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Italian Jews Irate As Cardinal Calls Mafia ‘synagogue of Satan’

June 1, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Italian Jewish community is up in arms about remarks by a leading church figure who referred to Mafia assassins as members of the “synagogue of Satan.”

But Cardinal Salvatore Pappalardo of Palermo, who made the statement, assured Italy’s Jewish community last week that his reference meant no offense and would be speedily corrected.

“In order to dispel any misunderstanding, I assure you that when my speech is published in the official diocese magazine, the offensive expression will be changed to ‘church of Satan,’ ” Pappalardo said in a widely published statement.

Other church figures said he had been mistranslated.

Pappalardo’s response came after he received a muted but strong protest from Tullia Zevi, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, to his terminology and its context.

The Sicilian cardinal delivered a nationally televised funeral homily May 25 for Judge Giovanni Falcone, a leading crusader against the Mafia crime families who was killed with his wife and three bodyguards by a bomb on May 23.

The cardinal, speaking of the “ominous perpetrators of so many crimes and such violent carnage,” asked, “Can we count on them as true Christians? Are they worthy of forming part of the community of the children of God? Or do they form, rather, part of the synagogue of Satan?”

His words astonished many non-Jews as well as Jews, whose protests were widely published.


Rabbi Abramo Alberto Piatelli of Rome, quoted in the Rome daily newspaper La Repubblica, observed that contrasting the terms “community of the children of God” and “the synagogue of Satan,” evokes the most reactionary kind of language used in past evangelical polemics against the Jews.

Alfredo Dioni, vice president of the Chamber of Deputies, said that “to place the devil in the temple of the Jewish religion seems to me to be an unjust, rather inadmissable, forcing of the issue.” He said the usage “disturbed” him.

Zevi, who said she was protesting “with great reluctance,” wrote: “You spoke of the ‘synagogue of Satan’ — a term that in many new translations has been modified to mitigate its possible anti-Jewish content — in front of a crowd justifiably eager to identify the perpetrators of the horrible crime.”

Zevi pointed out that Pappalardo was paraphrasing verses from the book of Apocalypse, substituting “true Christians” and “children of God” for the word “Jews” found in the text.

“I only ask, above all in this hour of public mourning, a greater clarity that can avoid rekindling ancient, tragic prejudices that unfortunately were never fully put to sleep.”

“I am certain you have no hostile or offensive intentions,” she wrote.

In his response, the cardinal said he was “unhappy over the offensive interpretation” of his words and wanted “to clarify that the term synagogue was not at all used with reference to the places of worship of the Jewish people, but rather with the general meaning of a place where people gather.”

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