Pope Francis has repeatedly called on Israel to lay down arms in its defensive war against Hamas, whose Oct. 7 terrorist attack was the bloodiest day for Jews since the Holocaust.
It’s “forbidden to respond to terror with terror,” the pontiff reportedly told Israeli President Isaac Herzog last month. On Sunday, the pope said, “Some say, ‘This is terrorism and war.’ Yes, it is war. It is terrorism.”
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which is based in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, stated on Dec. 16 that an Israeli sniper “murdered” two Christian women in a Gaza church. “No warning was given, no notification was provided,” it said. “They were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the parish, where there are no belligerents.”
On Oct. 7, the patriarchate blamed Israel for being a victim. “The cycle of violence that has killed numerous Palestinians and Israelis in the past months has exploded this morning, Saturday Oct. 7, 2023,” it posted. “The operation launched from Gaza and the reaction of the Israeli Army are bringing us back to the worst periods of our recent history.”
It also called for “the international community” to “de-escalate” the situation and for a ceasefire and for negotiation of peace.
In some of the worst periods in less recent history than what the patriarchate referenced, the Catholic Church is accused of turning a blind eye to Nazi atrocities and it murdered and oppressed Jews over many centuries.
“My conscience and moral duty require me to state clearly that what happened on Oct. 7 in southern Israel is in no way permissible and we cannot but condemn it. There is no reason for such an atrocity,” Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote in an Oct. 24 letter to the diocese which now yields an error message.
“The same conscience, however, with a great burden on my heart, leads me to state with equal clarity today that this new cycle of violence has brought to Gaza over 5,000, including many women and children, tens of thousands of wounded, neighborhoods razed to the ground, lack of medicine, lack of water and of basic necessities for over 2 million people,” he added. “These are tragedies that cannot be understood and which we have a duty to denounce and condemn unreservedly.”
He added that “It is only by ending decades of occupation and its tragic consequences, as well as giving a clear and secure national perspective to the Palestinian people that a serious peace process can begin. Unless this problem is solved at its root, there will never be the stability we all hope for.” (He also referred to “the Queen of Palestine.”)
Warren Goldstein, chief rabbi of The Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa, said that the pope’s recent comment that it is “forbidden to respond to terror with terror” compares “Israel’s just war of self-defense to the barbarism of Hamas.” In so doing, the pope “repeats the sins of Pope Pius the XII, from the Nazi era, of surreptitiously supporting the forces of evil who seek to annihilate the Jewish people,” Goldstein said.
“If Israel’s war is not just, then there has never been a just war,” he added. (He noted a Dec. 13 Wall Street Journal article, in which David Rivkin and Peter Berkowitz note the pope’s “primitive pacifism,” and that the “Catholic Church developed just-war theory, but the pontiff doesn’t seem to understand it.”)
“It is a matter of public record that the IDF has done more in this war and previous wars to minimize civilian casualties than any other army in recorded history,” Goldstein said. “International law accepts, unequivocally, that even a just war can, and inevitably will, result in civilian casualties.”
Pope Pius XII, prior to his papacy, was the Vatican ambassador to Nazi Germany and was “at the very least a passive bystander to the Holocaust, if not an active supporter,” Goldstein said.
“Pope Francis, I turn to you and say: ‘God has given you an historic opportunity to atone for the sins of Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church, during the Holocaust,” he added.
“Pope Francis, to repent on behalf of the Catholic Church, you must not stand by as a passive bystander like Pope Pius did during the first Holocaust, while Iran seeks to perpetrate a second one,” he said.