Pope: Mideast Crisis ‘unsolvable’ Because Ideals of Justice Are Not Properly Interpreted
Menu JTA Search

Pope: Mideast Crisis ‘unsolvable’ Because Ideals of Justice Are Not Properly Interpreted

Download PDF for this date

— Pope John Paul II referred to the Middle East as a “typical” crisis that appears to be “chronic” or “unsolvable” because the ideals of justice are being improperly interpreted. The pontiff made the reference in a sermon delivered yesterday to world diplomatic representatives accredited to the Vatican.

He quoted from his recent Encyclical, “Dives in Misericordia” (On the Mercy of God), which dealt with the errors or “distortions” of justice by mankind in these times. Expanding on that theme in his address to the assembled diplomats, the Pope ended his quotation just short of a paragraph in the Encyclical that drew protests from some Jewish circles because of its reference to the “Old Testament attitude … manifested in the words ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’.”

The Encyclical intimated regret that “today’s forms of justice continued to be modelled on” the “form of justice at that (Old Testament) time.” A letter was sent by Rabbi Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, to Father Jorge Mejias, Secretary of the Vatican’s Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews, asking for clarification. So far there has been no reply.

In his discourse yesterday, the Pope said, “How can we, in effect, think of establishing a stable peace without taking into equal consideration the requirements of all the people’s concerned, of their existence and their security, creating the possibility of building a basis for future cooperation?

“It is obvious here, that by expecting the absolute fulfillment of one’s rights, peace will never be achieved because this expectation presupposes the negation or the excessive reduction of the rights of others. Thus, only equity, or the ability to balance advantages and sacrifices by all parties can open the path to a global accord for living together. This means, as I said in the Encyclical, there is no justice without completion by love.”


Observers here believe the Pope’s remarks were a veiled reference to the Palestinian problem. The paragraph from the Encyclical that he quoted said that in contemporary man there is an “abuse of the idea of justice” and a “practical distortion.”

It continued: “Very often, programs which start from the idea of justice and which ought to assist its fulfillment among individuals, groups and human societies, in practice suffer from distortions. Although they continue to appeal to the idea of justice, nevertheless, experience shows that other negative forces have gained the upper hand over justice, such as spite, hatred and even cruelty. In such cases, the desire to annihilate the enemy, limit his freedom, or even force him into total dependence, becomes the fundamental motive for action, and this contrasts with the essence of justice, which by its nature tends to establish equality and harmony between the parties in conflict.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund