Vatican Weighs in On Middle East Christian Crisis

The Vatican  released a working paper during Pope Benedict XVI’s pilgrimage to Cyprus to prepare the way for a crisis summit of Middle East bishops in Rome. What I take away from this- along with the Holy See’s call for lifting the blockade of Gaza- is something of a vindication for my more raw views urging for a sea change in American Catholic opinion and action regarding the overall situation in the Middle East, and in Israel-Palestine in particular.

You can judge for yourselves the stories linked (at the bottom) detailing the contents of the Vatican’s working paper, and the Holy See statements on the  Gaza blockade- but I offer my own interpretation for your consideration. I know that many will label all of this as so many prudential judgments on my part (upon prudential judgments of the Church’s Hierarchy)- but it needs to be said that even prudential judgments coming from the Catholic Hierarchies must be taken deep into one’s conscience- if one is serious about being a faithful Catholic. So here goes my take.

In no particular order I would say that  1.  I have written before on the topic of the need for Muslim-majority nations to respect the reciprocity of the “right to freedom of worship and religious freedom”- something that a Muslim in America enjoys, but a Christian in say Saudi Arabia cannot- with the rise of militant Islam- which has come about due to many factors- this lack of reciprocity is only growing worse by the day- if we are going to allow Saudi oil to flow into America, and thus send billions of our dollars back to Saudi Monarchs- we had better take some active responsibility for pushing for this vital principle to be put into play. We either serve God or not- Christ compels us to evangelize and baptize everywhere- not just where it is not going to disrupt some major commerce.

2. We cannot just pretend that we, and the extended international community, have not been neck-deep in Middle-Eastern politics today and really for the past 100 years [read David Fromkin’s A Peace to End all Peace treatise- so there needs to be “concerted international effort to resolve the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land”.  The Church has long held the position that international law and the relevant UN resolutions regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict need to be strongly encouraged- this is a counter to the American economic and diplomatic experience of rewarding the Israeli State with billions of annual aid, and looking past Israel’s nuclear arms development, and also providing Israel with international cover by vetoing or criticizing the UN resolutions that offer a contrary view to Israeli policies. We really need to get even-handed if we even want to have credibility in the larger Arab world- something the polls indicate we are sorely lacking- to be it mildly.

3. It has been to my great disappointment to find that American Catholics are standing at the ready to defend the positions and the narrative of the mostly secular Jewish Israeli leadership and society. This over the objections of not just the Middle East Muslims in general- but more importantly the Arab/Palestinian Catholic communities and their opinions and views on what is the true history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and what steps are needed to correct the situation to everyone’s long-term benefit. The working paper from the Vatican says: “The Special Assembly is an opportunity for Christians from the rest of the world to offer spiritual support and solidarity to their brothers and sisters in the Middle East”. About the only thing I read here at American Catholic is open disdain, criticism and accusations against the Palestinian Catholics- they are accused of being so biased against Israelis that whatever they might say is discounted because it gets in the way of American Catholics, who want to see everything as the fault of crazy, militant Islamists, who simply hate Jews the way Adolf Hitler hated Jews. Because of this American narrative that is so embedded into conservative ideological thought, it is nearly impossible for such conservative Catholics to seriously consider the views of the Latin Patriarch in the Holy Land or the Arab/Palestinian Catholic clergy in general. Deeply disappointing to me personally. Hamas and extremist Jewish settler movements are not truly the mainstream in either society though in times of war the extremists tend to gain in popularity- fear breeds extremism no doubt- the Christians are the best moderating force in the area- we need to really, really listen to their advice.

