The day after Hamas’ onslaught against Israel, Pope Francis intoned: “Every war is a defeat.” A preemptive protest against retaliation, it contradicted centuries of the Catholic Church’s understanding of a just response to aggression. The ancient command to will good to all men does not mean leaving some of them loose to do evil to others.
Careful not to name Hamas, Francis begged that “the armed attacks stop.” His use of the plural “attacks” placed terrorists and Israelis on the same moral plane. It avoided distinction between a war of extermination against Jews and Israel’s defensive action against genocidal barbarians. Francis broadened lament to conflicts everywhere (especially in “beloved Ukraine”), and added: “Let us pray that there be peace in Israel and Palestine.”
America magazine, the Jesuits’ flagship magazine, flattered Francis’ evasion as “a measured appeal.” Papal reluctance to identify a clear aggressor sets the tenor of reaction down the chain of command to bishoprics and parishes.
My own neighborhood parishes have been calling for prayers for peace between Israel and Palestine since Oct. 7. The object of this urging is the chimera of peace in general. Hamas is not named. The words “depravity” and “Jew-hatred” go unspoken. Congregants are shepherded away from any impulse to pray for Israelis to win against their tormenters. Pressure is on against choosing sides.
Victory is the one resolution that Western media and the “international community” will not tolerate. Neither will Francis. His “measured appeal” applies the tactic of “accompaniment” to geopolitical issues. Accompaniment is Francis’ pretext for withholding judgment on moral issues. Here, it provides a hedge that hints at moral equivalence between Israel and Gaza without the risk of saying so.
Whether constrained by temperament or policy, my own pastor — a sensitive and eloquent man — came as close as he dared to acknowledging the truth of things. It was not close enough.
The first reading at last Sunday’s Mass included an exultant passage from Isaiah 25:8. It prophesied God’s victory over death and His generosity in extending that promise beyond Israel to all peoples. Our priest interpreted:
I cannot help but think of the tears and death that descended on the Holy Land last weekend. Kidnapping and intentionally killing civilians to achieve political objectives is barbaric, and these acts have brought the level of tragedy on all sides of the conflict to horrific levels.
Pope Francis has called us to come together in prayer for peace in Israel and Palestine. I invite you to come to our Holy Hour … to pray for peace and to place this conflict in the hands of God, who alone can conclusively “destroy the veil that veils” us from one another and “wipe away the tears from every face.”
The wording is off-key. Nothing descended on the Holy Land. Tears and death were premeditated, and executed by Gazans with fanatical cruelty against Israelis. Yes, the targeting of civilians is barbaric, but our pastor would not identify the barbarians. His gloss, repeated in the parish bulletin, encouraged lament for “all sides.” He could not say out loud the name of the death cult that seeks the annihilation not only of Israel but of Jews wherever they live. Using biblical language, the homily shrank Isaiah’s eschatological promise to a let’s-all-get-along fellow feeling— more Rodney King than Isaiah.
Why is it so hard for decent men to take sides in the face of atrocity? What inhibits them?
It helps to look at their higher-ups, men who rose in a clerical bureaucracy that leans left. At this moment, the spotlight belongs on Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa. Francis made him Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem three years ago. He received his red hat on Sept. 30, less than a month ago. That was just in time to insinuate sympathy for the homicidal Gazans.
His Excellency described the Gaza Strip as “an open-air prison,” a catchphrase from the alternative universe of leftist grievances. He spoke of “occupied territories,” the reigning term of abuse against Israel as a colonial oppressor. Trumpeted successfully by Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority (PA), the term does not square with history.
Palestinian resentment of Israel’s existence precedes Israel’s presence in Gaza. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed in 1964 — three years before Israel won legitimate control of the West Bank and Gaza defending itself in the Six Day War of 1967. The PLO’s declared purpose was to eliminate Israel by means of armed struggle. Moreover, Israel removed itself — settlements and military installations — in 2005. If Gaza can be called a colony, its elected colonizer is Hamas.
But history is fungible to Pizzaballa who takes his language from the left. Francis knows his man.
On the day of Gaza’s attack, the cardinal issued a telling statement: “The operation launched from Gaza and the reaction of the Israeli army … will destroy more and more any perspective of stability.” While blood was still wet on the walls of kibbutzim, he erased all difference between Gaza’s willful massacre of Jews and Israel’s defensive response. That toxic pretense of impartiality from a Vatican appointment funnels down to the parish level.
On Oct. 18, the pope declared Oct. 27 a day of prayer. He exhorted believers “to take only one side in the conflict, that of peace.” But peace does not fall like dew. It has to be achieved on the ground by the victory of one side over another. Which side of the Israeli-Gaza border holds the greater promise of establishing and maintaining a just peace? Francis will not say.
My local church asks us to pray in the absence of moral clarity. Can God split the difference between a humane society and a perpetually inflamed, murderous one? Prayers for an Arcadian fantasy are self-celebrating gestures no more efficacious than trance music at a festival for peace and love in the Negev. They do not stop rockets and maniacal butchers.
The word “peace” means something very different in Islam. It means a world in which everyone is Muslim, and everyone is subservient to Islamic law. The ultimate purpose of Islamic terrorism is to advance Islam — an enduring purpose that reaches far beyond the Middle East. Just how far has been evident in our streets and on our campuses these past weeks.
Let my pastor pray for a blameless peace. I am praying for a decisive victory by Israel over Hamas.