Blind Spots

'Were the Popes Against the Jews?'

Tracking the Myths, Confronting the Ideologues
Justus George Lawler
Eerdmans, $35, 370 pp.

In his latest work, the scholar, translator, and editor Justus George Lawler poses the question in his title and answers it with a qualified yes, acknowledging that the popes were indeed against the Jews, specifically because of their alleged repudiation of Christ. “Their entire tradition,” writes Lawler, “was built on the belief that Judaism prepared the way for Jesus and his message, both of which the Jews had rejected.” This theological opposition, however, does not make the popes villains, Lawler insists, and does not justify the vilification heaped on them by authors who portray the Vatican as “disdainful, contemptuous, and vengeful toward Jews and their beliefs”—and who have been doing so ever since Rolf Hochhuth’s controversial 1963 drama Der Stellvertreter (The Deputy), which condemned Pius XII for a personal antipathy toward the Jews and apathy in the face of the Holocaust.

Refocusing the argument of his 2002 book Popes and Politics: Reform, Resentment, and the Holocaust, in which he defended the Vatican against such authors as James Carroll and John Cornwell, Lawler levels his attack this time against Brown University anthropologist David I. Kertzer and his bestselling 2001 book The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism. Lawler directs his fire against not only Kertzer, but also those scholars—such as Kevin Madigan of Harvard Divinity...

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About the Author

Kevin P. Spicer, CSC, is the James J. Kenneally Professor of History at Stonehill College.