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Around the Jewish World Spanish Jews Outraged over Plan to Honor Queen Who Expelled Jews

March 11, 2002
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Jewish groups are outraged that Spanish bishops have asked Pope John Paul II to canonize Queen Isabella I, who expelled Jews in 1492 and instituted the Inquisition.

The controversial canonization has essentially been on hold since it was first proposed in the 1950s by a Spanish archbishop.

At a meeting last week, however, the country’s bishops voted 60-20 to recommend that the Vatican move ahead with the process for Isabella’s beatification, the last step before making her a saint.

Monsignor Juan Jose Asenjo, spokesman for the Spanish Roman Catholic Church, said the bishops consider Isabella “an exemplary Christian.”

He said the recommendation for sainthood should not be seen as an endorsement of her political actions.

Nevertheless, Carlos Schorr, secretary-general of the Federation of Spanish Jewish Communities, condemned the decision.

“As a Jew, I’m not going to interfere with whom the church wants to make a saint,” Schorr said. “But I’m surprised that in the 21st century they should want to canonize someone who is known for religious intolerance and all the suffering she caused.”

Queen Isabella I and her husband, King Ferdinand, ended seven centuries of Islamic rule in Spain, during which Judaism had the “Golden Age,” which produced great scholars such as Maimonides and Judah Halevi.

The “Catholic Monarchs” gave all Jews the choice of conversion or flight, leading to the infamous expulsion of Spain’s Jews in 1492.

They also established the Inquisition, which condemned false converts and heretics to torture and death by burning at the stake.

Schorr thought it was unlikely the Vatican would canonize the queen, but added, “I’m prepared for surprises. After all, they are canonizing Pope Pius IX.”

Jewish groups protested the beatification two years ago of the 19th-century Pius IX, who abducted a Jewish boy to be raised as a Christian and was the last pope to confine Jews to the ghetto.

The Vatican has also drawn criticism for canonizing Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who perished at Auschwitz.

Lately, controversy has surged over church plans to canonize Pope Pius XII, who was largely silent about the Nazi genocide against the Jews when he reigned during World War II.

Some non-Jewish Spaniards also protested the bishops’ vote.

“Saints are put forward as models for emulation for believing Catholics, of whom there are many in Spain,” the left- leaning national newspaper El Pais wrote in an editorial.

However, the paper added, “it is dubious to assert in the 21st century that the good queen who authorized the expulsion of the Jews and the creation of the Inquisition constitutes a paradigm of tolerance and charity.”

The bishops’ recommendation also was condemned in the independence-minded Basque region. Although Basques are among the most devout and church-going Catholics in the country, many see their history as one of oppression by Spanish kings and dictators.

Martin Garitano, a columnist for the Gara daily in the Basque city of San Sebastian, said “Catholics should be scandalized” at the prospect of a saint who built a country on an edifice of religious persecution.

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