Jewish Leaders Welcome Francis described the response to his election from people like the head of the World Jewish Congress and the president of Israel. But there is more to be said, of course, and Jewish writers are beginning to say it. In Is a Jesuit Good For Jews? , the Weinberg Chair of Judaic Studies at Scranton University, a Jesuit institution, answers the title question “If the welcome my colleagues and I have received at our respective Jesuit institutions is any guide, then the answer must be a resounding, ‘Good, very good.’”

But only after tracing out the Jesuit order’s troubled history of its relation with the Jews. The history Marc Shapiro describes can be summarized as: Start out rather well, get worse, stay worse, sometimes behave any worse than that, and finally get better. As for the getting better:

While anti-Jewish prejudice is an unfortunate part of Jesuit history that can’t be overlooked, this is not the whole story by any means. There were always Jesuits who carried the spirit of Ignatius and fought against the prejudice that many of their brothers had succumbed to. It was none other than a German Jesuit, Augustin Bea, who played a central, indeed crucial role in the release of  Nostra Aetate  in 1965, which set the church firmly against anti-Semitism and inaugurated a new era in Catholic-Jewish relations.

Bea’s spirit of tolerance now characterizes the order as a whole, and Jesuits take a leading role in Catholic-Jewish dialogue. While Vatican II had as one of its goals ending anti-Jewish prejudice among Catholics, it is worth noting that, as an Internet search will illustrate, a good deal of contemporary rabid anti-Catholic sentiment focuses on the Jesuits, seeing them as in alliance with, or even controlled by, the Jews.

Articles by David Mills

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