Pope Francis meets a delegation of Israelis with family members held hostage in Gaza, Nov.
Pope Francis meets a delegation of Israelis with family members held hostage in Gaza, Nov.Vatican Media via Vatican Pool/Getty Images)

Jewish groups are criticizing Pope Francis for appearing to accuse both Israel and Hamas of “terrorism” in their ongoing war that started Oct. 7.

“This is what wars do,” the pope said at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday. “But here we have gone beyond wars. This is not war. This is terrorism.”

Francis’ comments followed separate meetings with Jewish relatives of hostages held by Hamas and “Palestinian” Arabs with family in Gaza on Wednesday. His remarks come a month after he called on Hamas to free the hostages being held in Gaza, and weeks after calling for a ceasefire and for more aid to Gaza.

Noemi Di Segni, the president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Italy, issued a statement Wednesday saying that she would have preferred Francis had issued a clear condemnation of Oct. 7.

“Certainly we cannot equate the responsibilities of those who have a design of extermination and terror versus those who are defending themselves and defending an entire country and a community that includes both Muslims and Palestinians,” Di Segni said.

In a statement published on the official website of the Jewish community of Milan, the Council of the Assembly of Italian Rabbis (ARI) charged the Pope with “publicly accusing both sides of terrorism.”

In a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, the American Jewish Committee expressed gratitude for the Pope’s meeting with families of the hostages and calling for their release, while also criticizing his other remarks.

“Hamas’ butchering and kidnapping of civilians is terrorism. Israel’s self-defense is not,” the AJC wrote. “Vatican, please clarify.”

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna, defended Francis on Thursday.

“The Pope is careful,” Zuppi told reporters. “And look, this does not mean putting everyone on the same level.”

“It is not that he does not understand the motivations of the Israeli government,” Zuppi added.

Following Francis’ meeting with 10 Palestinians on Wednesday, a dispute also arose as to whether he used the word “genocide” to describe the situation in Gaza, Reuters reported. Arab participants in the news conference say they heard him use the word, while a statement sent by Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said he did not.