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Pope Benedict XVI presides over the close of the Middle East Synod on Sunday.(Fillipo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)

The Catholic Church’s Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, which concluded Sunday, was not expected to produce something that Israel would cheer. And its official “Message,” reports John J. Allen, Jr., does “refer to the damaging consequences of Israeli ‘occupation,’ as well as the security wall, military checkpoints, political prisoners, and efforts to alter the demographic balance of Jerusalem.” However, it also “acknowledges the ‘suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live,’” condemns anti-Semitism, and backs a two-state solution.

But there is one big problem. In reference to relations with Jews, the Message reads: “Recourse to theological and Biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable.” And there is a bigger problem: Speaking at a press conference, Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros—who is actually based in Newton, Massachusetts (so you would think he would have some sense of relations with Jews)—commented on that passage, saying, “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.”

The word you’re searching for is “supersessionism”: it is the dogma, which Bustros appears to subscribe to, that holds that Christians, and their holy books, replace (or supersede) Jews and theirs where there are points of conflict. It is important to note—as Allen, who owns the Vatican beat as few reporters own few other beats, does—that the landmark Second Vatican Council “has been understood to reject” supersessionism. It is also important to note that supersessionism is a deeply offensive doctrine. Writing some years ago, Tablet Magazine contributing editor Leon Wieseltier named it “the ancient grounds of anti-Semitism,” and noted, of supersessionism’s implicit corollary that Christians have an obligation to proselytize, “An affirmation of the Christian mission to the Jews is a delegitimation of Jewish belief.”

It is Bustros’s statement that has Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon condemning “a libel against the Jewish people and the State of Israel” and the Anti-Defamation League accusing him of “effectively stating that Judaism should no longer exist.” On the Website of the Catholic journal First Things, Tablet Magazine contributor David P. Goldman argues that the Middle Eastern bishops are effectively betraying their own flock, who live in a region where, he argues, the real threat is Iran. Allen reports that the question of whether Middle Eastern Christians are best off in Israel was a subject of debate within the synod.

The Vatican’s attempt at damage control has been to de-emphasize Bustros’s press conference statement, saying, “If you want a synthetic expression of the positions of the synod, you have to look at the ‘Message.’”

But, again, the Message itself reads, “Recourse to theological and Biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable.” The good news is that Jews are not exactly bound by Catholic synods. As Wieseltier put it, “My honor makes me unconcerned, except politically, about the Vatican’s view of the Jews.” The bad news is that, politically, this seems cause for concern.

Acrimony with Israel Clouds Close of Middle East Synod [National Catholic Reporter]
Disappearing Middle Eastern Christians, Disappointing Bishops [On The Square]
ADL Protests Archbishop’s Outrageous Remarks About Judaism [ADL]
Related: Unconcern





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