Catholic World News

Cardinal Pell apologizes for remarks about the Jews

April 13, 2012

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney has apologized for remarks he made about Jews during his recent debate with Richard Dawkins.

“Normally if you want something done you go to a busy person because you know they’ll do it,” Cardinal Pell said during the debate. “And so for some extraordinary reason God chose the Jews. They weren’t intellectually the equal of either the Egyptians … Because you see the fruits of their civilization. Egypt was the great power for thousands of years before Christianity. Persia was a great power, Chaldea. The poor, the little Jewish people, they were originally shepherds. They were stuck, they are still stuck, between these great powers … it’s a recognition, a reflection, of your intellectual development. Like many people are very, very clever and not highly intellectual.”

“In terms of sophistication, the Psalms are remarkable,” Cardinal Pell added. “In terms of their buildings and that sort of thing, they don’t compare with the great powers. But Jesus came not as a philosopher to the elite. He came to the poor and the battlers, and for some reason he chose a very difficult…but actually they are now, intellectually elite, because over the centuries they have been pushed out of every other form of work. Jesus I think is the greatest, the son of God, but leaving that aside the greatest man that ever lived. So I’ve got a great admiration for the Jews but we don’t need to exaggerate their contribution in their early days.”

“Why did the Lord choose the Jewish people and lead them to a Promised Land between the greatest military and cultural powers of the era?” Cardinal Pell said in his apology. “Human thinking assumes that if something needs to be done, you go to the powerful. But God did not choose Egypt or any of the Eastern nations, Assyria, Chaldea or Persia, the great powers of the day. Instead he went to a people who at the time of Abraham, were nomads and shepherds, making them over time a great nation. ‘Historically’ or ‘culturally’ unequal might have been more appropriate than ‘intellectually.’”

Later in the debate, Cardinal Pell also said, “Probably no people in history have been punished the way the Germans were. It’s a terrible mystery.” After the debate moderator said, “There would be a very strong argument that the Jews of Europe suffered worse than the Germans,” the cardinal replied, “Yes, that might be right. Certainly, the suffering in both…with the Jews there was no reason why they should suffer.”

In his apology, Cardinal Pell stated:

I also made some remarks about the way the German people were punished for the Holocaust, which is a crime unique in history for the death and suffering it caused and its diabolical attempt to wipe out an entire people.

At the back of my mind I was thinking about an answer the Jewish writer David Berlinski gave to atheist Sam Harris on why God did not prevent the Holocaust. Referring to the incredible destruction and loss of life that the Allies inflicted on Germany in the course of the war which Germany started, Berlinski observed that “if God did not protect his chosen people precisely as Harris might have wished, He did, in an access of his old accustomed vigor, smite their enemies, with generations to come in mourning or obsessed by shame.”

This is not to deny the enormous sufferings that the Germans caused to the other peoples of Europe. But Berlinski’s thoughts point us to the mysterious ways in which great crimes are sometimes brought home to those who have committed them.

My commitment to friendship with the Jewish community, and my esteem for the Jewish faith is a matter of public record, and the last thing I would want to do is give offence to either. This was certainly not my intention, and I am sorry that these points which I tried to make on Q&A on Monday did not come out as I would have preferred in the course of the discussion.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: dbiezad7779 - Apr. 15, 2012 6:00 PM ET USA

    The key question between secularism and spiritualism is whether or not the bar of morality should be set by the Golden Rule. If secularism claims that the Golden Rule can be attained though reason, then reason alone leads to the strict hierarchy of nature defined by “might makes right.” Dawkins is thus stuck with a Darwinian universe.

  • Posted by: FrPhillips1125 - Apr. 13, 2012 5:01 PM ET USA

    Not to deflect attention from his unfortunate remarks about the Jews, but I was disturbed when I read a report about the debate which said, "Cardinal Pell expressed the view that they [Adam and Eve] were not historical individuals, but mythological figures in a story designed to communicate religious truth." I don't believe that squares with Catholic teaching. Christ is the New Mythologically? That would have surprised St. Paul, I think.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Apr. 13, 2012 12:20 PM ET USA

    This situation cannot be trivialized. The apology was warranted. All suffering is not the same. Perer himself asks in his epistle "Is there any special virtue for suffering as a murderer, theif, liar, etc.?" The answer of course is "no." Why then the comparison? It was inappropriate.

  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Apr. 13, 2012 9:12 AM ET USA

    Cardinal Pell touched the 3rd rail of Jewish-Christian relations: the Holocaust. He basically said that someone other than the Jews suffered tremendously during WWII, which is a demonstrable historical fact yet also heretical to the Holocaust perpetual victimology quasi-religion. Thankfully Cardinal Pell was only singed by touching that 3rd rail.