The pope’s pathetic response
Francis fumbles with his statements on Israel and Hamas
At a time of nearly universal outrage and condemnation for the brutal terrorist attack on Israel, one voice on the world stage has been especially troubling—Pope Francis. One would think the pope, as leader of the world’s billion Roman Catholics, would be relatively straightforward. Basic Christian morality underlines the evil of terrorism, especially when it targets innocent civilians.
Yet following the attacks the pope sounded an uncertain note, saying on Oct. 8, the day after the initial assault: “I am following apprehensively and sorrowfully what is happening in Israel, where the violence has exploded even more ferociously, causing hundreds of deaths and casualties. I express my closeness to the families and victims. ... May the attacks and weaponry cease.” He went on to say that “terrorism and war do not lead to any resolutions, but only to the death and suffering of so many innocent people. War is a defeat! Every war is a defeat! Let us pray that there be peace in Israel and in Palestine.”
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which oversees the Catholic Church in Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, and the Palestinian areas, issued an even more unfortunate statement, criticizing both Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces in the same breath: “The operation launched from Gaza and the reaction of the Israeli Army are bringing us back to the worst periods of our recent history.”
The Israeli embassy to the Vatican rightly called out the pope on his initial “linguistic ambiguities” and false “parallelisms.” On Oct. 11, the pope took a barely better line, in a single half a sentence recognizing “it is the right of those who were attacked to defend themselves,” before immediately voicing concern over “the total siege Palestinians in Gaza face, where many have also been innocent victims.” So even as the pope finally recognized Israel’s right to defend itself, he immediately criticized how Israel has gone about defending itself without placing the moral responsibility on Hamas for starting the war in the first place.
The pope returned to the topic again on Oct. 15, saying, “I renew my appeal for the liberation of the hostages and I forcefully ask that children, the sick, the elderly and women, and all civilians do not become the victims of the conflict. May humanitarian rights be respected, above all in Gaza, where it is urgent and necessary to guarantee humanitarian corridors to help the entire population. So many have already died. Please, no more spilling of innocent blood either in the Holy Land or in Ukraine or anywhere else. Enough! Wars are always a defeat, always.” (Israel has granted multiple days of humanitarian corridors, but it says Hamas has set up roadblocks along the route).
Israel has had enough. Following the pope’s Oct. 15 address, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen called the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, and let him have it: “It is unacceptable that you put out a statement expressing worry primarily for Gazan civilians while Israel is burying 1,300 who were murdered.” According to a readout of the call, Cohen also told Gallagher that Israel “expects the Vatican to come out with a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the murderous terrorist actions of Hamas terrorists who harmed women, children and the elderly for the sole fact that they are Jews and Israelis.”
Good for Israel, but I’m not holding out much hope. The Vatican’s approach to Israel has been a mess for decades. The deep state inside the Vatican bureaucracy has always been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause over that of the Israelis, reflecting an outlook that looks strangely like the outlook of the European intelligentsia. Pope John Paul II started to change that from the top with his historic visit to Jerusalem in 2000. Pope Benedict XVI built on this good will with his own visit in 2009, and generally made progress on Catholic-Jewish and Catholic-Israeli relations. Francis’ papacy thus far has been a return to the problem, with a notable lack of moral clarity in foreign policy, as in the Vatican’s cooperation with Chinese communists.
Virtually every world leader has seen the Hamas attacks for what they are: a brutal and vicious campaign of murder and terror by a virulently anti-Semitic terrorist organization that targets civilians at the behest of a state sponsor of terror in Tehran. That Pope Francis cannot recognize or say that out loud is a deep disappointment and missed opportunity for moral leadership. It’s pathetic.
These daily articles have become part of my steady diet. —BarbaraSign up to receive the WORLD Opinions email newsletter each weekday for sound commentary from trusted voices.