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The Polish Theologian Waldemar Chrostowski and the Setback of the Christian-Jewish Dialogue

Filed under: Antisemitism
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review
Volume 29, Numbers 1–2

This article will consider recent developments in the Roman Catholic Church that may have important implications for the spiritual climate of our time, far beyond the members of the church. Will anti-Semitism become acceptable again at the center of the Catholic Church?

Chrostowski, a Kind of Nobel Laureate of Catholic Theology

It is impossible to speak about the current tendencies of the Christian-Jewish dialogue without mentioning the name of the Polish theologian, Professor Father Waldemar Chrostowski.

In 2014 Professor Chrostowski won the Joseph Ratzinger Prize, often called the “Nobel Prize for Catholic theology.” The eulogy was presented by no less than the then prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller. In his eulogy Cardinal Müller recalled the namesake of the prize, Pope Benedict XVI (Josef Ratzinger), who “is not accidentally called the Mozart of theology.” The official reason for the award ceremony was Chrostowski’s “services to the Christian-Jewish dialogue.” Yet the award ceremony in Rome was obviously a wrong decision, and it may have important and negative consequences for the church and the Christian-Jewish relationship.

Jews, No Longer Older Brothers in Faith

It now seems long ago when on April 13, 1986, in the Great Synagogue of Rome, Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) called Jews “the older brothers in faith.” Today Waldemar Chrostowski, for all those who want to hear it on YouTube, hastens to declare that Pope John Paul II did not mean the Jews of today but only Judaism of the time of Jesus of Nazareth; today’s Jews are not “our brothers.”

In his lectures Chrostowski further claims that Pope John Paul II had spoken in his original Polish-language notes for his world-famous speech only of brothers in a certain sense, and today this certo modo, he says, is unduly forgotten. It is clear that Chrostowski’s abstruse statements about the late Polish pope are not only malicious but simply wrong. Pope Wojtyla repeatedly referred to the brotherhood formulation – for example, in his book, also translated into German in 1994, where he very sensitively and respectfully recalls his childhood memories of the synagogue of Wadowice.

A Pop Star of the New Catholic Anti-Semitism

Chrostowski, a kind of pop star of the new Catholic anti-Semitism, hastens to say that “the Jews” have always opposed the church in history anyway, and he especially laments the “climate of philo-Semitism” that has spread in the church in recent years. It is, Chrostowski says, also absolutely wrong to exclude from the dialogue the only topic relevant to the church, namely, Jesus Christ. Today’s consensus of dialogue, often confirmed by the magisterium of the Catholic Church, says by contrast that any form of missionizing Jews is theologically obsolete, and that every form of anti-Judaism is theologically speaking a grave sin. Chrostowski’s arguments seek to pull the carpet out from under this positive consensus, turning back the clocks of the church by decades if not centuries.

The Vatican Should Have Known Who the 2014 Ratzinger Prize Winner Was

The controversies that Chrostowski had already launched in the 1990s along with numerous other authors, including Catholic clerics who adhere to the climate of brotherhood as enshrined in Nostra Aetate, the Declaration of the Second Vatican Council, have not escaped the attention of international theology and social science. Among his polemics of the 1990s was his ambivalent-to-positive treatise on the actions of Father Henryk Jankowski, parish priest of the Church of St. Brygyda in Gdansk, which according to a 1995 New York Times report said: “The Star of David is implicated in the swastika as well as the hammer and sickle…. Poles, bestir yourselves. We can no longer tolerate them. They may come from Moscow or from Israel.”

Instead of criticizing Jankowski, Chrostowski accused the Jesuit Father Stanislaw Musiał, who did criticize Jankowski, of being demagogic and extremist. Similarly ambiguous was Chrostowski’s attitude toward the crosses established on the territory of the former Auschwitz concentration camp.

The Winner of the Joseph Ratzinger Prize for Theology, 2014, Writes for the Far-Right Forum

The prize committee in the Vatican unfortunately did not use the sources mentioned by me. So that it would reach a wider audience, Chrostowski’s lecture series was even presented by the right-wing Polish Fronda publishing house on YouTube, including “God [the original title], the Bible, the Messiah” (2007) and “The Church, the Jews, and Poles” (2009).

Fronda is Chrostowski’s strongly preferred publishing house. A far-right Catholic portal, it claims that the Jedwabne pogrom of July 10, 1941, is a “Jewish lie.”

The Fronda publishing house denies the Jedwabne pogrom.
The Fronda publishing house denies the Jedwabne pogrom.

The Unstoppable Rise of Chrostowski

Waldemar Chrostowski, born on February 1, 1951, in the location with the same name, Chrostowski, is a Polish Catholic priest, professor of theology, biblical scholar, senior adviser to the Council of the Polish Episcopate for Religious Dialogue, professor at the Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw, and chairman of the Association of Polish Bible Exegetes.

He is one of Poland’s most important publicists and intellectuals and enjoys an enormous audience. Until 1998 he was also cochairman of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews, the official dialogue forum of Christians and Jews in Poland. He is a member of the Committee of Theological Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences. To judge from his academic résumé, he is the author of more than 2,000 scientific and popular scientific publications. However, the Index Theologicus, published by the Faculty of Theology in Thübingen, Germany, which is based on the world’s most important peer-reviewed journals in the field of theology, mentions only seven titles written by the author “Chrostowski, Waldemar.” This means that most of his publications were not in peer-reviewed, international journals.

From 1978 to 1983 Chrostowski studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and from 1979 to 1980 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Yet, despite having enjoyed the hospitality of Israel’s leading university, he hastens to say in his current YouTube lectures that while others may be enthusiastic about Jewish culture, Israeli cuisine, Jewish women, and so on, he has no special liking for all this.

In 1986 he defended his dissertation on the interpretation of the history of Israel in Ezekiel 16:20 and 23, and his reinterpretation in the Septuagint.

In 1987 Chrostowski was a lecturer at the Academy of Catholic Theology. In September 1996 he was granted a habilitation in the field of biblical studies for a thesis on the Garden of Eden. On May 1, 1998, he became an associate professor and chair of Old Testament exegesis at the Theological College in Warsaw, and from 1999 to 2002 he served as vice-rector of the newly established Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw. In 2001 he also began his work for the newly founded Faculty of Theology at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń in northern Poland. In 2003 he received the title of full professor.

From 1990 to 2000 Chrostowski was a member of the International Council of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. In 1991 he was one of the founders of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews. As noted earlier, he became a cochairman of the council, but in 1998 he resigned from his position especially in view of the controversy at that time over the crosses erected in Auschwitz by Catholic nationalist Poles.

In addition to his scholarly activities, Chrostowski is a regular columnist for the abovementioned; for the right-wing newspaper Nasz Dziennik, owned by the notoriously anti-Semitic radio station Radio Maryja; and he often participates in programs of Radio Maryja and of the like-minded TV station Trwam.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Chrostowski as a member of the group of experts of the 12th Ordinary Assembly of the Catholic Synod of Bishops, which was held in October 2008 at the Vatican.

Jews Only Ask What Is Good for Jews

Chrostowski expressed some of his attitudes toward Jews in an interview with Radio Maryja. He said of “Jewish thinking” that it is like a haggadah (legend), a story full of emotions that are more important than what really happened, all the more so because the Jewish axiology does not involve seeking objective truth since everyone has his own truth. Hence there is the truth of Jews about their own history and the truth of Gentiles. Chrostowski believes that the Jewish philosophy of knowledge and “ours grown on the Greek soil” cannot be reconciled. “We ask what is good and seek an objective good and principles that can be generalized to all people. The Jews, on the other hand, ask what is good for the Jews. Also, in response to the question of what is true, they are only interested in what is true for Jews.”

The Religion of Jews from the Time of Jesus No Longer Exists

An ever-repeated core notion of Chrostowski’s is that the religion of the Jews from the time of Jesus is defunct. Rabbinic Judaism, he claims, does not accord with the religion of biblical Israel. The Jews conceal their beliefs about Christians by expressing them in specific Jewish categories that are usually veiled, illegible or even confusing.”

The Ideology of Zionism Systematically Denigrates the World “Surrounding the Jews”

Chrostowski also has his view of the development of Zionism:

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the idea of creating a Jewish state appeared in the context of growing national liberation movements…. Because there were very few Jews in Palestine, it was necessary to get them from other parts of the world. Jews from Western Europe were reluctant to emigrate to poor Palestine, which is why they were wanted in Russia and in the Tsar’s looted lands of the former Republic of Poland. The third factor is related to the emigration of Jews from Europe to the United States. They joined in the building of American statehood and gained strong influence on the new continent, which is still visible today. To justify this repeated migration, the present world was presented as inferior and unfriendly…. All this intensified at the beginning of the 20th century and later in the context of the First World War and the emergence of socialism, first red and then brown.

