Israel and the World of Catholicism(s)

, March 24, 2018

This article assesses the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church and its faithful to the Jewish people and to Israel, making use of the results of several recent studies, based on global opinion surveys.1

Did Vatican II Change Everything?

One popular hypothesis nowadays is that the Roman Catholic Second Vatican Council (October 11, 1962 – December 8, 1965) with its commitment to interreligious tolerance, especially toward Judaism, paved the way for the high contemporary degree of societal religious tolerance in predominantly Catholic Western countries, irrespective of whether Catholics in those countries today live a secular or a more religious life. With its declaration “Nostra Aetate” (promulgated on October 28, 1965), the argument runs, the Church buried the demons of Catholic antisemitism for good.2 But just how thick is the ice that now separates global contemporary Catholic publics from the temptations of a reemergence of Catholic authoritarianism and antisemitism, so well-known from the past, and how close are the bonds of friendship that active Catholics really feel toward Jews and the state of Israel?

Pope Pius X: “We Cannot Recognize the Jewish People….”

Our research project tried to answer all these admittedly tricky questions, as far as current global opinion surveys allowed us to do so. Our study focused on indicators of global antisemitism of entire countries in comparison with the antisemitism of the respective local practicing Roman Catholic communities, i. e., those Catholics who attend Sunday Mass regularly, the so-called Dominicantes, who still make up according to our (country population weighted) data some 45 percent of the global 1.3 billion Roman Catholics.

The international lack of global empirical studies on contemporary Catholic antisemitism is all the more intriguing because the Roman Catholic Church still commands the largest single following held by a Christian church among the citizens of the Western democracies in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region.3 One could even say that Roman Catholicism per se is the leading religion of the West. By its self-definition, the Church should be a religious congregation committed to the ideals of neighborly love toward the needy, concern for the weakest, universal human understanding, and brotherly/sisterly affection toward Judaism, the “older brothers in faith.”4 This term, used for the first time ever by the late Pope John Paul II during his historic visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome on April 13, 1986,5 was a major departure from all the declarations of the heads of the Roman Catholic Church on Judaism and the Jews during the past 2,000 years, as is known by any serious scholarly student of the subject.6 There is no way to deny that despite the Jewish origins of Christianity, from its early days antisemitism was the “original sin” of Roman Catholicism.7 Catholic authoritarian and antisemitic traditions are all too well known in history, and they plagued many countries, especially in Europe, well into much of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

Ever since the Catholic Church was established, its leading thinkers – referred to by Christian theology as the Church Fathers – saw it as the “New Jerusalem” and the “New Israel,” and the very foundation of a Jewish state in 1948 bordered on the unthinkable.8 Such a theology “replaced” the real existing Jewish people with the Church, and, since 1948, it also continued to replace the real existing Jewish state by reference to a “Heavenly Jerusalem.” No wonder the Vatican established diplomatic relations with the state of Israel only in 1993, 45 years after Israel’s Declaration of Independence.9 When Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, already very ill and shortly before his death, met Pope Pius X in Rome in 1904 to ask for the Vatican’s help in the building of a Jewish state, the pontiff of that time famously replied, “We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem – but we could never sanction it…. The Jews have not recognized our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people.”10

Making Use of International Survey Data

Global value studies are made possible by the availability of systematic and comparative opinion surveys over time under the auspices of leading representatives of the social science research community, featuring the responses of global and/or European populations to a fairly constant questionnaire for several decades now. In each case to be represented below, the original data were made freely available to the global scientific publics for systematic, multivariate analysis of opinion structures on the basis of the original anonymous interview data.11 Our data are mainly from three sets of such reliable and regularly repeated global opinion surveys: the World Values Survey (WVS), the European Social Survey (ESS), and PEW International.

Our presentation of the results will be rather brief, and we concentrate here on the most salient results. The “real existing” global Catholicism that emerges from our data can best be described for the aims of this study by the following global tendencies:

  • WVS data cover 937.2 million Catholics, 84 percent of the global Roman Catholic population. Dominicantes constitute only 45 percent of the population-weighted total of Roman Catholics on earth.
  • The top ten Catholic superpowers are the Catholic communities of Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, the United States, Italy, Poland, Colombia, Nigeria, India, and Peru (in descending order of size) with more than 10 million regular Sunday church-service attenders each, already constituting more than 70 percent of all global Dominicantes. Support for the Christian-Jewish dialogue depends increasingly on these strategic Catholic communities.
  • Catholicism in the Arab world – i.e., in Algeria, Comoros, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestinian Territories, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen – amounts to only 8.7 million Roman Catholics. The share of Christians with antisemitic attitudes in the MENA region can be presumed to be 64 percent.12
  • About one in five practicing Roman Catholics still rejects having a Jewish neighbor, irrespective of all the Church’s teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Catholic antisemitism is thus a continuing and grave global problem.13
  • In global macro-sociological comparisons, the percentage of Roman Catholicism per total population is still a significant driver of antisemitism, as measured by the famous “ADL Global 100” study.14
  • In South Korea, South Africa, Slovakia, Nigeria, Bosnia, and Venezuela, antisemitism comes to 30 percent or higher among the Roman Catholic regular Sunday Mass attenders (Dominicantes). Only the Dominicantes in Argentina and the United States were among the world’s top 10 percent performers in overcoming antisemitism, while the Dominicantes in Venezuela, Bosnia, Nigeria, Slovakia, South Africa, and South Korea were among the world’s bottom two-thirds of communities in overcoming antisemitism. In Albania, South Africa, South Korea, Uruguay, Spain, Bosnia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Canada, Sunday church attenders were also more antisemitic than the totality of baptized Roman Catholics.

Our following map further summarizes our results:

Map 1: The antisemitism of the Dominicantes – where practicing Catholics are strongly antisemitic (dark grey) or less antisemitic (light grey) – percentages of people rejecting Jewish neighbors (0% to 100%, i. e., 0.00 to 1.00 in our map)

Map 1: The antisemitism of the Dominicantes

Best: United Kingdom, Netherlands, Argentina, United States, Germany

Worst: South Korea, South Africa, Slovakia, Nigeria, Bosnia, Herzegovina

  • Only in Slovakia, Slovenia, Portugal, Czech Republic, Austria, Chile, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands was there a reduction in the rate of active Catholic antisemitism over time during the last decades, while in Spain, Malta, Mexico, Poland, Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy, Argentina, United States, France, and Canada, antisemitism among the Dominicantes increased over time.
  • Combining our statistical findings in a “Nostra Aetate Index,” we can say that among the world’s top performing Roman Catholic active communities are those in the Czech Republic, United States, United Kingdom, Portugal, and Argentina, while the worst performers in overcoming Catholic antisemitism were to be found in the active Catholic communities in Spain, Poland, Malta, Slovenia, Mexico, and Slovakia.15

Do Active Catholics Favor Keeping Out Jewish Immigration?

Here we briefly summarize the existing evidence on that issue. Attitudes on Jewish immigration to one’s country are an important element in the overall attitudes toward Jews and toward Israel. The European Social Survey, an important biannual survey instrument, cofinanced by the European Commission in Brussels, offers important insights into European xenophobia and racism. One does not have to invoke Ye’or’s bleak scenario (“Eurabia”) of an evolving alliance of Islam, anti-Americanism, and antisemitism in Europe to ask the simple question of whether or not Jewish immigration is accepted by different denominational groups, including the Catholic Dominicantes, and how this acceptance or rejection is related to that of other immigrant groups.16

  • Our data for 2014 seem to confirm that only the Dominicantes in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and France are more positively oriented toward Jewish immigration than the totality of the baptized Roman Catholics in the country, while practicing Roman Catholics in Slovenia, Poland, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria by and large reject Jewish immigration in dismal proportions, and also fall behind the more secular Catholics in their respective country in their meager support for Jewish immigration. One also finds that only in Germany was a more significant proportion of persons (all denominations, and secular and religious groups among them) strongly in favor of Jewish immigration.
  • We also analyzed the rankings of average support for Jewish immigration to European countries by the different denominational groups, comparing the active Roman Catholics with European Muslims (wherever data were available) and overall society. The best-placed Roman Catholic Dominicantes sample (from Germany) falls behind the results for overall society in Sweden and Germany and behind Sweden’s Muslim community (2014). Dominicantes in Slovenia, overall society in the Czech Republic, Muslims in Switzerland, and Dominicantes in Poland all voice a rejection of Jewish immigration greater or equal than 2.50 on the 4-point acceptance scale.
  • We also analyzed the rankings of the European rejection of Jewish immigration according to religious denomination and religious-service attendance. The rejection front is being led by the monthly religious-service attenders among Roman Catholics in Slovenia, Poland, and Ireland, followed by Belgian Muslim monthly regular mosque attenders, the total baptized Roman Catholic population of Slovenia, and the monthly Catholic religious-service attenders in Belgium. Only Protestant and secular populations in the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, and Germany, and active Roman Catholics in Germany really welcomed Jewish immigration to Europe (average answers < 2.0). The rejection of Jewish immigration by the more active Catholic communities in Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Poland, Slovenia, and Switzerland (greater than 2.0) is especially disappointing. It is an irony that Austrian Catholic Mensuantes have an even more negative average opinion on further Jewish immigration to Austria 80 years after the 1938 Anschluss than the Austrian Muslims.

Is Catholic Anti-Zionism around the Corner?

In the following, we briefly evaluate the existing data on that issue. In Western society at large, anti-Zionism is increasingly a new “version” of antisemitism, a fact that was already discovered by the American political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset in a prophetic essay published in 1969.17 While the Christian Gospels clearly contain a very telling and direct contradiction of Catholic anti-Zionism (Acts I:6-7), it took the Church a painful 45 years to recognize the Jewish state, and today there is hardly any Catholic theology of Zionism – notwithstanding the very last words of Jesus of Nazareth reported in the Christian Bible, which refer to the restoration of Eretz Israel.18

Can we draw any conclusions about the attitudes toward Israel of the global practicing Roman Catholics?

  • In Graph 1, we show by interdenominational global comparison the connection between self-professed political ideology on a 10-point left-to-right scale, and antisemitism according to the World Values Survey. The highest global propensity for someone to be antisemitic is to be found among the Muslim left, while both the active Catholic left and the active Catholic far right have higher propensities toward antisemitism:

Graph 1: Antisemitism by political ideology around the world according to World Values Survey data – global population, Dominicantes, and Muslims

Graph 1: Antisemitism by political ideology around the world

Global population with complete WVS data: n = 35,611

Muslim population with complete WVS data: n = 3,003

Dominicantes with complete WVS data: n = 4,487

Because all WVS respondents received an equal weight regardless of country size, our results must be regarded as preliminary.

Judging from data from the BBC World Scan and PEW Global Surveys, only 23 percent of the citizens of our globe now say that Israel mainly has a positive influence, while some 41 percent say that the Jewish state has mainly a negative influence. The countrywide support rates for Israel, reported by the BBC, in a way reflect the PEW-based evidence, discussed at length in our studies.19 Only in the United States and in some Sub-Saharan African countries does Israel still enjoy some degrees of support that are higher than the percentages of people with negative opinions of it. The results for key Western allies are devastating, with only 8 percent of Germans, who forever will bear the collective responsibility for the most terrible crime in human history, the Shoah, saying that Israel wields a generally positive or very positive influence. It should be noted that our PEW data were collected in 2013, while the BBC World data were collected one year later in 2014. Israel-positive attitudes in Western democracies with a considerable Catholic heritage are:

USA 51%
Chile 29%
Canada 25%
France 21%
Peru 16%
Australia 16%
Poland 15%
Brazil 15%
UK 14%
Mexico 13%
Germany 8%
Spain 4%

In Germany, the pro-opinions (8 percent) are exceeded to the tune of 59 percent by the negative opinions (67 percent). That anti-Zionism and antisemitism are but two sides of the same coin was already documented in the pathbreaking empirical article by Edward H. Kaplan and Charles A. Small in the Journal of Conflict Resolution more than a decade ago,20 which concluded that extreme criticisms of Israel (e.g., “Israel is an apartheid state,” “The Israel Defense Forces deliberately target Palestinian civilians,” coupled with extreme policy proposals (e.g., boycott of Israeli academics and institutions, divestment from companies doing business with Israel), are indeed motivated by nothing else than blatant antisemitic sentiments. This finding takes on special importance at a time when the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement against the Jewish state is growing stronger in many Western countries, and predictably also among the Catholic left and far right around the world.

We could also document the erosion of support for the Jewish state among the adherents of different political parties in Europe (EU/European NATO members). Generally, center-right and center-left parties, especially in Eastern Europe, still provide the most solid basis of support for the Jewish state in Europe, while among both extreme-left and extreme-right European parties, we witness the most rapid erosion of support for Israel.21

To round up our analysis of the support rates for Israel, we also refer to our analysis of PEW-based data on the intensity of religious practice, and religious denomination in conjunction with international Israel-support rates.

  • Our data analysis documents that not only (with a few exceptions) Muslims but also Oriental Christians show very low rates of support for Israel or even an outright rejection of the Jewish state. Only in the Czech Republic do more religiously active Catholics show higher support for Israel than their more secular counterparts, while in Italy and Poland, the more religious Catholics support Israel less than their more secular counterparts. Opposition to Israel among Lebanese Christians – the majority of whom are Roman Catholic Maronite Christians – is especially strong. In addition, Christians in Egypt – the great majority of whom are Coptic Christians – are very much opposed to the state of Israel. The most negative opinions on Israel in the entire sample of analyzed groups were to be found among secular Lebanese Christians.

Conclusions

This article arrived at a rather cautious assessment of the strength of support for Israel and the Jewish people in the worlds of Catholicism. The article is based on large-scale global opinion surveys. We have used the plural formulation in the title because among the world’s top-performing Roman Catholic active communities, fulfilling the expectations of dialogue of the Second Vatican Council, we find the Czech Republic, United States, United Kingdom, Portugal, and Argentina, while the worst performers of overcoming Catholic antisemitism were to be found in the active Catholic communities in Spain, Poland, Malta, Slovenia, Mexico, and Slovakia. We also highlight the scant support for Jewish immigration to Europe among Europe’s active Catholics, and also highlight low support rates for the state of Israel in several major Catholic countries.

While the Christian Gospels clearly contain a very telling and direct contradiction of Catholic anti-Zionism (Acts I:6-7), it took the Church a painful 45 years to recognize the Jewish state, and today there is hardly any Catholic theology of Zionism – notwithstanding the very last words of Jesus of Nazareth reported in the Christian Bible, which refer to the restoration of Eretz Israel.  If Catholics take the notion of the dialogue with Judaism seriously, they cannot shy away from defending the Jewish state’s right to exist.

* * *

Notes

1 See Arno Tausch, “Global Catholicism in the Age of Mass Migration and the Rise of Populism: Comparative Analyses, Based on Recent World Values Survey and European Social Survey Data” (November 24, 2016). Available at SSRN, New York: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2875289; Arno Tausch, “The Effects of ‘Nostra Aetate’: Comparative Analyses of Catholic Antisemitism More Than Five Decades after the Second Vatican Council” (January 8, 2018). Available at SSRN, New York: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3098079; Arno Tausch, “Are Practicing Catholics More Tolerant of Other Religions than the Rest of the World? Comparative Analyses Based on World Values Survey Data” (November 21, 2017). Available at SSRN, New York: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3075315 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3075315. All downloads as of February 6, 2018.

2 http://www. usccb. org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/index. Cfm. For all matters of Jewish-Christian dialogue, see also: https://sites.sju.edu/ijcr/. The most recent important document from the Jewish side is undoubtedly: The Conference of European Rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, “Between Jerusalem and Rome: Reflections on 50 Years of Nostra Aetate,” August 31, 2017, available (among others) at: http://www.ccjr.us/dialogika-resources/documents-and-statements/jewish/1421-cer-cri-rca-2017

3 Calculated from http://www. nationmaster. com; http://www. catholic-hierarchy. org; http://www. pewforum. org/2013/02/13/the-global-catholic-population; http://www. bbc. com/news/world-21443313

4 http://articles.latimes.com/1987-08-20/news/mn-3718_1_elder-brothers and http://www.nytimes.com/1986/04/14/world/text-of-pope-s-speech-at-rome-synagogue-you-are-our-elder-brothers.html?pagewanted=all

5 http://time.com/4280602/pope-john-paul-synagogue-visit

6 See especially Michael Phayer, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965, Indiana University Press, 2000; Robert Michael, A History of Catholic Antisemitism: The Dark Side of the Church, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008; for further literature, see Arno Tausch “The Effects of ‘Nostra Aetate,’” op. cit.

7 See also Arno Tausch, “The Pope – ‘How Many Divisions Does He Have?’ A First Global Survey of World Catholicism Based on the ‘World Values Survey’ and the ‘European Social Survey’” (‘El Papa ¿Cuántas Divisiones Tiene? Sondeo Global Del Catolicismo Mundial Según El ‘World Values Survey’ Y El ‘European Social Survey’) (February 17, 2011). Centro Argentino De Estudios Internacionales e-Book No. 49. Available at SSRN, New York: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1763187 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1763187

8 Steven D. Aguzzi, Israel, the Church, and Millenarianism: A Way beyond Replacement Theology, Routledge, 2017; see also F. J. E. Boddens Hosang, Establishing Boundaries: Christian-Jewish Relations in Early Council Texts and the Writings of Church Fathers, Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2010.

9 http://mfa. gov. il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/Bilateral/Pages/Israel-Vatican_Diplomatic_Relations. aspx

10 Quotation retrieved from the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations, Saint Joseph University, Dialogika, Texts from the History of the Relationship. Theodor Herzl, Audience with Pope Pius X (1904) (http://www.ccjr.us/dialogika-resources/primary-texts-from-the-history-of-the-relationship)

11 http://www. worldvaluessurvey. org/wvs. jsp and http://www. europeansocialsurvey. org

12 Arno Tausch, “The Effects of ‘Nostra Aetate,’” op. cit.

13 On the high correlation between indicators of antisemitism, see Arno Tausch, “The Effects of ‘Nostra Aetate,’” op. cit.

14 Anti-Defamation League, “ADL 100 Index,” Anti-Defamation League, New York, http://global100. adl. org

15 Arno Tausch, “The Effects of ‘Nostra Aetate,’” op. cit.

16 Bat Ye’or, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005.

17 Seymour Martin Lipset, “The Socialism of Fools: The Left, the Jews and Israel,” Encounter (December 1969), p. 24.

18 Acts 1:6-7: “Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.’” See: http://biblehub.com/acts/1-6.htm and http://biblehub.com/acts/1-7.htm (New International Translation). As to the theological interpretation of these words from a Christian theologian, see: David L. Tiede, “The Exaltation of Jesus and the Restoration of Israel in Acts 1,” Harvard Theological Review 79:1-3 (1986): 278-286.

19 Arno Tausch, “The Effects of ‘Nostra Aetate,’” op. cit.

20 Edward H. Kaplan and Charles A. Small, “Anti-Israel sentiment predicts anti-Semitism in Europe,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 50:4 (2006): 548-561.

21 Arno Tausch, “The Effects of ‘Nostra Aetate,’” op. cit.

Arno Tausch

Arno Tausch, a liberal Roman Catholic, is currently associated with Corvinus University, Budapest, Hungary, and Innsbruck University, Austria. He was counsellor for labor and migration at the Austrian Embassy in Warsaw, 1992-1999, and was a contributor of several works for the Polish Institute for International Affairs (PISM). The author has been married to his Polish wife since 1978.