There’s Nothing to Fear From the Pope

The church is no longer a threat to Jewish existence, physical or spiritual - but some rabbis cannot accept that fact.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Pope Francis, hailed by many as relatively progressive on LGBT inclusion.
Pope Francis, hailed by many as relatively progressive on LGBT inclusion. Credit: Reuters
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Don’t be fooled by his kind smile and humble gestures as he lands at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. Pope Francis’ friendly demeanor is merely a crafty cover for the man who is in charge of continuing centuries of murderous persecution and is now spearheading a sinister plan to reestablish Christian hegemony over the holy city of Jerusalem and dislodge the Jews from their holy of holies.

We have this on good authority, of course. Simcha Hacohen Kook, the venerable chief rabbi of Rehovot, said in an interview with the settler’s website INN two weeks ago that “we have forgotten that the pope stood beside Hitler and murdered Jews. He encouraged him and said kill them as much as you can.”

Rabbi Kook didn’t make the distinction that Francis is the sixth pope since World War II (he was 2 years out when it began) and even the most critical historic records of Pope Pius XII don’t say anything about him supporting Hitler’s genocide. But why is he so anxious now about the pope’s record during the Holocaust? Because it’s all part of the plan − if the Vatican are allowed to regain control of the 11th-century basilica (the Cenacle) on Mount Zion, which a few Jews believe is built on the site of King David’s Tomb and the Christians associate with the Last Supper of Jesus, then they can proclaim victory and say “we Christians are the successors of Judaism and of King David, and not the Jews.”

According to Kook this will lead “young people coming to watch the Christian Mass, instead of seeing King David and will cause a wave of conversion to Christianity.”

Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, the head of the Temple Institute, is certain this is just a stage in a “terrible plan” to divide Jerusalem between Christians, Muslims and Jews, where the only access Jews will have to the holy sites in the Old City is the Western Wall − and that “under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority.” He accuses the government of “selling off Jerusalem” and showing “weakness and deference to the pope.”

I doubt whether Pope Francis himself has seen the transcripts of these interviews, but if he had he would have laughed to himself and thought “if only I had that power.”

In the real world, the Vatican has hardly had the diplomatic leverage and has been particularly circumspect at exercising whatever leverage it does have over Israel.

Next month will mark 20 years since the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See. Despite all the time that has passed, the issues of sovereignty and tax-exemption of church property in Israel are still far from resolution and the existing agreements have yet to be implemented. Three popes and countless Israeli governments later, a long list of legal, political, historical and technical obstacles are yet to be overcome and the end isn’t even in sight. If this is the all-powerful Holy Roman Empire, heirs to the Great Inquisition, they don’t seem to be doing a very good job of it.

The Shin Bet security service is taking the Cenacle-King David’s Tomb issue very seriously, and is concerned some fanatic may try to harm the pope and his entourage when he celebrates Mass there on Monday afternoon, but viewed from every other aspect it’s ridiculous. Aside from ancient tradition, there is no proof whatsoever that Jesus indeed had his last Passover Seder with his disciples anywhere near the site, and the sarcophagus built by the Crusaders there certainly doesn’t cover King David’s Tomb − or if it does, then the Bible, which says that he was buried in the ancient “City of David,” today’s Silwan village, is wrong. A contradiction rabbis Kook and Ariel can’t seem to address.

As it is, no-one is planning to hand the entire building over to the Vatican, at the most the Franciscan Order will receive a limited custodianship of the upper floor which will allow Christians to pray there more frequently that they can today (only two days a year).

Some may see the rabbis’ protests as yet another cynical ploy by the religious far-right to perpetuate its hold on the heart of Jerusalem, but I believe they mean what they say.

Pope Francis is arriving as the leader of a church whose followers are in rapid retreat from the entire region. Back home he has pressing issues of finance reform in the Curia and never-ending demands by liberal groups to end celibacy for priests and change the church’s teaching on homosexuality, which he can never give in to, and a decades-old mega-scandal of pedophilia within the ranks that is just not going to go away any time soon. Jerusalem and the entire Middle East are simply not on the radar of the first Latin American pope.

Since his friendship with the Jewish community of Buenos Aires and many of its members is well known, I wonder if Francis can even conceive of a type of Jew whose entire identity is possible only if it can be defined by memories of persecution. He is arriving here at a unique period in history when the church is no longer a threat to Jewish existence, physical or spiritual − but if rabbis like Kook and Ariel were to actually accept that fact, their entire world would wither away.

If the Christians are no longer out to get us, then maybe ancient hatreds and rivalries can actually be put aside and a peaceful coexistence with another nation that shares this land be possible. To them it’s unthinkable, and while only a small lunatic fringe actually go to worship at “King David’s Tomb,” their mind set is shared by many other Israelis and Jews who cannot conceive of a world without Christian persecution, including many in government.

The 77-year-old Francis will probably visit only a handful of countries during his papacy. So far, in 15 months on the throne of St. Peter he has only been to Brazil on a trip that was scheduled in advance for his predecessor. While the Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli leaders who will meet him will try and extract every little bit of political capital from his visit, the bottom line is that like his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, by coming to Jerusalem he is affirming the historic achievement of the Jews in rebuilding a sovereign state in their ancestral land.

We no longer have anything to fear from the church. They gave up trying to proselytize us 50 years ago at the Second Vatican Council, and when John Paul visited a synagogue in 1986 and called the Jews “our elder brothers,” he meant that.

So maybe we should start acting like grown-ups?



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