Every year, in England and Wales, we Catholics (along with other Christians) celebrate something called Racial Justice Sunday, which is organised by, among others, the Catholic Association for Racial Justice. This takes place on the second Sunday in September, and has done for the last ten years or so. There is a retiring collection. It is one of the many “special” Sundays, some of which make more of an impact than others.
One might think that we Catholics do not need a Sunday set aside for thinking about the dangers of racism. After all, we are an international church, and any racist ought not to feel at home in the Catholic Church. But the truth is that the history, even the recent history of the Church, is not very reassuring. Back in the 1930’s Cardinal Hlond of Warsaw was in the habit of publishing anti-Jewish pastoral letters. The Jesuits were notoriously anti-Jewish, and their flagship magazine, Civiltà Cattolica, frequently ran anti-Jewish articles. These are discussed at length by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen in his book A Moral Reckoning.
It is worth pointing out that this form of racism was of the religious type: once a Jew converted, they would cease to be Jewish. Catholics did not persecute converts to Christianity. Nevertheless, the anti-Jewish rhetoric of yesteryear is not something to be excused, still less proud of. This really is the reason, among others, why we need Racial Justice Sunday: to make sure the virus of anti-Semitism never comes back.
In recent decades there have been outbreaks of anti-Semitism among Catholics, but these have been condemned by the Church, and Catholic anti-Semites do appear to be isolated individuals and groups. Moreover, though this point may be lost on many, such people are frequently in a dubious canonical position.
But given the history of anti-Semitism, and the way that it has not be eradicated in some communities, we need to be clear where we stand as Catholics. At present Jews in the United Kingdom are uneasy, and who can blame them?
That the United Kingdom might not be safe for Jews is a truly disturbing thought. So let us express our solidarity with them. Their unease is our unease. Any attack on them is an attack on us all. And bearing in mind that anti-Semitism flourished long before the foundation of the modern state of Israel, let us concentrate on the problem in hand, and stress the utter unacceptability of anti-Semitism here in the United Kingdom or anywhere else, and avoid any linkage with the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Anti-Semitism needs to cease at once. There are no excuses for it.