4.  Many Arab/Palestinian clergy have complained that some Christian Fundamentalists (mostly Americans) are using biblical texts to justify Israel’s occupation “making the position of Christian Arabs an even more sensitive issue.” This is something I have seen quite a lot in Christian Coalition circles, and there are even days where area Fundamentalist congregations organize big rallies waving Israel’s flag and shouting out support for Israel- not based on the political reality so much as their dangerous interpretation of Scripture- which the Catholic Church has no use for. The Church regards Israel as a State, not the fulfillment of a prophesy ushering in the End Times. I have heard many Fundamentalist Christians declare openly that when they look out at the West Bank et al, they don’t see Palestine or Palestinians- there is no such thing, no such peoples, there is only Israel, and Israel has a biblical right and claim to all the land well beyond the 1967 international lines separating the mass of Israelis from the mass of Palestinians. These Fundamentalists are the responsibility of ours to reign in, but rather it seems that many American Catholics are joining with these Fundamentalists, especially conservative Catholic politicians- very dangerous and not at all in keeping with the peacemaker beatitude.

Thank you for the space on this blog to express my prudential judgments on the prudential judgments of our Church leaders. I may passionately disagree with many here, and sometimes the words come out with too much emotion- but I see this as a fight that is vital to every one of us- we have a strong responsibility for the condition of the Holy Land- for the human beings who live there, for all of us who are at risk of terrorism coming at us perhaps as a result of ‘blowback’ from bad policies conducted in our collective name. But also, it is a huge scandal that the 3 large Monotheistic religions- all worshipping the same Creator- cannot create a Holy Land worthy of it’s Name- I want to make sure that the Christian part of the equation is doing all the right things to ensure a possible just and lasting peace in the whole region and all over the world. I do not believe that Jews or Muslims are inherently incapable of making peace, and being good neighbors, God made us all, Christ gives me hope. I hope to be like a bridge for Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Secularists, to be strong in what I believe is true here, but not prejudiced in a way that prevents me from seeing the objective human worth of every person. I believe that Israel could become a blessing to her neighbors- but I think that they have the power to take the courageous necessary first steps- and America and the UN should step up to put up the guarantees that will make this whole Just Peace process much more likely to happen and succeed.  May God bless everyone in this discussion and especially the children on all sides who are subject to the most harm if nothing is done to change the present conditions.

14 Responses to Vatican Weighs in On Middle East Christian Crisis

  1. Micha Elyi says:

    We really need to get even-handed if we even want to have credibility in the larger Arab world- something the polls indicate we are sorely lacking- to be it mildly.-Tim Shipe

    “Even-handed” in relation to the Arab world of progrom-states and their target is… what, exactly?

    Hamas and extremist Jewish settler movements…

    Conjoining those two categories leads one into a muddle. Let’s have a look at how many missiles, homicide bombers, etc. the two groups, normal Hamas supporters and ‘extremist’ Jewish settlers, have used to terrorize their neighbors.

  2. Bravo. There won’t be peace in the Middle East until Americans, including Catholics, stop spoiling Israel and start treating it like we treat every other nation.

    I think this is the one area of Obama’s presidency where I think Obama has been more positive than negative-though he still does too little.

    Conjoining those two categories leads one into a muddle. Let’s have a look at how many missiles, homicide bombers, etc. the two groups, normal Hamas supporters and ‘extremist’ Jewish settlers, have used to terrorize their neighbors.

    The settlers have no need of such tactics since they’re supported by the Israeli military. If they need force, they don’t strap on a bomb; they have the planes drop a bomb instead. It is unquestionable that settlers, at the behest of the government, have continued to expand and continued to take Palestinian land. This is clearly not a motive of peace but one of a desire to usurp and it ought to be opposed.

  3. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “The settlers have no need of such tactics since they’re supported by the Israeli military.”

    The body count would seem to indicate that the Israeli military then is doing a poor job. From 2000-2008 I believe 45 Palestinians have been killed at the hands of Settlers while 238 Settlers have been killed at the hands of Palestinians. In regard to umbrage at the Settlers, I am a bit puzzled. I have heard some people here at AC condemn Arizona’s law against Mexican illegal aliens as Nazi-like. Perhaps any moral difficulty with the Israeli Settlers could be cured if we simply consider them to be illegal aliens on the West Bank?

