EXCLUSIVE: SWC Rabbi Takes on Jerusalem Cardinal Over Papal Trip, Says Herzl Grave Visit Was Break From Church Doctrine
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center, on Thursday took Jerusalem Cardinal Edwin O’Brien to task after the former Archbishop of Baltimore and current ‘Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem,’ shared “a one sided interpretation of the Pope’s visit” with The Boston Globe on Monday.
In an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner, Hier said that rather than focusing on the Pope being photographed at the security fence — which the rabbi called the ‘Hamas Wall’ — it was the Pontiff’s visit to the grave of Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism — completely ignored by the Cardinal in his Globe interview — that had real historical meaning, as it marked a sea change in Church doctrine.
“For a Pope in the 21st century to say ‘I’m going to the graveside of Herzl to announce to the entire world that Zionism is the legitimate national liberation movement of the Jewish people,’ it is unprecedented in the history of the Church,” Hier said.
“He is saying that to the entire world, even though other popes would never have said that,” Hier said. “One of his predecessors, Pope Leo X, told Herzl, when he came to visit him and asked for his endorsement of the idea that the Jews should return to their historic homeland, that ‘if you bring the Jews to Palestine, we shall open all of our churches and seek to convert every one of them.'”
“Let us also remember that there is an historic document, done under the direction of Pius XII, in the middle of the Shoah,” Hier began. “He sent a letter on Vatican stationary to the Roosevelt administration in 1943, in the middle of the Shoah, when the Jews were being exterminated, saying, ‘there is a movement afoot to return the Jewish people to their homeland,’ and he says, ‘Catholics all over the world would be shocked by such an idea.’ It also goes on to say, if they need land then find them land somewhere else, but not in Palestine.”
The two–page letter was signed by A. G. Cicogani, Archbishop of Laodcea, Apostle Delegate, who refers to an official ‘Aide Memoire’ given to the Council of the League of Nations, on June 4, 1922, about the Holy See’s position on the establishment of Israel, which it opposed on the grounds that it could harm access by Christians to their holy sites.
The letter said, “If the greater part of Palestine is given to the Jewish people, this would be a severe blow to the religious attachment of Catholics to this land… It is true that at one time Palestine was inhabited by the Hebrew Race, but there is no axiom in history to substitute the necessity of a people returning to a country they left nineteen centuries before. If a ‘Hebrew home’ is desired, it would not be too difficult to find a more fitting territory than Palestine.”
Hier said, it was “unprecedented” for the cardinal “to ignore the tremendous significance of the Pope’s break with Catholic tradition,” especially “an American cardinal. It is a break with the whole history of the Church.”
Rather than the Pope’s visit to Herzl’s grave, Cardinal O’Brien chose to talk about the security barrier, built to defend modern Israel from terrorists coming from the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank who killed thousands of Israelis in suicide attacks during the Second Intifada.
“The Pope acknowledged the state of Palestine on this trip, and issued a strong call for a two-state solution,” O’Brien told the Globe.“The wall symbolizes everything that stands in contradiction to that.”
He said, “When [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas greeted Francis at the end of the Mass on Saturday, he thanked him for that stop at the wall and said the Palestinians are planning to make a postage stamp out of it. The Israelis made a stamp when Pope John Paul II visited the Western Wall in 2000, so now the Palestinians want to make the most out of this image.”
Hier said, “I think that what the Cardinal did was a one sided interpretation of the Pope’s visit, I think he was speaking from the way Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians would see the visit.”
“I am surprised that a high ranking cardinal… would say that, knowing very well that he deliberately ignored what I would consider to be one of the major achievements of the Papal visit and that is that this Pope said to the world, ‘all this nonsense that you have been hearing from the Palestinian leadership that Zionism is a cancer and is the reason why there is no peace in the Middle East’ was, from the point of view of this Pope, nonsense, because this Pope went to the graveside of the founder of what the Palestinians call the secular state of Israel.”
“If you ask me, if I were advising this Pope, would I have gone to the Bethlehem wall? I would not have,” Hier said. “I don’t think it was a good idea to do that. I think Israel made the gravest mistake by not naming the wall – the wall has a name, it is the Hamas Wall.”
In the Globe interview, the Cardinal also spoke of the importance of the Pope’s meeting with Grand Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the religious leader who triggered international condemnation in 2012 after a televised speech where he endorsed the killing of Jews.
Ahead of the Pope’s visit, Palestinian Media Watch republished that transcript. The Mufti said, “The modern revolution of the Palestinian people’s history. In fact, Palestine in its entirety is a revolution, since [Caliph] Umar came [to conquer Jerusalem, 637 CE], and continuing today, and until the End of Days. The reliable Hadith (tradition attributed to Muhammad), in the two reliable collections, Bukhari and Muslim, says: ‘The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews. / The Jew will hide behind stones or trees. /Then the stones or trees will call: ‘Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’ /Except the Gharqad tree which will keep silent.'”
Cardinal O’Brien told the Globe on Monday: “His meeting with the Grand Mufti this morning was an important sign of reaching out to the Muslim community, and a way of encouraging the moderates.”