Jules Gomes
Dr. Jules Gomes (B.A., B.D., M.Th., Ph.D.) is a biblical scholar and a journalist based in Rome.

Vatican Media Continues Its Historic Antisemitism

Pope Francis kisses the hand of a Jewish men at the Hall of Remembrance during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem Monday, May 26, 2014. (AP /L’Osservatore Romano)
Pope Francis kisses the hand of a Jewish men at the Hall of Remembrance during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem Monday, May 26, 2014. (AP /L’Osservatore Romano)

“Can the Cushite change his skin or the leopard his spots?” asks the prophet Jeremiah. In the same vein, we ask: Can the Vatican end its pathological hatred of the Jews that has been ingrained into its DNA for centuries?

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s daily mouthpiece founded in 1861, and La Civiltà Cattolica, the Jesuit Italian biweekly founded by Pope Pius IX and overseen by the popes and their secretaries of state, cannot stop vilifying the Jews.

They have been crusading overtly against the Jews for the last 150 years, with La Civiltà Cattolica urging governments to impose “exceptional laws for a race that is so exceptionally and profoundly perverse” (1880) and L’Osservatore Romano warning that Jews “cannot and must not live among others as any other people in the world … do” (1898).

The leopard cannot change its spots. On May 7, L’Osservatore Romano published a 2,500-word column titled “Anti-Semitism and Palestine” written by Fr. David Neuhaus, a Jesuit who is a long-term member of the Holy Land Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission.

Blaming Jews for Palestinian Terrorism

Neuhaus blamed Israel’s “ruthless war against the Palestinians” for the rise in antisemitism, equated fighting antisemitism with struggling for Palestinian liberation, and drew a moral equivalence between the Shoah (Holocaust) and the Nakba (Catastrophe), which he defined as Israel’s “destruction of Palestinian society in 1948.”

The Jesuit did not tell his readers that the Nakba was a result of Israel defending herself from a genocidal war of extermination against the Arab armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon (backed by Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Libya), who attacked the fledging state and its rag-tag army just as Israel declared independence.

On May 18, Civiltà Cattolica published Neuhaus’s 4,000-word essay on the “Jewish-Catholic Dialogue in the Shadow of the War in Gaza,” explaining why Pope Francis could not take sides.

While using Jesuitical casuistry to feign neutrality, Neuhaus parroted Palestinian talking points to claim that most of the Jews arriving in Israel “were fleeing European anti-Semitism.”

He failed to mention that there were more Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries (850,000 to one million) than Palestinians who became refugees in 1948 (the UN estimated 726,000). Iran later expelled 70,000 Jews following the Islamic Revolution in in 1979–80.

Using a quote, Neuhaus described the Israeli Defense Forces as “the army of Tel Aviv” — an inaccuracy and a reminder that the Vatican does not accept Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Israeli Ambassador Slams Vatican Equivocation

When asked to comment on Neuhaus’s essays, Raphael Schutz, Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, told me that “this wasn’t the first time Fr. Neuhaus was abusing his position to promote his radical anti-Zionist ideology and politics using a mix of lies, fallacies, and omissions.

“Just one example out of many from his recent article in L’Osservatore Romano: he claimed that Israel waged a war on Gaza without mentioning the October 7 massacre. His historical analysis is no better,” Schutz noted.

Schutz asked L’Osservatore Romano if he could respond to Neuhaus. The paper agreed, but later rescinded its offer.

Neuhaus bashes American evangelical Christian Zionists for their alleged misuse of biblical texts to support a return of the Jews to Israel. What he won’t tell you is that the Roman Church did its best to abort Israel’s rebirth, only recognizing Israel in 1993.

But British evangelicals like Lord Balfour, Lord Shaftesbury, Laurence Oliphant, Isaac Newton, Joseph Priestley, John Milton, Robert Browning, John and Charles Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and Bishop J. C. Ryle sowed the seeds of Israel’s restoration based on biblical prophecy.

I’m not going to engage Neuhaus’s arguments, especially his use of the old smokescreen separating “anti-Judaism” from “antisemitism” to justify the Roman Church’s endemic Jew-hatred — a subterfuge that has been debunked by historian David Kertzer in his book The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism.

Vatican Journals Promote Blood Libel

I want to uncover the paradox of Neuhaus’s use of two of Rome’s most virulently Jew-hating publications to perpetuate Rome’s centuries-old war on the Jews, albeit this time using the more sophisticated mantle of peacemaker between Islam and Judaism.

You don’t need to dig too deep into the archives of the two publications to discover how they were not only pivotal in the rise of modern antisemitism, but also, in Kertzer’s words, offered “the clearest expressions” of the popes’ support for Jew-hatred.

The most egregious example of the journals’ antisemitism was their support for blood libel — the conspiracy theory that Jews were commanded to torture and kill Catholic children and use their blood in making the Passover matzah.

This was despite multiple popes from the 13th century onwards, including Pope Gregory X and later Pope Pius X, defending Jews from the blood libel.

In a June 1881 article, Fr. Giuseppe Oreglia di Santo Stefano, one of the founders of Civiltà Cattolica, claimed the Talmud commands Jews to kill Christians. (The Jesuit journal began its anti-Jew campaign in December 1880, with a series of 36 vitriolically antisemitic articles published over the next 40 months).

When 15 Jews were tried for the ritual murder of Eszter Solymosi, a 14-year-old Catholic girl, in the Hungarian village of Tiszaeszlar in 1883, the journal’s October 25 article backed the blood libel, noting that Jews “are required, in view of their piety, religion and rite to kill Christians and take their blood for their own liturgical and sacramental rites.”

Civiltà Cattolica reported the blood libel as an “irrefutably proven crime” even when the Kúria, Hungary’s supreme court, discovered the body was not that of Eszter, but had been dressed in her clothes. Eszter had committed suicide by throwing herself into the River Tisza.

Jews Accused of Ritually Killing Catholic Children for Blood

On January 8, 1884, the publication protested “using Christian blood in Jewish rites in contemporary synagogues.” On January 23, 1884, the journal noted that Jews “ritually extract blood” not only from children but also from adults and use their blood to prepare unleavened bread and pandolce cake to distribute among Christians.

The issue carried three articles on the blood libel, with one adding capital letters, stating: “ALL JEWS need Christian blood every seven years,” a second claiming that a child “should be no older than thirteen years old,” and a third explaining that “blood is needed for Passover.”

In 1898, a year after the Gothic novel Dracula was published, L’Osservatore Romano accused Jews of being vampires thirsting for Christian blood.

A July 1892 article in the Vatican daily, commenting on a German ritual murder trial, noted: “it has already been established by many unimpeachable witnesses that Jews practice ritual homicides so that they can use Christian blood in making their Passover matzah.”

In November 1899, the papal mouthpiece reported on a seven-year-old Hungarian orphan who had been found with his throat slit. The article was titled, “A new ritual murder.”

Later than month in an article titled “Jewish ritual murder,” the Vatican newspaper warned “certain” Jews: “Don’t throw oil on the fire … Content yourselves … with the Christians’ money but stop shedding and sucking their blood.”

Vatican’s Journals Justify Historic Antisemitism

When the ritual murder trials resulted in acquittals, L’Osservatore Romano argued that Jews had bribed the judges in all cases and “the judiciary is entirely in the synagogue’s control.”

Thus far, neither journal has issued an apology for its antisemitism. Instead, both continue to contend that they were being anti-Judaistic rather than antisemitic.

As recently as December 2023, Civiltà Cattolica’s editorial board defended its historic assaults on the Jews, arguing that the Church’s anti-Judaism could not have given rise to modern antisemitism. L’Osservatore Romano repeated the arguments in Neuhaus’s essay.

I have read enough to conclude that both journals relentlessly portrayed Jews as rapacious, merciless, unpatriotic gold-diggers seeking world domination: In the words of di Santo Stefano, one of Civiltà Cattolica’s founders: “eternal insolent children, obstinate, dirty, thieves, liars, ignoramuses, pests and the scourge of those near and far.”

The distinction between anti-Judaism and antisemitism “which led to the horrors of the Holocaust, will simply not survive historical scrutiny,” Kertzer observes. “Every single one of these elements of modern antisemitism was not only embraced by the Church but actively promulgated by official and unofficial Church organs.”

Rome’s leopard hasn’t changed its antisemitic spots. Rather, it gaslights its readers, claiming it never had any spots in the first place. Jeremiah was right. Unsurprisingly, the prophet also said: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

About the Author
Dr. Jules Gomes, (BA, BD, MTh, PhD), has a doctorate in the Hebrew Bible from the University of Cambridge. Currently a journalist based in Rome, he is the author of five books and several academic articles. Gomes lectured at Catholic and Protestant seminaries and universities and was canon theologian and artistic director at Liverpool Cathedral. He was a volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces during Operation Cast Lead and was stationed at the Kerem Shalom army base near the Gaza border.
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