    Of course I believe the preferred term would be undocumented immigrants. Someone else on the net has already taken the Israeli Settlers as undocumented immigrants concept and ran with it:

  4. Art Deco says:

    Tim, the political leadership in the West Bank, Gaza, and the camps want no settlement that is not constructed on the ruins of the Jewish state. Deal with it, please.

  5. FUJI says:

    The body count would seem to indicate that the Israeli military then is doing a poor job. From 2000-2008 I believe 45 Palestinians have been killed at the hands of Settlers while 238 Settlers have been killed at the hands of Palestinians.


    Here is an opposing view which objects to the stats you and your favorite paper, the NYT, toss about.

    Statistics are like “you know whats”. Everybody has one.

  6. daledog says:

    Art Deco – I agree with your post whole-heartedly.

    The Pope is wrong here. Israel can give up its blockade after he sends the Swiss Guard home. Before this flotilla stunt, did anyone know that Gaza was being blockaded? A response like this from the Holy See indicates that the stunt has worked.

    The Jews have built a beautiful, thriving country in the desert within the span a 50 years. A feat the Arabs have not managed to do in their own countries for centuries. This whole thing is about envy.

    Arab Christians are being routed by whom exactly? This is not a difficult question to answer.

  7. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Fuji, your calling the New York Times my favorite newspaper is almost as humorous as your citing If Americans Knew, an organization which is bitterly hostile to Israel. Paul Findley is on its board. Findley was the pro-abort and pro-PlO Republican Congressman from Springfield in my state of Illinois. Thanks to my efforts, along with the efforts of many others, he became an ex-Congressman in 1982.

    I would as soon accept a press release from Hamas as a credible source, as I would anything put out by If Americans Knew.

  8. Donald R. McClarey says:

    The ADL has some interesting information linked below on Alison Weir who runs If Americans Knew.

  9. Fuji,

    You’ve completely misunderstood the purpose of the If Americans Knew “study” — it doesn’t deal at all with whether the statistics which the NY Times publishes about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are accurate, it deals with how often deaths on each side are mentioned in the headline or the first paragraph of an article. Its claim is not that the NY Times presents false information, but that it talks more about the deaths of some people than those of others.

    An example of this would be, if one news story said, “A Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up in a shopping center, killing three Israeli adults and two children.” and then the next day another story began, “The Israeli defense minister promised to take ‘strong action’ in retaliation for the attack Monday which killed five Israelis, including two children, at a crowded shopping center,” this ‘study’ would consider that to be reporting 200% of the number of Israeli dead, since they were mentioned in two separate stories.

    Nor is the statistic that Palestinians kill more Settlers than Settlers kill Palestinians inconsistent with the fact that overall far more Palestinians have died in the conflict than Israelis, since obviously not all Israelis are settlers and not all Palestinians killed (indeed, very few) are killed by settlers.

  10. American Knight says:

    You can take your rose-colored spectacles off when viewing Israel and still conclude that Hamas and other Islamofascist groups are evil. Not blindly supporting Israel is not a tacit approval of all things Arab and/or Muslim.

    In regards to this so-called peace flotilla – it is obvious that it was a false flag operation designed to denigrate Israel and it is working. In regards to Israel – they are a far better friend than Arab/Muslim states – but they are not a very good friend.

    Israel has a right to exist and to defend herself and I would argue to occupy territories the UN and the British gave to Egypt and Jordan for her defense. Who constantly gets screwed as Muslims and Arabs use the Palestinian Arabs as a tool to beat the West with? Not Israel – the Palestinian Arabs do. The people, especially the children and most especially the Christians suffer at the hands of so-called Palestinian leadership, a secular Jewish state that engages in horrible behavior and the UN and other Arab states.

    Now that we have allowed the Isalmofascists to indoctrinate generations it is practically impossible to work for peace and no one wants it anyway – no one save for possibly the Pope and the poor Christians who live in the Holy Land.

    Can peace be brokered – we can hope – but it is doubtful until the King returns. Muslims specifically never enter a permanent peace with anyone in Dar Al Harb (the House of War). They certainly won’t enter a permanent peace with Jews – Mohammad practically built his religiology on capture of booty, imperialism and slaughter of Jews. Not to mention copious copies of the Torah and Nestorian heresies.

