Catholics must reject social media anti-Semitism, Indiana bishop says

Fort Wayne, Ind., Feb 25, 2020 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Church has “firmly condemned” anti-Semitism, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana said Feb. 19, warning against theological errors and “false and hateful” rhetoric against Jews on social media.

“Unfortunately, there has been a rise in recent years of anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic rhetoric in our society,” the bishop said in a statement published in the diocesan newspaper Today’s Catholic. “Further, there have been incidents of violence incited by hateful speech about Jews. The Church has firmly condemned such rhetoric and violence. Those who speak of Jews as our enemies are mistaken.”

“Pope St. Paul VI, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have consistently referred to our Jewish brothers and sisters as ‘friends’ whom we love and esteem, not as enemies or adversaries whom we reject,” he said. “Language matters. Language that incites animosity is harmful.”

Bishop Rhoades did not mention specific incidents or personalities.

In October 2018, a gunman attacked the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh during morning Shabbat services. Shouting anti-Semitic slogans, the attacker killed eight men and three women. He also injured six others, including four policemen. He was wounded and surrendered to police. He had previously posted anti-Semitic comments and criticized Jewish aid for migrants, whom he denigrated as “invaders.”

In Poway, California in April 2019, a shooter attacked Chabad of Poway Synagogue on the last day of Passover. The attacker killed one woman and injured three people, including the rabbi. The attacker had published an anti-Semitic manifesto before the attack, and also claimed responsibility for an arson attack on a California mosque.

In December 2019 in Jersey City, New Jersey two gunmen shot and killed four people, including two Orthodox Jews, at a cemetery and kosher supermarket. Local authorities said preliminary evidence indicated the suspects held views that reflected hatred against Jews.

Bishop Rhoades’ comments warned of errors and hateful rhetoric about Jews.

“Some writers today do not present Jews or Judaism in a respectful or theologically correct manner,” he said. “In this age of social media, people read or listen to all kinds of opinions expressed about Judaism and the Jewish people on internet blogs, websites, and the like. Some are filled with false and hateful rhetoric, opposed to the very spirit of Christianity. As Catholics, we must reject any that express, or can lead to, contempt for Jews.”

To this, Rhoades added “the Catholic Church offers no shelter to anti-Jewish bias, regardless of its content or expression. This applies to racist statements against Jews, to anti-Semitism, or to any religious opinion that denigrates Jews or Judaism.”

Rhoades acknowledged disagreement between Christians and Jews on matters of faith, “but such disagreements need not imply hostility,” he said.

“The only truly Christian attitude towards the Jewish people is an attitude of respect, esteem, and love,” Rhoades continued. “As members of God’s family, we are bound to one another in His plan of salvation.”

He described a November 2019 gathering at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Fort Wayne, where over 1,000 Jews and Christians gathered for the “Violins of Hope” event. The event’s musical instruments included violins used by Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps and both Jewish and Catholic choirs sang. The audience prayed the Psalms together.

This event, said Rhoades, “brought us tears of both sadness and joy — sadness at the horrors of the Holocaust, and joy at the love we share as brothers and sisters, drawn together by a common spiritual patrimony.”

The bishop also delivered a theological and historical reflection.

“We recognize that the anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism of past centuries contributed to the rise of the Nazi project to exterminate Jews,” he said. He cited the Second Vatican Council’s document Nostra Aetate, which condemned “all hatreds, persecutions, displays of antisemitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.” The document urged careful catechesis and preaching about Jews.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches “The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Testament,” the bishop said.

“We must never forget that Judaism was the religion of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the apostles, and of the early disciples who spread the good news of Christ to the world,” said Rhoades. “The four gospels were written by Jews, about a Jew and originally for a Jewish readership. The Jewish people, then, are Jesus’ own family.”

“Though many Jews did not accept the Gospel or opposed its spreading, they were not thereby rejected by God,” said the bishop, who emphasized the Second Vatican Council’s rejection of the claim that all Jews were “Christ-killers”

“Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (cf. John 19:6), neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion,” Nostra Aetate said.

Rhoades noted that the Catholic Catechism teaches that all human beings are responsible for the death of Jesus.

“The Jews are not our enemies. We are bound together with them in friendship as brothers and sisters in the family of God,” said Rhoades.

He invoked the example of Pope Francis’ 2016 visit to the synagogue of Rome. The pope’s remarks stressed as fundamental to inter-religious dialogue the Christian and Jew’s encounter of each other “as brothers and sisters before our Creator,” their praise for God, and their mutual respect, appreciation, and attempts at cooperation.

“This is especially important as the Church and the Jewish communities continue to address religious and ethical questions that both face in a world intent upon challenging religious freedom,” Rhoades said. “Jews and Christians can impact society profoundly when they stand together on key issues such as the sanctity of human life, immigration reform, health care, human trafficking and world peace.”

“Even as we Catholics profess our belief in Christ as the Messiah, the Son of God, and Savior of the world, we also recognize God’s unfailing, steadfast love for His chosen people, Israel,” the bishop said. In our mission of preaching Christ to the world, we do not dismiss or reject the spiritual treasures of the Jewish people.”

“Let us give thanks to God for the growth in trust and friendship established between Catholics and Jews since the Second Vatican Council,” the bishop’s statement concluded. “May the Lord accompany us on our journey of friendship and bless us with His peace!”

 

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