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Op-Ed: The Jesuit Pope and Israel

Jesuit split over Israel may result in a Vatican showdown.
Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 12:44 AM


Every time I a new pope is elected, the Amen corner goes into full swing as if every Pope is automatically the perfect choice. I can understand that. Catholics are naturally excited to have a new leader with a bright future, and few are willing to criticize a new religious leader despite knowing nothing about him. I am not going to criticize the new Pope, but I do have concerns about the possible direction of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis at the helm, and the future of the Church’s relationship to Israel.


 

Both Israel’s Prime Minister and President praised the new Pope. President Peres said "The newly elected Pope represents devotion, the love of God, the love of peace, a holy modesty and a new continent which is now awakening. We need, more than ever, a spiritual leadership and not just a political one. Where political leaders may divide, spiritual leaders may unite. Unite around a vision, unite around values, unite around a faith that we can make the world a better place to live. May the Lord Bless the new Pope."


 

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel said “Over the past twelve years there has been a rich and fruitful dialogue between the Holy See and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel on primary issues such as banning terrorism in God's Name, the sanctity of life, the sanctity of the family unit, etc.”


 

That of course is what we should expect from diplomats and religious leaders, but the language of hope for a brighter future left out concerns about the new Pope. Debbie Schlussel pointed out that the sharply increased number of lapsed Catholics in Argentina under his leadership shows that he was not successful as a Cardinal.


 

Boycott Watch has other concerns. While the Jesuit community celebrated one of their own becoming pope, I can’t help but remember that Georgetown University, a Jesuit school, hosted a divest-from-Israel hate festival which I attended - undercover. As I detail in my book Boycotting Peace, the Muslim program presenters told the Jesuit campus students to lie to their own clergy to bring Israel hate programs into churches, and even incited violence against Jews in Israel. This all happened while a Georgetown University ‘observer’ sat silently and watched without objection. Perhaps this is best explained by the fact that Georgetown received millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia, not only to host the conference, but also to provide a pro-Arab/anti-Israel Middle-East studies chair.

 
 

I host a radio show on the campus station of John Carroll University, also a Jesuit school. I recently had concerns when a student showed me the Carroll News' last edition in December 2012 with an article titled “The Truth about Palestine.” Of course there has never been a nation by the name of Palestine, but there is a campaign to make people think there was such an Arab state, despite the fact the name is not Arabic nor is there even a letter ‘P’ sound in Arabic. A Carroll News spokesperson said the article was proper because ‘my professor said the media is biased and Israel only gets good reports’ -  a contention which is blatantly false. After considerable pressure from a Jewish John Carroll student, the Caroll News posted a counter story with the unevenly balanced title ‘A conversation with…”


 

The fact is, however, that while a Cardinal in Argentina, Pope Francis stood with the Jewish community against terrorism. He is reported to have had close relations with the unabashedly pro-Israel Jewish community there. This makes me think Pope Francis is pro-Israel. More so, there are reports that for this very reason, the Jesuit leadership was unhappy with Pope Francis when he was a Cardinal, setting up a clash among the Jesuits who take an oath of loyalty directly to the pope and not to Bishops or Cardinals.


 

We do not have a clear idea whether the Jesuits will follow Pope Francis, or if the pope will look the other way at the Arab boycott-of-Israel-stance of his fellow Jesuits at places like Georgetown University. Will Pope Francis demand a stop to such activity, or will he just be silent? And if Pope Francis issues a pro-Israel directive, will the Jesuits follow it? I expect to see conflict within the church for months to come.


 

Addressing relations with the Vatican, Israel’s President Peres said, "The relations between the Vatican and the Jewish people are now at their best in the last 2000 years and I hope they will grow in content and depths." I too “hope they will grow” as President Peres said, Still, I can’t help but notice President Peres did not just say “will grow.”

Israel’s relationship to the Vatican is not in the hands of Pope Francis or anyone in Israel - it is in the hands of the Jesuit communities which may undermine their own pope.