One Cardinal's Old Impulse to Blame Jews

By James Carroll
Boston Globe [Boston MA]
Downloaded August 13, 2003

WHEN BOSTON'S new archbishop, Sean P. O'Malley, was formally installed at a ceremony at Holy Cross Cathedral on July 30, a cardinal from Honduras was in the sanctuary with him -- one of only two such senior Catholic dignitaries to attend. In normal times, the presence of an important prelate from Latin America, especially one known for solidarity with the poor, might simply be a signal of the virtue of world Catholicism. But these are not normal times -- certainly not for the Catholic Church in Boston. And the Honduran cardinal's presence raises its own set of questions.

Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga is the archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He is 60 years old and is commonly mentioned as one of a small number of likely candidates to succeed Pope John Paul II. He first drew wide notice in the United States last year when, in a May 2002 interview with an Italian journal, he characterized the American newspapers covering the priest child-abuse scandal (including the Globe) as "protagonists of what I do not hesitate to define as a persecution against the church."

The "fury" with which the press reported the scandal, he said, "reminds me of the times of Diocletian and Nero and, more recently, Stalin and Hitler."

This odd perspective of extreme church victimhood -- as if the prime victims of this scandal were clergy and not children -- might have appeared to be little more than an over-the-top manifestation of the narcissistic self-absorption that had at first characterized the hierarchy's reaction to disclosures both that a small number of priests had abused many children and that a majority of bishops had then protected the priests. But Cardinal Rodriguez went further, offering a theory as to what -- or rather, who -- was behind this media "persecution" of the church. When he did this, his reference to Hitler had resonance of a different kind.

Rodriguez told his interviewer in 2002, as reiterated recently in the National Catholic Reporter, "It certainly makes me think that in a moment in which all the attention of the mass media was focused on the Middle East, all the many injustices done against the Palestinian people, the print media and the TV in the United States became obsessed with sexual scandals that happened 40 years ago, 30 years ago. Why? I think it's also for these motives: What is the church that has received Arafat the most times and has most often confirmed the necessity of the creation of a Palestinian state? What is the church that does not accept that Jerusalem should be the indivisible capital of the State of Israel, but that it should be the capital of the three great monotheistic religions?"

In other words, the sex scandal is old news and of such relative insignificance that something else must account for the media's interest. And that something is the hatred of Jews for the Catholic Church. When the church has a problem -- here is the oldest move of all -- blame the Jews. That such a crackpot perspective could be expressed by one of the most influential figures in world Catholicism is as shocking today as it was last year. For that reason, a Rome-based writer for the National Catholic Reporter, John Allen Jr., approached Rodriguez last month to ask him about the statement. Had he been misunderstood? Had he unintentionally conveyed a message he would like to amend? Not at all. "I don't repent," the cardinal told Allen. "Maybe I was a little strong, but sometimes it is necessary to shake things up."

Allen's report of the July interview with Rodriguez emphasized the cardinal's role as a critic of American indifference to the suffering of the poor. In that sense, Rodriguez sees the North American emphasis on priestly sex abuse as disproportionate. "Many people said that I am against the media, but it isn't true at all. Sexual abuse is heartbreaking, and victims deserve compassion. What I'm against is the lack of global perspective." The cardinal's point here is well taken. But that it would be good if the US media became obsessed with economic injustice in no way discredits what the Globe and others did for justice, truth, and the ultimate health of the church by uncovering a scandal that bishops tried to hide. Cardinals should be thanking the American press, not comparing it to Hitler.

But the larger question still hangs there. That Rodriguez maintains the ugly old impulse to blame Jews seems to be no problem for him or those who honored him in Boston. Threatened defenders of the status quo in the church increasingly label those who call for change as "anti-Catholic," including Catholics. But there is something particularly foul and dangerous when such insecurity seeks to steady itself by leaning on canards of anti-Semitism. And from one considered worthy to be pope?


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.