Italian rabbis decry Pope Francis’ handling of the Gaza conflict, call Christian-Jewish relations into question

Pope Francis waves as he leaves after his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
By Dénes Albert
4 Min Read

Tension has emerged between the Italian Jewish community and the Vatican after Pope Francis received two delegations at the Vatican on Wednesday: family members of people captured by the Hamas terrorist organization and relatives of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Following the meetings, Pope Francis asked Christians around the world to pray for both sides, because everyone is suffering in the conflict. However, the Holy See’s efforts were not appreciated by Italy’s Jewish community.

The Italian rabbis expressed their indignation that the pope had given the same attention to the families of innocent people held captive by the terrorist organization and to Palestinian prisoners held in Israel for serious terrorist crimes.

These Jewish organizations allege that it is unfair that the head of the Catholic Church applied the same standard to both cases, according to Hungarian newspaper Magyar Nemzet. The Italian rabbis also deplore the way Pope Francis has commented on the conflict, accusing both sides of terrorism. They say they condemn that the pope and other Church leaders do not publicly condemn Hamas attacks and, in order to avoid bias, put the attacker and the attacked on the same level, in the spirit of impartiality.

The Jewish rabbis say they are questioning the meaning and usefulness of decades of Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue.

They also believe that calling each other “friend” and “brother” for decades is of no use if, in the face of what they say is a massacre of the Jewish people. They allege that Christians can only engage in cold indifference, balancing acts, and diplomatic acrobatics in the face of what is occurring in Israel.

Family members of Palestinians living in Gaza attend a press conference at the Vatican after meeting with Pope Francis, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Approximately 1,200 Israelis were killed on Oct. 7 in a surprise attack by Hamas. Since then, 14,854 Palestinians have been killed, more than a third of them children. Another 1.5 million Gazans have been displaced. Prominent members of Israel’s political system have since called for many of these Palestinians to be relocated to Europe and other Western nations.

In a statement issued on Nov. 22, the Holy See clarified that the Holy Father had first met the family members of the Hamas hostages and only then the relatives of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Pietro Parolin, the Holy See’s secretary of state for external relations, responded to the Jewish rabbis’ criticism, saying that the Vatican was trying to be fair and that the suffering of both sides was a source of deep pain for the Holy Father. He stressed that the Holy See had already taken a firm stand at the outbreak of the conflict and condemned the attack by the Hamas terrorist organization, but that they could not ignore what was happening on the other side.

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