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The Catholic Church and the Jews

Updated on February 11, 2018
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Hollies and Health is an author who enjoys writing about life, love, and books. She enjoys watching anime and munching on burgers.



With the dark horrors of the Holocaust, there's no doubt that people have been trying to bring justice where it's due. Even so, antisemitism has had more of an impact on the world than any tragedy.

Whether that be at the hands of organized religion, or from gangs, or even from the public itself, it's clear that the Jewish people have had a long, complex history with the rest of the world. Even now, right here in America, the Jews have a hard time dealing with violence and bigotry. In fact, according to recent statistics from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in during the first few months of 2017, there has been an 86 percent spike in the harassment of American Jews.


The History

Despite this, none have had a more difficult relationship with the Jews than that of the Catholic Church. From accusing the Jewish people of deicide, to painting the Jews as nothing more than barbarians ready to kill innocent Christians, many of these stereotypes that have perpetuated from these beliefs have often resulted in the loss of many lives.

This struggle arguable began with the founding of the Christian religion itself. Many Jews were harassed because they were accused of killing Christ. This has culminated to various pogroms across Europe, with one of the most infamous being the First Crusades, a political war that involved the deaths of many innocents. Despite the Jews endeavoring to try and curb these attacks, either by fighting, martyrdom, or bribing officials, many have not been able to convince those who were wholly convinced of their mission. While the Church later realized the importance of protecting the Jews, many Jewish communities were destroyed. Some even consider the Crusade to be the start of many fatalistic antisemitism acts, all of which would culminate into the Holocaust.

During the middle ages, Jews were accused of many morbid lies, and were often forced converted or even killed. The infamous blood libel consisted of a variety of false allegations regarding ritualist murder. Starting with a dead boy named William, a monk named Thomas of Monmouth had accused the local Jews of torturing and murdering the boy, all for the sake of imitating the murder of Jesus. This has often given way to Jews being associated with the Devil, as well as the kidnapping innocent of Christian children. What's more, during the Black Death, many Jews were accused of poisoning the wells, and thus cemented the hatred between them and the Catholic Church. While Pope Clement VI did try to protect them, many Jews ended up burning alive.

The Church has also fed the stereotypes that many people have often characterized Jews today. They were often treated as greedy, and as such, the Church forbade Christians from dealing with money from the Jews. The Jews were illustrated as enemies of Christianity in general, and were treated as incarnations of the devil. Many of the churches have used beautiful glass stained windows to portray Jews as such.


The Holocaust

However, this hatred had culminated into one of the most devastating massacres of human history.

The relationship between the Catholic Church and Nazi Germany is difficult to grasp. During Hitler's reign, many children were pressured into joining the Hitler Youth movement and had often limited many interactions between the outside world, whether it be religion or otherwise. While many individual priests have criticized Hitler's government, they ended up being arrested. Authorities such as Franz Roedel, director of the Catholic Judaica Institute have even tried to push for an understanding of Judaism.

However, Hitler has utilized the Church's past with the Jews in order to fuel the deep grumblings and antisemetic values within Germany. He echoed the belief that Jews killed Christ, and has painted his own antisemetic plans in a positive light, so much so that it was almost a calling to take up arms for another Crusade." With Germany slowly beginning to side with Hitler, many important figures refused to speak out against this. Pope Pius XII has said little about Hitler's policies, nor did he condemn Kristallnacht, a violent night where many pogroms took place against the Jews. And while he did endeavor to intervene on behalf of the Jews who had converted to Catholicism by bringing them visas, they were later revoked.

Groups supporting Hitler in the United States, as well as in other territories, have also forcefully pushed their antisemetic views onto others. For example, many prominent universities such as Harvard, Yale, and even Columbia University during the advent of Hitler's rise to power, have disregarded antisemitism as such, and have often tried limiting enrollment of Jews. What's more, they openly welcomed Nazis into the folds, and have more often than not disregarded public opinion concerning Nazi Germany.


Antisemitism After The Holocaust

The Catholic Church has since then tried to reconcile their differences between them and the Jews. Even so, their pervading antisemetic views have promoted the dark, horrific stereotypes many people label Jews. The Institute for Historical Review was an organization dedicated to Holocaust Denial. Former President Richard Nixon has often been noted for his antisemetic views, alongside a famous radical Catholic priest, Charles Coughlin, who inspired the group, Christian Front.

These lies, in turn, has led to the repeated prejudice against the Jews. With the advent of the Enlightenment, while Jews were slowly gaining power in Western Europe, in Eastern Europe, Jews were oppressed, and were forbidden from owning land, and serving in the military. Many stereotypes, such as the Jews being greedy, and that they were cowards, had barred them from many positions, and were thus, not associated with other high professions. In America, Harvard University president James Bryant Conant had worked tirelessly to get Nazi war criminals hired and paroled.

Antisemitism in Poland was especially strong after World War II. While the Poles saw themselves as victims of oppression, they ended continued to assault the Jews there. This tension is clearly shown when in July 1946, an eight-year old boy had decided to visit his friends without telling his family. By the time the young boy returned, his father had already called the police, saying that his son had been kidnapped by Jews. Protesters had gathered around a Jewish community in Kielce, and as such, attacked the Jews inside. While police offers and soldiers were present, none had intervened to stop the violence.



There's no doubt that antisemitism is pervasive in our society. Whether it be through shows, the media, or even jokes everyone tosses around in a closed room, our society is affected by antisemitism. After all, it is the world's oldest hatred, and while it's clear that everyone took part, the Catholic Church had been the one to foster this hatred, one that had costed the lives of many.

Despite this, there have been numerous efforts to try and reconcile this hatred. Academic programs concerning Jewish studies have sprung up throughout various universities. Organizations such as the World Jewish Congress have endeavored to combat against antisemitism by education, the media, and bringing justice of those who engage in violent antisemetic acts. By protecting human rights, Jews, as well as other marginalized peoples, have been able to live peacefully. The Catholic Church has also taken steps to try to soothe the turbulent relationships between Jews and Christians alike.

Even so, there's still more work to be done. People must be able to put aside their prejudices in order to build a world of peace and harmony. After all, we shouldn't be addressing human rights violations after a tragedy has happened.

Over the last 20th century, has the relationship between the Jews and the Catholic Church getting better?

See results


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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      2 years ago

      Thank you.

    • holliesandhealth profile imageAUTHOR

      Robin Goodfellow 

      2 years ago from United States

      Within the last century.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      2 years ago

      In your poll question do you mean getting better relative to a decade ago or a century ago?


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