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Antisemitism: Four clear reasons why Catholics must speak up

Hatred of Jews is “a sin against God” (cf. Pope Francis, Feb 2024).

When it comes to antisemitism, Catholics have a document, a history, a relationship and a teaching which amount to a serious obligation to call out this lethal prejudice and to offer the support so desperately needed by Jewish communities after October 7.

1.        Catholics have a conciliar document

The Second Vatican Council taught that the Church “decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone” (NA, 4). This explicit denouncement of antisemitic prejudice is found in paragraph four of Nostra Aetate, Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, promulgated in 1965 with a clear eye on the Holocaust.

Yet how many Catholics are even aware that this document exists? With the recent surge in antisemitism, unprecedented since World War II, it is incumbent upon Catholic leaders, teachers and preachers to give firm voice to their Church’s teaching on antisemitism, from pulpits and podiums, through ecclesial statements and media, in education and justice activities.

2.        Catholics have a history

Catholics, like all Christians, have an antisemitic history that weighs on their collective conscience.

Prior to the corrective teaching of Vatican II, toxic distortions of Christian thought (e.g., “the Jews are rejected by God”), had infected church catechesis for many centuries, giving credence to the subjugation, expulsion and violent persecution of Jews in the societies in which they lived. Inevitably, this was a contributing factor to the social conditions that allowed the ideology of Nazism to take root and the Holocaust to occur. Some courageous Christians resisted this evil. Yet too many turned a blind eye as their Jewish neighbours were progressively harmed — robbed of their jobs, their homes, their freedoms, their safety and eventually their lives.

This shocking historical backdrop makes it inexcusable for Christians today to remain silent in the face of antisemitic hate speech, graffitied Jewish dwellings, chants in support of October 7 terrorists and torn-down posters of hostages. Fortunately, in Australia, we need not fear for our lives when we protest antisemitism; we have only to bear the discomfort of going against popular opinion in certain circles. It is a small price to pay for bearing witness to truth and healing the sins of the past.

3.        Catholics have a relationship

Christians have a relationship with Judaism “which we do not have with any other religion” (Pope John Paul II, 1986). Christianity’s roots lie in Judaism and the Church is inconceivable without the story of the people of Israel, of whom Jesus is a son. It is but a logical step for an observant Christian to appreciate that the Jewish kin of Jesus, so close to his heart on earth, must be infinitely close to his heart now, from the magnified perspective of resurrection and glory.

When Jews today are vilified, mocked, attacked, abducted and murdered, one would expect followers of Jesus to instinctively raise a full-throated and united voice in protest, out of a relationship of faith, not to mention of a shared humanity. When their public voice is hesitant, half-hearted or absent, antisemites are emboldened, social cohesion is weakened, and Jews are abandoned.

4.        Catholics have a teaching

Catholics are proud of their Church’s social teaching and readily champion their justice commitments in defense of all sorts of minority groups facing specific challenges. But if these commitments do not extend to the defense of Jewish minorities battling “the world’s oldest hatred”, how credible is Catholic social teaching?

The antisemitic climate is worsening in Australia. Through aggressive activism, our society is becoming less welcoming and more dangerous to Jews. The activists are not representative of fair-minded, inclusive Australians, but they are vocal, tolerated and getting away with behaviour that would be deemed totally unacceptable if directed at other minorities – Muslims, Asians, the LGBTQI community, First Nations people.

In the face of all this, Catholics are neither powerless nor empty-handed. They have a document, a history, a relationship and a social teaching which together comprise a substantial resource kit for challenging antisemitic voices and ensuring that Jews can live in peace. This is the time to deploy it. Silence is not an option.


Photo (J-Wire): Grafitti on wall of a Jewish school, Melbourne, 2024.

Teresa Pirola, ThD is a freelance writer, faith educator and author of Catholic-Jewish Relations: Twelve Key Themes for Teaching and Preaching (Paulist Press, 2023).

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