Among those being considered to succeed Pope Benedict XVI is a notorious anti-Semite, Cardinal Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras. His name has appeared on various media short lists and his photograph was featured, along with other possible candidates, on the front page of the Miami Herald. He was also under consideration the last time around, and his Latin American heritage is considered a plus this time. He is very charismatic and popular in his home country and was recently invited to speak to Latino Catholics in the United States.
To put it most simply, Rodriguez Maradiaga is an out and out Jew-hater. He has said that "the Jews" are to blame for the scandal surrounding the sexual misconduct of priests toward young parishioners! The Jews? How did Rodriguez Maradiaga ever come up with this hair-brained idea? Here is his "logic." He begins by asserting that the Vatican is anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian (as he says it should be). It follows, therefore, that "the Jews" had to get even with the Catholic Church, while at the same time deflecting attention away from Israeli injustices against the Palestinians. The Jews managed to do this by arranging for the media—which he says they control—to give disproportionate attention on the Vatican sex scandal.
Listen to Rodriguez Maradiaga's own words:
"It certainly makes me think that in a moment in which all the attention of the mass media was focused on the Middle East, all the many injustices done against the Palestinian people, the print media and the TV in the United States became obsessed with sexual scandals that happened 40 years ago, 30 years ago. Why? I think it's also for these motives: What is the church that has received Arafat the most times and has most often confirmed the necessity of the creation of a Palestinian state? What is the church that does not accept that Jerusalem should be the indivisible capital of the State of Israel, but that it should be the capital of the three great monotheistic religions?"
Rodriguez Maradiaga then goes on to compare the Jewish controlled media with "Hitler," because they are "protagonists of what I do not hesitate to define as a persecution against The Church."
The prime media culprit in Rodriguez Maradiaga's bizarro world is the Boston Globe, which has won numerous journalistic awards for its exposure of the sex scandal and cover up. The Globe is owned by The New York Times, which is controlled by the Sulzberger family. Hence the Jewish conspiracy. The problem (among so many) with this cockamamie theory is that the Jewish community of Boston was very close to, and admiring of, Cardinal Bernard Law, who presided over the archdiocese during the scandal. Cardinal Law had built bridges between the Catholic and Jewish communities of Boston, and when the scandal was exposed by the very un-Jewish Boston Globe, the Jewish community remained largely supportive of Law. None of the leading media critics, lawyers or politicians who railed against the church were Jewish. Most were Catholic. But that didn't matter to the bigoted cardinal, who -- along with other classic anti-Semites -- believes that if there is a problem, "the Jews" must be to blame for it. As James Carrol, the distinguished columnist for the Boston Globe who is himself a Catholic, has characterized Rodriguez Maradiaga's "crackpot" mindset: "when the church has a problem—here is the oldest move of all—blame the Jews."
When asked whether he wanted to reconsider his attack, Rodriguez Maradiaga replied: "I don't repent... sometimes it is necessary to shake things up." He later promised Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League that he wouldn't repeat his conspiratorial nonsense, but he has refused to publicly apologize or "repent."
The Vatican has rightly called anti-Semitism a "sin," and yet an unrepentant sinner is on the short list to become the leader of the Catholic Church. Is it because the other cardinals are unaware of Rodriguez Maradiaga's anti-Semitism? Unlikely, because he has made no secret of his bigotry against the Jews. Or is it because not enough of them care as much as they should?
As a Jew, I have no standing to, or stake in, whether the new pope is conservative or liberal on Catholic doctrine, but I and all other people who care about Catholic-Jewish relations do have standing and a major stake in assuring that an anti-Semite is never considered for such a high calling. Just as there was a universal outcry when the former Nazi Kurt Waldheim was elected to the presidency of Austria, so too should there be a universal outcry if this cardinal, whose rants could comfortably have been published by Der Stürmer, were to be elected head of the Catholic Church.
If Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga were to be elected pope, much of the good work done by recent popes in building bridges between the Catholic Church and the Jews would be endangered. This should not be allowed to happen. The campaign against this bigot must begin now before his candidacy develops more traction.
Alan Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard.