‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. [Jeremiah 6:14]
There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. [Lord Acton]
The papacy is swaddled in sycophancy in the best of times. Add to that the exultant adulation induced by celebrity culture. It is a heady mix that can beguile a decent man into a grandiose conception of himself that blinds him to the limits of his office. And encourages conceit in his own sympathies.
Francis’ excursion into Middle East politics illustrated the danger of a pope assuming office as a saint-in-waiting. His incautious behavior ought to have received more scrutiny from the Catholic press than it did. Instead, the amen chorus crooned about peace, prayer, and fraternal dialogue, as if fine words pull the sting from the scorpion’s tail.
Any claim that this was a trip for religious purposes was disingenuous. Clearly it was not. Helicoptering directly into PA controlled Bethlehem from Jordan, bypassing the diplomatic route out of Jerusalem, was itself a political act. As Fr. Kamal Khader of the Latin patriarchate in Jerusalem told Agence France-Presse, “It’s a kind of sign of recognizing Palestine.” It was an opening move that lent credence to the earlier Israel National News report:
Rabbi Sergio Bergman, a member of the Argentinian parliament and close friend of Pope Francis…said that the pope intends to define himself as the “Che Guevara of the Palestinians” and support their ‘struggle and rights’ during his visit.
Doubtless, that was off-the-cuff hyperbole. Still, coming from an old friend, it indicates something worrisome about Francis’ affinities. And his ambitions. Possibly, Francis sees for himself a role similar to that of Karol Wojtila in Poland? But John Paul stood with the force of NATO behind him, in the persons of Thatcher and Reagan. The last thing needed in the Middle East is a grandstanding pope using the Petrine office as a platform for high-profile and misleading sanctimony.
Kissing the Israeli-built barrier as if it were the Wailing Wall at the very point where anti-Israel graffiti would show to Palestinian advantage? Jonathan Tobin, writing in Commentary, is a model of restraint:
But by stepping into the controversy over the security barrier, the pope left the realms of both religion and state protocol to lend his enormous international credibility and popularity to the Palestinian narrative about the fence. That he was led to a particular spot on it that was filled with English as well as Arabic graffiti was the perfect photo op for those who attempt to argue that its placement is a symbol of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. Israel’s foes have attempted to claim that the fence is a new version of a Nazi ghetto wall in which Palestinian victims are hemmed in and deprived of their rights. The truth is that it was built reluctantly by an Israeli government that did not wish to divide the land in this manner but had to do something to make it harder for Palestinian suicide bombers and other terrorists to cross into Israel to slaughter innocents. Rather than a tangible manifestation of Israeli colonialism, it is a monument to the bloodthirsty decision of Palestinian leaders to wage a terrorist war against the Jewish state when they could have instead had independence and peace.
Francis’ reckless empathy endangers the prospect for coexistence he seeks. Good intentions notwithstanding, all the hackneyed pieties of “Peace, peace!” obscure the unyielding fact that sometimes peace has to be imposed. And vigilantly guarded.
Caroline Glick wrote in The Jerusalem Post of a telling incident ignored by fawning media. During a public meeting with Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister mentioned innocuously that Jesus spoke Hebrew. Francis rudely interrupted his host to interject “Aramaic.” Flustered, Netanyahu responded, “Jesus spoke Aramaic but he knew Hebrew.”
Netanyahu was right the first time. Francis was both impolite and wrongheaded. Whether Jesus spoke Aramaic or Hebrew at table with family we will never know. We know only that as a Torah observant Jew, Jesus certainly spoke Hebrew. In the multi-lingual society of his time, Hebrew was, as it still is, the sacred language of Judaism. Luke tells us: “As was his custom, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read [the Torah and Haftarah].” The twelve year old Jesus could not have discussed the fine points of Torah in temple without speaking Hebrew. Nor could he have spoken readily with the Samaritan woman at the well since Samaritans spoke Hebrew, not Aramaic. A generous amount of textual evidence for Jesus’ knowledge of Hebrew exists.
Francis’ imprudent—and needless—discourtesy was surely not lost on the Palestinians.
Justice is not achieved by trying to split the difference between a terrorist state and a democratic one. God help us all if the West is as luckless in a pope as Americans are in a president.