    Strategically speaking, the USA would be fools to turn our backs on Israel – but having blind support for her is just as foolish. I don’t necessarily fault Israelis for their bad behavior, historically speaking – they were coming from a very frightening place and fear makes you do stupid things – they are nevertheless, still responsible but that does not absolve the British for solving their Jewish-problem with better PR than the Nazis. Instead of killing the Jews, the British shipped them out of England to their own homeland – neglecting to tell them they promised the same land to the Arabs that had lived there since the 7th century.

    What did they think was going to happen? Had a different and more balanced solution been developed between 1917 and 1947 – the current mess could have been avoided. I doubt that is what those who want a weak and unstable mid-East wanted. Lebanon and Palestine had the best chance for Christianizing the rest of the Arab and Muslim lands – however, just like the Crusader Kingdoms – the West dropped the ball on supporting them and the price is war and the shrinking of the Christian population and the ascendancy of Islam. Make no mistake – Islam is an imperial totalitarian ideology and will align with the subversive Left in the West to gain entry and then turn on their tolerant, peace-loving, pot-smoking friends.

    If anyone can broker an honest peace in the Middle-East it would be the Pope, but he may need American guns.

  11. T. Shaw says:

    How would the gallant Turkish (NATO member) army/navy respond to the following? A bunch of Armenian-Americans (two Israeli humanitarian groups already are planning such) get up a couple tons of humanitarian aid and stage a huge guerrilla theater propaganda extravaganza of bringing it to the six Armenians not yet murdered in Turkey. Or better analogy, do it for the Kurds fighting for their independence.

    Hamas, Hizbollah, etc. will end the terror war against Israeli civilians, women and children (and the Arab women and children they use as human shields) when the last Israeli is either murdered or driven into the sea.

    The Pope ought to denounce the Holy See bureaucRAT that came up with this hateful paper.

  12. Blackadder says:

    I don’t think you can figure out the justice of a conflict simply by counting up bodies. However, it is a fact that far more Palestinians than Israelis have died in the conflict.

  13. Ivan says:

    I’ll take the Vatican seriously on matters concerning the Middle East, if they would express themselves in the same forthright manner on other wars and conflicts that plague the globe, in particular those that concern Catholics and Christians. The Catholic Church’s hollowness in these matters could be seen most clearly at work in early 2009. In December of 2008 the Israelis invaded Gaza to put an end to the constant rocket barrage, and my how the Catholic press and heirarchy waxed eloquent, counterpoising each other with elavated talk about ‘just war’, ‘human rights’ and the rest of it, not stinting to blame the Israelis by name for all manner of wrongs real and imagined. The bishop here in Singapore (where I live) got on the bandwagon and launched an appeal for Gaza.

    Three months later, in March the Sri Lankans launched their final push into Jaffna, when the dust settled more than 20,000 civilians were dead. Given the proportion of Catholics in Jaffna, it is reasonable to surmise that the number of Catholic dead alone exceeded the total death toll in Gaza. Yet where was the Vatican in all this? Why was no appeal launched for them? Does the criteria of ‘just war’ not apply to the darker nations? Apart from generalised handwringing, nothing much was heard from our Vatican friends. No one tagged the Sri Lankan army with brutality. Their reticence doubtless owed much to the restraining hand of Msgr Malcolm Ranjith, himself a Ceylonese and thus in a position to know that the government would take out any displeasure on the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka.

    This in essence is the well established pattern of Vatican hypocrisy; when it comes to Israel, break out the tomes on jus ad bellum and set them terms that no nation in history has been able to follow, and thereby not incidentally burnish the Vatican’s own street cred with the Muslims at the expense of Jews. On the other hand, when it comes to countless attacks against Christians, from Nigeria to Pakistan to Indonesia, put out a pro forma declaration hoping that the problem goes away.

  14. Phillip says:

    An aside. But perhaps an example of how diplomacy doesn’t work, or at least works poorly:

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