Relativization of the Shoah

The theologian, honored by the Vatican for his services to dialogue with Judaism, also said:

In the debates about the Holocaust we are constantly confronted with the conviction of the Jewish side that the Holocaust is a moral break in human history.… But remember that before that there was the genocide committed by the Turks against the Armenians in the years 1915-1916, and later the genocide in the Far East and more recently, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, where in 100 days over a million people were killed. The Jews portray the Holocaust as the absolute turning point in human history in order to generalize and monopolize their point of view.

Further speeches underline this extreme nationalist and anti-Jewish attitude.

Commenting on the wave of anti-Semitism in Poland in 1968, and the regime’s anti-Semitic campaign that led thousands of Jews to leave the country, Chrostowski said that these people were former secret police officers, convinced communists, officers, and members of the judiciary. They were, according to Chrostowski, angry at tendencies in the regime to approximate the thinking of the church and to put the nation’s well-being first. Chrostowski suggested the innocence of people like the former communist interior minister General Mieczysław Moczar, who orchestrated the anti-Semitic purge of 1968.

The Sin of Anti-Semitism

Poland’s nationalist right has long vilified as “Jews” representatives of the Polish church hierarchy who shared Karol Wojtyla’s approach of dealing with Judaism respectfully. These include the deceased Archbishop Cardinal Franciszek Macharski of Krakow, one of the closest associates of Pope John Paul II; Archbishop Henryk Muszyński, emeritus Polish primate and eminent scholar of the Hebrew Bible (he was a member of the Qumran research center in Heidelberg); the late archbishop of Lublin, Józef Życiński; and Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, who under John Paul II was secretary-general of the Polish Episcopal Conference.

The forces of anti-Semitism in Poland often associate these four key figures of support for Christian-Jewish dialogue and cooperation with the late Jesuit priest Stanisław Musiał, an outstanding connoisseur of the Christian-Jewish dialogue and a central figure of the weekly Tygodnik Powszechny founded by Karol Wojtyla. Already in the 1990s Musiał crossed swords with Chrostowski, firmly adhering to the maxims of dialogue prescribed by the Second Vatican Council. The long-standing controversies of Chrostowski and Musiał were not lost on American theology and social science. Musiał responded to Chrostowski in 1998 with an article in Tygodnik Powszechny titled “The Sin of Anti-Semitism.” How right was this farsighted Jesuit priest, and what an honored laureate of Catholic theology he should have been, even posthumously!

Jews and Freemasons

It should not go unmentioned that Chrostowski not only represents an anti-Semitic worldview but also feels profoundly distant from the Western democracies. He documented his unambiguously pro-Palestinian version of the history of the city of Bethlehem in the anti-Masonic Polish internet forum Bibula, which also hastened to criticize a recent meeting of Vatican Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin with the Bilderberger Group.

Chrostowski says that when the state of Israel was founded in 1948, an independent Palestine was also supposed to be created. However, this has not happened to this day, which is a cause for the inflamed Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Books and articles

  • Berger, Alan, Harry J. Cargas, and Susan E. Nowak, eds. The Continuing Agony: From the Carmelite Convent to the Crosses at Auschwitz. Global Academic Publishing, 2002.
  • Cohen, Susan Sarah. Antisemitism: An Annotated Bibliography. Vol. 16, 2000, Berlin; Boston, K. G. Saur, 2003.
  • Lederhendler, Eli, ed. Studies in Contemporary Jewry, vol. 21, Jews, Catholics, and the Burden of History. Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Musiał, Ks. Stanisław. Czarne jest czarne, Wydawnictwo Literackie. Kraków, 2003-.
  • Papst Johannes Paul II. Die Schwelle der Hoffnung überschreiten. Hoffmann u. Campe, 1994.
  • Rosenfeld, Alvin H. Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives. Indiana University Press, 2013.
  • Zubrzycki, Geneviève. The Crosses of Auschwitz: Nationalism and Religion in Post-Communist Poland. University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Electronic sources