The bishops’ conference gets in the act

The bishops’ conference gets in the act

I guess the theological elites really have decided that Joe Six-Pack in the pew is one move short of becoming a Palestinian suicide bomber. How else to view the decision by the US bishops’ conference’s decision to issue a pamphlet instructing Catholics not to blame Jews for the death of Jesus before the release of The Passion? Again I ask, were Catholics running into the streets on Palm Sunday and Good Friday looking for Jews to stone after reading the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion?

Official Vatican policy for nearly 40 years has been that the Jews were not collectively culpable for Christ’s death, despite some depictions in the Gospels.

Gibson has said the script of his film is based on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Those Gospels place part of the blame for the crucifixion on the Jews, both those living at the time and future generations.

Wrong and wrong! The article assumes that the Gospels themselves are anti-Semitic. They are not. The Jews and the Romans in the Gospels stand in for all people, whose individual sins present the need for a universal sacrificial atonement that can only be provided by the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

It seems to me that the response of many theologians and Church literati is more focused on not offending Jewish representatives with whom they are engaged in dialogue than in teaching and understanding the authentic message of the Gospels. It’s almost as if they are embarrassed by the Gospels and just “simplistic” notions as accepting them as they are written.

Thus all of us mouth-breathing Neanderthals can’t be trusted not to run out of the theater looking for the nearest pitchfork-and-torch vendor so we can start attacking the Jews. Reminds me of a scene from Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part 1: “Sire, the peasants are revolting!” “Yeah, they stink on ice.”

Update: A friend reminds me of a good point. I haven’t seen the bishops’ conference or certain Vatican officials issue any warnings about anti-Semitism in reaction to the propaganda produced by Palestinians (i.e. that Jews eat babies and other disgusting lies) or in reaction to propaganda (i.e. a Jewish business conspiracy) spread by the anti-globalization forces that have demonstrated throughout the US, sometimes on Catholic college campuses or abetted by Catholic social justice organizations. It seems that this stuff has a greater opportunity to end in violence (and more often does). Instead they worry about a devotional movie.

  • Dom, you may be taking this too seriously as this is simply an affirmation of Vatican teaching at a time when Judeo – Christian relations are confronted with a particular event. 

    You say: “The article assumes that the Gospels themselves are anti-Semitic. ”  Yet the article states: “Real anti-Jewish feeling, that is, an attitude of contempt, hostility and persecution of the Jews as Jews, is not found in any New Testament text and is incompatible with its teaching. … To avoid mistakes of this kind, it must be kept in mind that the New Testament polemical texts, even those expressed in general terms, have to do with concrete historical contexts and are never meant to be applied to Jews of all times and places merely because they are Jews.”

    “Erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability have circulated [in the Christian world] for too long, engendering feelings of hostility toward this people.”

    What’s more the Judgement of Senior clearly states the motivation of the bishops:
    “The bishops are concerned that we could lose ground with our relationship with the Jewish community and the notion of collective responsibility that has been repudiated. I don’t know if the film will reverse that. We have to see it and then make that judgement,” said Senior.

    Just a thought for what it’s worth.

    Best, Giulio

  • Dear Dom,  I am not trying to oppose my position to yours for I too think that the bishops are wasting words to a certain extent yet apparently they don’t and that is what counts, but what do I know?  I don’t think that this “teaching” if you will, considering that it is from the Vatican originally and not simply theological elites that are being cited, is so important as to merit criticism.  This is a legitimate concern since there are a lot of crazies out there.  Although I haven’t read it, it seems to be nothing offensive.  I am sure that you will agree with me, that the bishops’ teaching authority is not only to be exercised collegially and, of course, in one’s own diocese as ordinary and with fellow members of the conference if a bishop so desires.  Can you honestly blame a bishop for teaching if what he teaches is true?

    In the introduction to the booklet issued by the Committee for Ecumenical Affairs of the bishops’ conference, the author, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, quotes from an address by Pope John Paul II in 1997.

    “Erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability have circulated [in the Christian world] for too long, engendering feelings of hostility toward this people.”

    I accept your distinctions Chris and it is unfortunate that someone who has the Vatican teaching in hand and who is writing about them errs in the way that the Vatican teaching itself says is in error.  Maybe we do need the teaching.  Just another thought!  ; ^)
    Still my best, Giulio

  • I will wait & listen to what my own Bishop says. USCCB has no canonical status and even less credibility in my opinion. USCCB functionaries stole a script and some of their pronouncements seem suspect in terms of orthodoxy/orthopraxis.

  • Guilio,

    Chris is right, I was quoting from the newspaper article not the booklet from the bishops’ conference. Let’s also recall that not everything that comes from the “bishops’ conference” comes from the bishops. There are a lot of theological bureaucrats who act without the bishop’s immediate approval or oversight. They certainly don’t poll all the US bishops for their approval before releasing one of these documents.

    My point isn’t so much the content of the booklet, which may indeed contain the truth of the Church’s teaching on relations with Jews. My problem is with the attitude it envisions on the part of average Catholics who, in their apparent estimation, are only one movie away from a new Inquisition.

  • Dom, I think we are in agreement really and I admit that there is a problem where the USCCB acts independently from the Bishops yet in their name.  And I see where you quoted from the article yet you kinda ; ^) railed on the theological elites / bishops in the first 2 lines.  I think that they could speak up much more forcefully about other things that could easily be considered much more important, especially since there have been no reports of churchgoers being violently anti-semitic.  Although there is more and more desecration of tombstones in Europe and especially in France, I would venture to say that the culprits are not churchgoers and especially not Catholics and therefore even less so in the U.S.
    Just my last thought… unless provoked! 8 ^)

  • As I wrote over at CAEI…
    This document is coming from a committee and not from the full Bishops’ conference. This is what consistently causes consternation among the faithful. This is being misrepresented as a document from the Bishops, when in fact it is no such thing. I don’t recall hearing the Bishops voting on this clarification ‘booklet’.

    This reminds me of a simialr document some time back saying that our Jewish brother and sisters did not need to be evangelized. Or even better, the now infamous “Environment and Art in Catholic Worship”!

    My suggestion, for what it is worth, “Trash it!”

  • EACW and others also quoted authoritative documents, however, that does not, in and of itself, make the document in question authoritative.

    While it may have some merit, “it” has no authority whatsoever, and should be viewed in that manner.  If the US Bishops wish to take it up during their next meeting and vote on it, then that is a different matter.

  • michigancatholic:

    Juridical authority aside, my comments were directed toward Bill Cork, who seemed, at least to me, to imply that this 150 page document could be viewed as authoritative because it quoted from authoritative documents.  That view is flawed.

    While there can be legitimate debate on whether the conference as a body actually is beneficial or not, the fact remains that, as a body, they do posess some decision making power.  While some of their decisions also require Rome’s recognitio, not everything does.

    Basically, my point is that many of the things that come from the ‘committees’ should be viewed skeptically, considering what we have seen so far.

  • Tom,

    That’s true, but not in the literalist, Feenyite sense. The teaching of the Church, most recently expressed in the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism, have a slightly more expansive definition of “the Church” than some have. It may be more accurate in some cases to say that “Salvation comes into the world only through Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church.” How that grace and salvation is distributed is a mystery. But even if you can just figuratively sneak by, who wants to do the minimum, when the highest calling is formal membership in the Church.