In his morning homilies, Pope Francis has been offering increasingly frequent and bitter denunciations of Catholics who oppose his push to give communion to the divorced and remarried. Sometimes he has portrayed these people as effeminate and womanish. More usually he has portrayed them as rigid legalists—as Pharisees who “sit in the chair of Moses and judge.”
Of course, his opponents don’t like to be insulted. As it turns out, the people he stereotypes in order to insult his opponents (vain, clothes-mad women; bitter, rule-obsessed Jews) don’t like it either.
In a recent letter on the return of Catholic anti-Judaism, Giuseppe Laras, a prominent Italian rabbi, objects to the homilies of Pope Francis for their promotion of false and dangerous anti-Jewish stereotypes. Laras perceives “an undercurrent—with the text a bit more manifest now—of resentment, intolerance, and annoyance on the Christian side toward Judaism; a substantial distrust of the Bible and a subsequent minimization of the Jewish biblical roots of Christianity; a more or less latent ‘Marcionism’ now presented in pseudo-scientific form, which today focuses insistently on ethics and politics.”
Laras is aware of and grateful for recent improvements in Catholic understanding of Judaism—but he laments that these seem to be lost on Francis:
I know very well that the official documents of the Catholic Church are thought to have reached points of no return. What a shame that they should be contradicted on a daily basis by the homilies of the pontiff, who employs precisely the old, inveterate structure and its expressions, dissolving the contents of the aforementioned documents. One need think only of the law of “an eye for an eye” recently evoked by the pope carelessly and mistakenly …
Laras says that “it is saddening . . . that those who raise objections, perplexities, concerns, and indignation … must always be Jews … and not instead in the first place authoritative Christian voices that right away and much sooner should assert themselves with a bold and frank ‘no.’”
Too many authoritative Christian voices—both bishops and theologians—have greeted Pope Francis’s anti-Jewish rhetoric with silence, smooth excuses, or applause. When will they speak out with the boldness of Rabbi Laras?
Matthew Schmitz is literary editor of First Things.