchange, as it came through the English language translation provided by the Vatican. The question was asked in Italian and Bustros responded in French.
Question: In the “Message,” number eight talks about the dialogue with the Jews. That’s where you talk about the use and abuse of the Word of God and of faith itself. I would like to know why it’s under relations with the Jews, not relations with everybody -- since normally in the West we hear that it’s not the Jews who use the Scriptures to justify their actions.
Bustros: In number eight of the Message, we say that we cannot resort to theological and Biblical assumptions as a tool to justify injustice. We want to say that the promise of God in the Old Testament, relating to the ‘promised land’ … as Christians, we’re saying that this promise was essentially nullified [in French, “abolished”] by the presence of Jesus Christ, who then brought about the Kingdom of God. As Christians, we cannot talk about a ‘promised land’ for the Jews. We talk about a ‘promised land’ which is the Kingdom of God. That’s the promised land, which encompasses the entire earth with a message of peace and justice and equality for all the children of God. There is no preferred or privileged people. All men and women from every country have become the ‘chosen people.’ This is clear for us. We cannot just refer to the ‘promised land’ to justify the return of the Jews in Israel, and [ignore] the Palestinians who were kicked out of their land. Five million Jews kicked out three or four million Palestinians from their land, and this is not justifiable. There’s no ‘chosen people’ any longer for Christians. Everybody is the ‘chosen people.’ What we say is something political. Sacred scripture should not be used to justify the occupation of Palestinian land on the part of the Israelis.
Politically, the payoff is that Christians should not support Israel at the expense of the Palestinians.
No doubt, that point could have been made without using loaded vocabulary about Israel and the “Promised Land.” Still, it seems that what Bustros wanted to voice was not so much a revisionist interpretation of Christian theology, but rather a cri de Coeur about Palestinian suffering. However imbalanced or badly expressed, that’s a different kettle of fish.
Not just the Jews and Israel
Though Bustros failed to make this point explicitly, many observers who followed the two-week long Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, and who are familiar with the rhetoric of the bishops of the region, did not automatically assume that the primary focus of his remarks was Israel or Judaism.
In fact, insiders tended to assume he was talking at least as much about some currents in Evangelical Christianity, which often cite the Old Testament to buttress a strongly pro-Israel political position.
Notably, Bustros does not directly claim that it’s illegitimate for Jews to think in terms of a “Promised Land,” or to assert a divine warrant for their attachment to the land of Israel.
Instead, what he actually said is that Christians shouldn’t read the Old Testament in a one-sided fashion to support Israeli claims. Knowing the way Catholic and Orthodox bishops of the Middle East think, it’s likely that was directed at least in part to Evangelicals -- whose growing visibility and outspokenness has long rubbed many Arab Christians the wrong way.
To put the point crudely, Bustros probably wasn’t only, or even primarily, grinding an axe against Israel or the Jews. The backdrop to his comments probably wasn’t so much Israeli rhetoric (which doesn’t often pivot on the Bible, but on security considerations and Israel’s status as the region’s lone democracy), but rather that of some -- often U.S.-backed -- Evangelicals.
Arguably, the most compelling Christian drama in the world today is in the Middle East -- where a flock that’s shrunk from 20 percent of the population a century ago to maybe five percent today is desperately trying to punch above its weight.
Christians in the Middle East know that their future is democracy or death, so they’re trying to figure out how to be change agents in their societies -- pressing Israel to better integrate its Arab minority and the Islamic countries of the region to make their peace with modernity.
If the Christians of the Middle East can pull that off, the whole world will be in their debt. If they disappear, the most natural human firebreak against a “clash of civilizations” will be gone.
One hopes, therefore, that when the dust settles over the Bustros episode, the broader discussion fostered by the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East can come into focus. There’s a hugely important story here and it ought not to be permanently waylaid by what amounts to a sideshow.
Impatience with Israel
Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister, has denounced the Synod for the Middle East at the Vatican, saying it had been hijacked by Israel’s enemies. The synod had called for a speedy end to the “illegal occupation” of Palestinian lands and criticised Israeli measures, including road blocks, the notorious wall and disruption to the economic life of Palestinian areas. It is true that the synod, taking its statement as a whole, placed most responsibility for the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict on the Israeli side. That is bound to strike Israelis as unfair, as it underplays the implacable Islamist opposition, represented by Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s support for terrorism, to Israel’s very existence.
