The Catholic Church has a long and disturbing history of tolerating priests, bishops and even cardinals who preach classic anti-Semitism. Cardinal Joseph Glemp, the Polish Primate, told his followers that Jews were responsible for alcoholism, communism and virtually every other “ism” that plagued Poland. Yet he remained an honored member of the College of Cardinals until his death several months ago. Recent popes have taken a much stronger stand against anti-Semitism and have worked hard to build bridges with the Jewish community. Now this good work is being challenged by the candidacy of Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras to succeed the good Pope Benedict XVI. Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga is charismatic and popular in his home country and his name has appeared on various media short lists, because he is South American and fluent in Spanish.
The problem is that Rodriguez Maradiaga is an out and out Jew-hater. He has said that “the Jews” are to blame for the scandal surrounding the sexual misconduct of priests toward young parishioners! The Jews? How did Rodriguez Maradiaga ever come up with this hair-brained idea? Here is his “logic.” He begins by asserting that the Vatican is anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian (as he says it should be). It follows, therefore, that “The Jews” had to get even with the Catholic Church, while at the same time deflecting attention away from Israeli injustices against the Palestinians. The Jews managed to do this by arranging for the media—which he says they control—to give disproportionate attention on the Vatican sex scandal.
Rodriguez Maradiaga then went on to compare the Jewish controlled media with “Hitler,” because they are “protagonists of what I do not hesitate to define as a persecution against The Church.”
The prime media culprit in Rodriguez Maradiaga’s bizarro world is the Boston Globe, which has won numerous journalistic awards for its exposure of the sex scandal and cover up. The Globe is owned by The New York Times, which is controlled by the Sulzberger family. Hence the Jewish conspiracy. The problem (among so many) with this cockamamie theory is that the Jewish community of Boston was very close to, and admiring of, Cardinal Bernard Law, who presided over the arch diocese during the scandal. Cardinal Law had built bridges between the Catholic and Jewish communities of Boston, and when the scandal was exposed by the very un-Jewish Boston Globe the Jewish community remained largely supportive of Law. None of the leading media critics, lawyers or politicians who railed against the church were Jewish. Most were Catholic. But that didn’t matter to the bigoted cardinal, who—along with other classic anti-Semites — believes that if there is a problem “the Jews” must be to blame for it. As James Carrol, the distinguished columnist for the Boston Globe who is himself a Catholic, has characterized Rodriguez Maradiaga’s “crackpot” mindset: “when the church has a problem—here is the oldest move of all—blame the Jews.”
When asked whether he wanted to reconsider his attack, Rodriguez Maradiaga replied: “I don’t repent… sometimes it is necessary to shake things up.” He later promised Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League that he wouldn’t repeat his conspiratorial nonsense, but he has refused to publicly apologize or “repent” in the presence of his followers in the language that they speak.
The Vatican has rightly called anti-Semitism a “sin,” and yet an unrepentant sinner is on the short list to become the leader of the Catholic Church. Is it because the other cardinals are unaware of Rodriguez Maradiaga’s anti-Semitism? Unlikely, because he has made no secret of his bigotry against the Jews. Or is it because not enough of them care as much as they should?
Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga’s candidacy poses a great challenge to the Catholic Church. Will it move forward in its efforts to build bridges with the Jewish community, or will it take a giant step backwards into its dark history of anti-Semitism?
Alan Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard.