Israeli newspaper claims that the appointment of a new Nuncio to the Jewish state is a “slap in Israel’s face” – Why?

Lest you think it is easy to navigate international relations, here is an example of what minefields may cause unexpected difficulties.  It is always true that never can everyone have the same concerns or sensitivities. At times this can unexpectedly rise up and bite you.

Fr. Orthohippo


An Israeli newspaper has accused the Vatican of trying to “humiliate” the Jewish state by appointing Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto as the new Papal Nuncio to Israel. In an opinion piece written by its Rome correspondent, Menachem Gantz, the popular Israeli daily Yediot Ahronoth (link is to an online English sister version of the paper) called Archbishop Lazzarotto’s recent appointment (replacing Archbishop Antonio Franco) “a slap in Israel’s face”, which “underscores the strained relations between the Holy See and the Jewish state.”

The Yediot Ahronothcorrespondent seems to believe that the nomination of Giuseppe Lazzarotto is “an embarrassment and humiliation for Israel” because he alleges that the government and judiciary of Ireland accused the Nuncio of doing “everything in his power to protect” paedophile priests during his time as the Pope’s representative in that country. (Lazzarotto was based in Dublin from 2001-2007.)In his opinion column, Gantz refers to Judge Yvonne Murphy, who as “the head of the committee appointed by the government of Ireland to investigate the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin” requested Archbishop Lazzarotto’s co-operation in her investigation into clerical child abuse. The Nuncio, though, famously declined her invitation to give evidence. As a result, according to the Israeli journalist, Murphy’s committee “criticized Archbishop Lazzarotto for refusing to disclose information on reports of clerical child sex abuse.”
Lazzarotto was subsequently appointed Papal Nuncio to Australia, where was based from 2007 — a date that the Israeli newspaper qualifies with the words: “a year before the [Irish] commission of inquiry submitted its incriminating findings to the Irish Supreme Court.” These ‘incriminating findings’ later became highly politicised, with the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, using the commission’s report to justify his denunciation of: “elitism, disconnection, dysfunction and narcissism in the Vatican.” Kenny also, as Gantz reminds us, expressed his belief that the Vatican was responsible for downplaying the “rape and torture of children”.
The article in Yediot Ahronoth ends with a flurry of speculation mixed with specific demands. Gantz — rather bizarrely, in my opinion — suggests that the Vatican decided to appoint Lazzarotto as its ambassador to Israel because Roman Curia officials may have thought: “The Jews have problems of their own.” Based on this supposition, the author goes on to guess that members of the Vatican Secretariat of State may therefore have reasoned amongst themselves: “Pedophilic priests are not on the agenda of the tumultuous Middle East, so we can show our appreciation for Lazzarotto’s loyalty during the scandal in Ireland by appointing him to the prestigious post of the Vatican’s envoy in Jerusalem.”
Personally, I find the suggestion that the Holy See appointed Archbishop Lazzarotto to the ‘prestigious’ Jerusalem post as reward for ‘loyalty during the scandal in Ireland’ a rather cynical one — especially when we consider that he is already greatly experienced in Middle Eastern diplomacy, having been Nuncio to Jordan and Iraq in the past. It’s also worth mentioning that Lazzarotto was not involved in covering up crime during his mission to Ireland — he is a diplomat, not an Irish bishop. Despite allegations to the contrary, the Vatican did not order the world’s Catholic bishops to hide cases of child abuse.
The newspaper’s Rome correspondent also wrote that: “… Israel must demand clarifications from the Vatican and Ireland regarding the archbishop’s conduct during the pedophilic [sic] priest scandal – before his term as ambassador to Israel begins.” Gantz then added: “By doing so, Israel would be sending a clear message to clerics everywhere that it considers the sexual abuse of children a severe crime and that those who sanction such crimes will not find refuge here – even if they are the pope’s representative.”
When Archbishop Lazzarotto was appointed Papal Nuncio to Australia, immediately after his refusal to co-operate with the internal Irish investigation, no mainstream newspaper (as far as I know) in that great antipodean nation called it ‘an embarrassment’ – so why would his appointment to Israel be viewed as such?
It also strikes me as rather unfortunate that Gantz failed to mention why the Archbishop did not / could not give evidence to the Irish commission — these reasons being: a) because he is a diplomat (not subject to Irish law, and having to protect his diplomatic status); b) because – in the interests of justice – responsibility for crimes committed by the Irish Church and / or State cannot (or should not) be pinned onto a foreign power (such as the Vatican); and c) Lazzarotto was appointed to Dublin in 2000 (taking up residence in 2001), many years after most alleged clerical abuse crimes had been committed, so he wouldn’t have been of much help anyway.
It is also rather odd, as far as I’m concerned, that Gantz seems willing to quote the Prime Minister of Ireland without questioning this politician’s motives. Many believe that Kenny overreacted in his criticism of the Vatican — possibly so as to avoid the humbling fact that both Irish clerics and lay servants of the Republic of Ireland were far more responsible for covering up clerical abuse in that country than the convenient bogyman often referred to as ‘The Vatican’!
It is also depressing to note that an important message still hasn’t got through to many people – namely that Catholic priests are less likely to abuse children than ministers of other religions or members of most professions.Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it seems that a great deal of those with no insider knowledge of the Church prefer to view Catholicism as some kind of bizarre criminal organisation, determined to “rape and torture” children. This may be explained by the fact that some of the Church’s critics are rigidly prejudiced against her and want to cling to this narrative, whilst others simply believe what they are told by the papers. The ‘evil Church’ myth is now accepted as fact – especially as it is one that the liberal press rejoices in: ‘Look at those Catholics telling us not to sin, whilst they’re committing horrific crimes’; so goes one modern anti-Catholic mantra.
Now, I fully accept that there have been, and probably still are, sexually predatory priests: the Church is made up of flawed and sinful human beings, prone to all kinds of temptations. I also accept that some bishops covered up really heinous crimes which they should have reported to the police. In fact, the Pope has apologised several times for the fact that some high ranking clerics co-operated with the evil of child abuse. But, I also know that: a) the Church has / is changing, and that many dioceses around the world, at the request of the Vatican, have produced excellent procedures for the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults; and b) many religions have yet to come to terms with ministerial child abuse within their own communities and congregations. These religions would do well to follow the Church’s example: be honest, admit guilt, punish, and reform.
Sadly, there are far too many crimes committed against children by priests, rabbis, imams, Buddhist monks and so on… Other professions also appear in the news because they seem to attract paedophiles or abusers: teachers, police officers, scout leaders, social workers, etc. Of course, most abuse happens within the immediate family, with parents accounting for the vast majority of crimes against children. So, when someone decides to use these horrific crimes against children as some kind of arsenal against another religious group or nation, especially when they themselves appear to ignore their own community’s track record when it comes to child abuse, then I suggest they would do well to remember that old saying: “People in glass-houses should not throw stones!”

About Fr. Orthohippo

The blog of a retired Anglican priest (MSJ), his musings, journey, humor, wonderment, and comments on today's scene.
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