The Simon Wiesenthal Center urged Pope Benedict XVI on Monday to immediately denounce a statement by Melkite Catholic Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros at a Vatican Synod on the Middle East.
The archbishop had opined that “We Christians cannot speak about the promised land for the Jewish people. There is no longer a chosen people. All men and women of all countries have become the chosen people. The concept of the promised land cannot be used as a base for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians.”
Butrus added that the “justification of Israel’s occupation of the land of Palestine cannot be based on sacred scriptures.”
Jewish reaction was swift.
“This political stunt, wrapped in theological garb, not only insults every Jew, but flies in the face of the statements and actions of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, both who have visited Israel and expressed solidarity with her people,” said Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, dean and founder and associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, respectively. The two men had audiences with both pontiffs.
“The archbishop’s statement comes at the end of the conference wherein the so-called ‘Palestine Kairos’ document – which openly denies the right of Israel to be a Jewish state – was presented at the Vatican for the first time. These developments demand immediate action by the pope. Hopes for peace in the Middle East will only come when both sides recognize the rights of the others. These latest moves, left unchallenged, will damage interfaith relations and embolden anti- Semites and terrorists,” said Hier and Cooper.
The Anti-Defamation League also expressed deep concern over the remarks, calling them “the worst kind of anti-Judaism, bordering on anti-Semitism.”
In a letter to Cardinal-elect Kurt Koch, the newly-appointed president of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, ADL national director Abe Foxman wrote: “By stating that God’s covenantal promise of land to the Jewish people ‘was nullified by Christ’ and that ‘there is no longer a chosen people,’ Bustros is effectively stating that Judaism should no longer exist.”
A spokesman for the Vatican, Father Federico Lombardi, issued a statement Monday that sought to play down Butrus’s remarks and distance the Holy See from them.
“If one wants a summary of the Synod’s position, attention must currently be paid to the “Message,” which is the only written text approved by the synod in the last few days,” Lombardi said.
“There is also a great richness and variety in the contributions made by the fathers, but which as such should not all be considered as the voice of the synod as a whole.”
Lombardi, without specifically mentioning Bustros, embraced the synod’s call for “an end to the occupation” while suggesting that the Arab bishop’s statements belonged to the collection of “individual” contributions that did not express the synod’s official stance.
According to the Catholic News Service, the Synod Message regarding the Jews “warned against inappropriate use of the words of the Bible,” and said that “recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable.”