U.S. bishop’s words spur Vatican-Jewish spat

ROME (JTA) – The Vatican and the Jewish world are at odds over a U.S. bishop’s rejection of a biblical rationale for Israel as a Jewish state.

Greek-Melkite Bishop Cyrille Salim Bustros of Newton, Mass., said at an Oct. 23 news conference that for Christians, "the concept of the promised land cannot be used as a base for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians."

Bustros was presenting the final document, or "Message," of a monthlong Vatican synod of Middle Eastern bishops. 

The advent of Jesus, he said, meant that Jews "are no longer the preferred people, the chosen people; all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people." Bustros added that "sacred Scripture should not be used to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestine."

His remarks sparked condemnation from Israel and Jewish organizations. The Anti-Defamation League protested what it called "shocking and outrageous" comments.

"By stating that God’s Covenantal promise of land to the Jewish people ‘was nullified by Christ’ and that ‘there is no longer a chosen people,’ Archbishop Bustros is effectively stating that Judaism should no longer exist," ADL National Director Abe Foxman wrote in a letter to the new Vatican official in charge of Catholic-Jewish relations, Cardinal-elect Kurt Koch. "This represents the worst kind of anti-Judaism, bordering on anti-Semitism."

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon expressed "disappointment," saying the synod had been "hijacked by an anti-Israel majority."

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, responded to the criticism by distancing the synod from Bustros’ remarks. He said Monday that personal comments by individual synod participants "should not be considered as the voice of the synod in its entirety."

The final "Message" was the only text that expressed the approval of the full synod, he said. The Message mainly dealt with the plight of Christians in the Middle East, but it devoted a section to Israel and Jews.

Calling for a furthering of Jewish-Catholic dialogue, it also condemned anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, noted "the suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live," and affirmed Israel’s right to live at peace within its "internationally recognized borders." But it also noted "the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the whole region, especially on the Palestinians who are suffering the consequences of the Israeli occupation: the lack of freedom of movement, the wall of separation and the military checkpoints, the political prisoners, the demolition of homes, the disturbance of socio-economic life and the thousands of refugees."

The Message also said "recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable." It said, "With all this in mind, we see that a just and lasting peace is the only salvation for everyone and for the good of the region and its peoples."

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