Nevertheless the synod did put its finger on one factor which is proving a key roadblock on the path to peace. The Israeli Government insists on supporting the right of settlers to remain on those parts of the West Bank they have built on, and even to expand their settlements. Many of those settlers are motivated by Zionist religious zeal – they claim that the West Bank area is part of the land that God gave to Abraham and his descendants, as recorded in Genesis. The synod wrongly implied that this theological claim was supported by the state of Israel; it is truer to say that the Netanyahu Government depends on the backing of nationalist religious parties who support these settlers’ arguments. That is not quite the same thing.
The synod statement deplored the use of biblical texts to justify the settlements policy, which was fair enough. But Bishop Cyrille Bustros of Massachusetts, in presenting the text to journalists, went too far when he repudiated any Jewish claim to be called a Chosen People with a Promised Land. The 1965 Vatican II decree Nostra Aetate clearly states “God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues …” This Catholic recognition of the continuing validity of the Jewish covenant raises complex issues. The Holy See recognised the state of Israel in 1994. Nevertheless its basis was secular and legal, rather than theological: the Catholic Church has not so far interpreted the “gifts” referred to in Nostra Aetate as including the grant of land. Jews are entitled to ask whether that omission is strictly logical; Catholics would have to reply that the question cannot be addressed until justice has been done to the Palestinian people. But Bishop Bustros clearly spoke out of turn.
The Christian minority in the Middle East, many of whose leaders took part in the synod, have been squeezed both by Israel’s refusal to do what it has to do over the settlements, and by Muslim extremism, which has become rampantly anti-Christian despite the pleas for tolerance in the Qur’an. Peace in the Middle East is their best hope of a respite from the persecution and enforced exile that has depleted their numbers; and West Bank settlements are the biggest obstacle to that peace. So impatience with Israel is understandable. But it would have been wiser of both sides to avoid inflammatory language, and Israeli foreign policy gains nothing by using partisan words like “hijack”. Nor has the synod advanced the Palestinian cause by upsetting Jewish religious feelings quite so gratuitously.
Contact: Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn, Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, 201-282-8082
ISRAEL, Nov. 4 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) in Efrat and Jerusalem strongly protests the October 24 statements of Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros made at the Bishops' Synod on the Middle East. His statements that "God's promises to the Jewish People were abolished by the presence of Christ," and that "the Jewish people are no longer a favored people" revive the old supersessionist theology responsible for so much Jewish suffering at the hands of Christians throughout history and deny the right of the Jewish people to their biblical, historical and covenantal homeland in Eretz Yisrael. These statements pain Jews all around the world, and they erode Jewish confidence in fruitful Catholic-Jewish dialogue.
Archbishop Bustros's statements contradict Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, the pronouncements of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as the teachings of Nostra Aetate and post-conciliar Church documents on the topic: "God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made." "They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race according to the flesh, is the Christ." As such, Archbishop Bustros has confused Catholics regarding Church teachings toward Judaism and the Jewish people; the Church's older brothers and sisters.
In light of these statements by a designated official of the Bishops' conference, we call upon Pope Benedict to publically clarify the Church's teachings toward the Jewish people and their living covenant with God, to affirm the principles of Nostra Aetate, and to ensure that these principles are an essential and explicit part of the Bishops' synod final document.
We also call upon the Church to engage Jewish religious leaders in dialogue in Jerusalem to discuss their teachings about God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants, the Jewish people, God's blessings and promises to His people and the Jewish religious connection to the Promised Land of Israel.
It is our prayer that this fraternal dialogue between Catholic and Jewish leaders produces greater understanding of each other and of God's Word to His children, and to renewed respect for each of our holy spiritual traditions.
Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin, Chancellor CJCUC
Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn, American Director CJCUC
Mr. David Nekrutman, Executive Director CJCUC
“Why in the world is the Vatican attacking Israel and reverting to radical supercessionism?” asked a theologian who knows I am involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue. Supersessionism, at least in its radical form, states that the church has replaced Jewish Israel so that the Jewish covenant no longer has continuing significance. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has rejected this view.
The theologian was referring to oral statements that in the last few weeks have gone around the world, infuriating Jews and cheering those who think Israel is the cause of all the problems in the Middle East—statements made by the head of the commission that drafted the final statement of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops.
The Archbishop for Greek Melkites in the United States, Cyril Salim Bustros, declared at the end of the synod that the biblical concept of a promised land for the Jews “cannot be used as a basis to justify the return of the Jews to Israel” because the original promise made by God to the children of Israel “was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people.”
Bustros seemed to be trying to reverse the positive momentum in Jewish-Catholic relations of the last forty years. Though speaking for himself and not the Vatican, he was reverting to the first days of the Vatican’s relations to modern Israel that Rome might rather forget. On May 14, 1948, the semi-official Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, declared, “Modern Israel is not the heir to biblical Israel. The Holy Land and its sacred sites belong only to Christianity: the true Israel.”
The attitude to Israel changed over the next fifteen years as the church began to refine its understanding of the Jewish people. In the years following the Holocaust both Catholics and Protestants realized they had failed to recognize the radically Jewish character of Jesus, Paul, and Christianity itself. Led by theologians and biblical scholars such as Karl and Marcus Barth, C.E.B. Cranfield, Peter Stuhlmacher, W.D. Davies, Krister Stendahl, and E.P. Sanders, they concluded that an impartial reading of Paul’s epistle to the Romans demanded a revision of supercessionism.
As Cranfield put it, “These three chapters (Rom. 9-11) emphatically forbid us to speak of the church as having once and for all taken the place of the Jewish people.” W.D. Davies added, “Paul never calls the church the New Israel or the Jewish people the Old Israel.”
Partly stimulated by this new scholarly discussion of the Jewish covenant Paul calls “irrevocable” (Rom 11.27-29), the Second Vatican Council proclaimed in Nostra Aetate that “the Jews still remain most dear to God because of their fathers, for He does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the call He issues.” Pope Paul VI famously declared the Jews “our fathers in the faith” in a trip to the Holy Land in 1964. John Paul II spoke of the Jews “as our elder brothers in the faith,” and insisted in Crossing the Threshold of Hope that “this extraordinary people continues to bear signs of its divine election.”
Perhaps as a result of this theological development, in 1967 the Vatican stopped calling for “international status” for Jerusalem and began to urge an “international statute” that would protect the rights of two peoples and three religions, and guarantee access to their holy places.
Pope Benedict has also affirmed this continuing Jewish covenant. In Many Religions—One Covenant, he writes that Jesus’ mission was to transform the history of Israel into the history of all, but “without the abolishment of the special mission of Israel.” Jews are still “the Chosen People,” but now because of Jesus the nations “become People of God with Israel through adherence to the will of God and through acceptance of the Davidic kingdom.”
Many Catholics and Jews alike hoped that Benedict would repudiate Bustros’ remarks in his homily on the last day of the synod. Instead the pontiff called for peace and religious freedom, and urged Christians to discuss the latter in dialogue with Muslims.
If Benedict’s recent silence was puzzling, the Vatican’s general reluctance to acknowledge the importance of land in the biblical covenant has frustrated many Jews, who think that a newfound Christian appreciation of the enduring covenant with Israel should include a heightened sensitivity to the importance of the land of Israel for Jews.
They point out that the word “land” is the fourth most frequent noun or substantive in the Hebrew Scriptures—repeated 2504 times—and more dominant statistically than the word “covenant” itself. If, as the church teaches, the covenant remains, the church should also recognize that so does the call to live in the land of the covenant.
Part of the Catholic reluctance no doubt stems from the Vatican’s desire to balance its recognition of the state of Israel with Arab Catholic claims to their own share of the land and their own state. But part also stems from the Catholic belief in the extension of the biblical covenantal promises from one land to a world, when the messiah would have a universal dominion.
Yet if the prophets expanded the promised inheritance of God’s people beyond the definable boundaries of Canaan to include the world, they did not overrule the earlier promises of a particular land for a particular people—even after Israel had gone into exile because of her sins (Jer 12.14-16; 16.14-15; Ez 36.8-15). Expansion of the promise did not abrogate earlier particular promises.
As the Jewish theologian Eliezer Berkovits has put it, “The universal expectation is inseparable from Israel’s homecoming. The very passage that directs man’s hopes to the time when ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’ also envisages that ‘out of Zion shall go forth Tora [sic], and the word of the Eternal from Jerusalem.’” (He is quoting Isaiah 2.3-4.)
The Vatican need not fear that affirmation of the continuing validity of God’s covenant with his people Israel would deprive Arab Christians of their rights to land and a state. Israel has repeatedly given up land for peace (the Sinai, southern Lebanon, and Gaza), and even Netanyahu has accepted the idea of a Palestinian state. There exist many obstacles to the formation of such a state, not least of which is Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. But recognition of God’s ongoing covenant with his Chosen People is not one of those obstacles.
Gerald McDermott is the Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College, the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology (Oxford University Press), and author of The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide (IVP).