Should Non-Catholics Run the Catholic Church?

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The announcement that a majority of Spanish bishops are urging the pope to canonize Queen Isabella I has brought forth bellowing objections from the usual sources, namely, leftwing victimologists who are appalled that they have not been asked to endorse such decisions. A man identified as the secretary general of the Spanish Jewish Federation, Carlos Schorr, fumes that the church would consider for high honors someone who had engaged in "religious persecution," though he adds that not being a Catholic or being in charge of the church, the call is not really his to make.

The same piece, published in a Jewish Global News Service, explains that the consideration of Isabella for canonization is the latest in a series of offenses that the church has recently inflicted on Jews and other sensitive people. For example, the church canonized Edith Stein, who died in a concentration camp as a Jewish woman but had previously become a Catholic. And the church has the temerity to propose Pius XII as a saint, despite the fact that "he was generally silent during the Holocaust."

The collected gripes here reproduced have the value of one enormous whine. Having studied the matter, I think Pius deserves praise (canonization I leave to the church) precisely for his admirable behavior in helping out Jews during the Holocaust. As for Edith Stein, I suppose the same objection raised against her canonization could be made just as easily against St. Paul, who abandoned the Jewish community of his time by taking on Christian beliefs. I am also struck by the fact that the Spanish Jewish leader quoted does not have a Sephardic but a Central or Eastern European Jewish name. The overwhelming odds are that his own ancestors were not driven out of Spain after the conquest of Granada in 1492.

As far as I know, Sephardic Jews, those descended from the Jewish families expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella, are not the ones now heard complaining. The majority of Jewish refugees from the Iberian Peninsula, from Portugal as well as Spain, landed up in the Levant and are today a small part of the total Jewish population, despite their production of such illustrious Westernized representatives as Spinoza, David Ricardo, Georges Bizet, Judah Benjamin, and Benjamin Disraeli. Sephardim should also not be confused with the generally hitherto poor and usually badly educated Mizrachim, Jews from Arab countries who have taken over the Sephardic book of prayers and share the same pronunciation of Hebrew but are ethnically distinct from their liturgical cousins. Sephardim were naturally and justifiably unhappy about their treatment at the hands of a Spanish monarchy that at least some of them had served. Less defensible is the screaming now pouring out of those whose ancestors Isabella had not in any way victimized.

Although Isabella may not have been a Mother Theresa or an Edith Stein, she is a figure who contributed mightily to the forging of a Spanish national identity. (And there seems to be silence about her role, now more politically correct, in reconquering Spain from the Muslims.) One can understand why Basque separatists object to her canonization, the same way that American Southerners before their recent lobotomization resented the original cult of Abraham Lincoln, as a national consolidator rather predecessor of Martin Luther King. Neither Louis IX of France nor Stephen I of Hungary, nor Constantine in the Orthodox Church, would strike one as a Christ-like figure or as a model of religious tolerance.

But the church canonized such rulers in part as a way of affirming the ties between itself and particular peoples. Such actions simply take over the sacralization of national liberators and rulers practiced among other groups, e.g., the Jewish veneration of David and Solomon or the Jewish celebration on Chanukah of what became the consolidation of Hasmonean rule, and indigenous Jewish tyranny before the Roman occupation of the Jewish commonwealth.

Allow me, however, to suggest how Catholic leadership can spare itself further embarrassment when it comes to beatifying and canonizing. It should look for candidates like Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Jewish Communists who had cordial relations with the Soviet Union and who therefore will not likely be accused of anti-Semitism and its supposed twin evil, anti-Communism. No doubt if Pius XII has snuggled up to the Commies instead of declaring them to be the "scourge of God," Cornwell would not have had to invent a Nazi lineage for this unfortunate figure.

Nor would Goldhagen be writing and publishing his screeds against Pius; nor would the Franco-Greek Communist Costas Gavras be entertaining the Paris haut monde with his new play "Amen" about Pius’s supposedly adamant refusal to resist Nazi anti-Semitism. Who, after all, cares about the heavily documented record of ferocious anti-Semitism attached to Karl Marx, unlike those recently publicized comments about Hollywood Jewish leftists made by anti-Communist Christian Billy Graham, in conversation with his fellow-anti-Communist and fellow-Christian, Richard Nixon.

What makes one an anti-Semite and therefore unfit for canonization is having the wrong politics. And certainly the Rosenbergs could not be accused of that. For the anti-anti-Communists who push the victim racket, these martyrs of anti-Semitic anti-Communism would be the perfect Catholic saints as well as the perfect victims of McCarthyism. One should add, providing this presumably saintly couple held the proper views about immigration, gay marriage, and other now-burning social questions.

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author, most recently, of the highly recommended After Liberalism.

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