Should an anti-Semite be considered for sainthood by the Roman Catholic church?
That’s the burning question now that a British bishop is in the process of considering canonization for G.K. Chesterton, the late British novelist and journalist.
Five years ago, the bishop of Northampton, Peter Doyle, commissioned an investigation to ascertain whether Chesterton, a convert to Catholicism, was worthy of being designated a saint. The report is scheduled to be published in July. Once it has been released, Doyle will decide whether the Vatican should be petitioned to open a formal inquiry about Chesterton’s candidacy for sainthood.
It appears likely that Chesterton will pass muster.
John Udris, the priest who has been examining Chesterton’s record, is reportedly in favor of his elevation to sainthood. Pope Francis is said to be one of his admirers. In 1992, when he was an archbishop in Buenos Aires, he endorsed a conference about Chesterton in the Argentine capital.
It goes without saying that Catholic saints are only human and therefore imperfect. But in this day and age, only seven decades after the Holocaust, it would be astonishing and surely disappointing if a person like Chesterton were to be declared a saint. It would be a poor reflection on the church, and it would not be in keeping with its values since the doctrinal upheavals of the 1960s.
Chesterton’s hostile views of Jews stand as a rebuke to the progressive changes that have taken place since the Second Vatican Council and the reformist papacy of John XXIII, who adopted an enlightened and compassionate view of Jews.
Doyle would be turning his back on this era if he decides that Chesterton possesses the qualities of a saint.
Chesterton, who embodied the ideas of a true reactionary, viewed Jews thorough the prism of contempt. He believed that Jews who held public office should wear Oriental clothes to distinguish them from Christians. He held fast to conspiracy theories popularized by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In a letter to Rufus Isaacs, the Chief Justice of Britain, he advised him not to accept a position that would have involved him in peace talks with Germany after World War I. As he wrote, “Is there any man who doubts that you will be sympathetic with the Jewish International?
As well, Chesterton hewed to the belief that Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish officer unjustly accused of betraying France, was guilty as originally charged, even after his official exoneration.
In short, Chesterton was of the opinion that Jews were foreigners, did not share the values of their fellow citizens and were unworthy of trust. He was a stereotypical antisemite. It’s true that he condemned antisemitism in Nazi Germany, but the foundations of Jew-hatred were built, in part, by people like Chesterton. He incited antisemitism and popularized it in the minds of millions of his followers.
Given these circumstances, Doyle should do the right thing and deny Chesterton sainthood. The church would only be discrediting itself and alienating Jews by granting Chesterton its ultimate honor.