In September, the Catholic Church’s Pope Francis made a statement about the continued presence of antisemitism in Europe. The Pope warned “the threat of anti-Semitism [is] still lurking in Europe and elsewhere.”
This statement is certainly not unfounded. Antisemitism has been on the rise in Europe, as well as the rest of the world, for the past few years. Holocaust imagery has been used in protests against vaccines in France, Jewish gravestones have been destroyed in Romania and elsewhere, and even European football games are rife with antisemitic chants. Still, one has to wonder why the Pope is only now talking about the issue. Antisemitism has been a disease that has plagued Europe for centuries, from blood libels to the Holocaust, but no Pope has ever made a statement as strong as this. Is a statement enough to change the situation? Is the Pope’s statement meaningless? Is the Church doing enough to actively educate about its own past antisemitism?
Antisemitism has been present in Europe for centuries, and it is difficult to ignore the Church’s role in fueling it. It was the Church that called for the Crusades, which led to the slaughter of innocent Jews in Europe. In World War II, Pope Pius XII refused to oppose the Nazis, or even acknowledge that the Holocaust was happening. Despite the landmark 1964 “Vatican II” reforms that absolved the Jews of killing Jesus, until as recently as 2008, prayers in Catholic mass continued to call for the conversion of Jews. Since then, however, Pope Francis has restricted the Latin Mass which called for Jewish conversion.
Still, throughout history, as antisemitism raged in Europe, the Catholic Church at best ignored it, and at worst, actively participated in it. Yet, the Catholic Church, like other institutions of power, has seemed to absolve itself of blame. It treats antisemitism as stemming from an entity in Europe entirely separate from the Church. This ignores how integral the Catholic Church was in Europe at the time of these antisemitic incidents. Despite the Pope’s statement about antisemitism still lurking in Europe, the Church has not worked enough to educate about its own contribution to historical antisemitism.
Even in modern times, antisemitism is still present among Catholics. Recent polls show that eleven percent of white Catholics have embraced QAnon. QAnon is a conspiracy theory movement that perpetuates antisemitism. In fact, QAnoners believe in modern-day blood libels, an antisemitic conspiracy theory that has fueled violence against Jews since Medieval times in Europe. Where is the Pope’s condemnation of the Catholics who are following this hateful ideology? If the Pope is not making an effort to address the antisemitism lurking within the Church itself, is there any true weight behind his statement?
In my view, the Pope’s recent statement about antisemitism in Europe is not enough effort from the Catholic Church. The Church still has not sufficiently addressed the antisemitism in its past, nor the current antisemitism within its ranks. While it is true that the Catholic Church has made strides, there is still work to be done, as Pope Francis still defends Pope Pius XII’s actions during the Holocaust, even though Pius has been accused of not properly intervening. What the Pope said is meaningless without action. It is meant to placate, not to create change.
But, change is what Europe currently requires. Antisemitism is no longer lurking in the shadows of Europe, it is fully reemerging. That is why Jews have been fleeing from France for years. However, this exodus will not be limited to France. If no action is taken, European Jews may no longer view Europe as a safe place to live. The Church still possesses great influence in Europe, and now is the time for the Pope to use that power to fight against antisemitism. That cannot be done through flimsy statements for the press. It must be done through education in Sunday schools about how the Church and other institutions of power contributed to historical antisemitism. It must be done through clear statements against conspiracies.. Antisemitism in Europe is not going to disappear on its own.
As a Jewish person with a Catholic father, I have gained a unique perspective on Jewish-Catholic relations. I have experienced both antisemitism and allyship from Catholics. The Catholic Church has made great progress, which should be celebrated, but the Pope needs to recognize the full power of the Church and use it to combat antisemitism. If Pope Francis truly wants to address this issue, he must continue to work to make meaningful change.