The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of endorsing anti-Semitism. But this hatred of the Jews did not just exist at the popular level, it came from the popes themselves. While the popes were not the inventors of anti-Semitism, they are guilty of supporting and encouraging it. They inherited a hatred for the Jews from early church fathers like John Chrysostom who urged Christians to hate Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah:
“The Jews sacrifice their children to Satan . . . they are worse than wild beasts. The synagogue is a brothel, a den of scoundrels, the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults, a criminal assembly of Jews, a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ. . . . I hate the Jews because they violate the Law. I hate the synagogue because it has the Law and the prophets. It is the duty of all Christians to hate the Jews” (Homilies Against the Jews).
David I. Kertzer in his book The Popes Against the Jews extensively documents the oppression Jews faced from the Vatican:
“The legislation enacted in the 1930s by the Nazis in their Nuremberg Laws and by the Italian Fascists with their racial laws which stripped the Jews of their rights as citizens was modeled on measures that the Church itself had enforced for as long as it was in a position to do so. Jews in the Papal States were still being prosecuted in the nineteenth century when caught without the required yellow badge on their clothes, mandated by Church councils for over six hundred years. As late as the 1850s, the Pope was busy trying to evict Jews from most of the towns in the lands he controlled, and forcing them to live in the few cities that had ghettoes to close them in. Jews were barred from holding public office or teaching Christian children or even having friendly relations with Christians. . . . The popes and the Vatican worked hard to keep Jews in their subservient place barring them from owning property, from practicing professions, from attending university, from traveling freely and they did all this according to canon law and the centuries old belief that in doing so they were upholding the most basic tenets of Christianity. . . . For the popes, modernity meant all the things that Church doctrine rejected: freedom of religion, of speech, of the press; the notion of separation between Church and state” (9, 11).
The infallible Fourth Lateran Council taught that Jews must wear special clothing to distinguish them from Christians, are forbidden to hold public office, and must abandon all of their Jewish customs once they become Christians:
“A difference of dress distinguishes Jews or Saracens [Muslims] from Christians in some provinces, but in others a certain confusion has developed so that they are indistinguishable. Whence it sometimes happens that by mistake Christians join with Jewish or Saracen women, and Jews or Saracens with Christian women. In order that the offence of such a damnable mixing may not spread further, under the excuse of a mistake of this kind, we decree that such persons of either sex, in every Christian province and at all times, are to be distinguished in public from other people by the character of their dress” (Canon 68).
“It would be too absurd for a blasphemer of Christ to exercise power over Christians. We therefore renew in this canon, on account of the boldness of the offenders, what the council of Toledo providently decreed in this matter : we forbid Jews to be appointed to public offices, since under cover of them they are very hostile to Christians. . . . We extend the same thing to pagans” (Canon 69).
“Certain people who have come voluntarily to the waters of sacred baptism, as we learnt, do not wholly cast off the old person in order to put on the new more perfectly. For, in keeping remnants of their former rite, they upset the decorum of the Christian religion by such a mixing” (Canon 70).
Needless to say, Paul would have strongly disagreed with canon 70 based on his teaching in Romans 14.
The Third Lateran Council taught that Jews and Muslims are not allowed to have Christian servants in their homes and that the testimony of a Christian always outweighs the testimony of a Jew in court:
“Jews and Saracens are not to be allowed to have Christian servants in their houses, either under pretence of nourishing their children or for service or any other reason. Let those be excommunicated who presume to live with them. We declare that the evidence of Christians is to be accepted against Jews in every case, since Jews employ their own witnesses against Christians, and that those who prefer Jews to Christians in this matter are to lie under anathema, since Jews ought to be subject to Christians and to be supported by them on grounds of humanity alone” (Canon 26).
The Council of Basel which is part of the Seventeenth Ecumenical Council enacted coercive laws designed to convert Jews to Christianity. All Jews were required to attend Christian sermons or face financial loss:
“They should compel infidels of both sexes who have reached the age of discretion, to attend these sermons under pain both of being excluded from business dealings with the faithful and of other apposite penalties” (Session 19).
The Council reaffirmed and strengthened the anti-Semitic laws of Catholicism. Jews were forbidden from owning land, being given academic degrees, buying church books, to live with the rest of society, and to work on Sunday:
“Furthermore, renewing the sacred canons, we command both diocesan bishops and secular powers to prohibit in every way Jews and other infidels from having Christians, male or female, in their households and service, or as nurses of their children; and Christians from joining with them in festivities, marriages, banquets or baths, or in much conversation, and from taking them as doctors or agents of marriages or officially appointed mediators of other contracts. They should not be given other public offices, or admitted to any academic degrees, or allowed to have on lease lands or other ecclesiastical rents. They are to be forbidden to buy ecclesiastical books, chalices, crosses and other ornaments of churches under pain of the loss of the object, or to accept them in pledge under pain of the loss of the money that they lent. They are to be compelled, under severe penalties, to wear some garment whereby they can be clearly distinguished from Christians. In order to prevent too much intercourse, they should be made to dwell in areas, in the cities and towns, which are apart from the dwellings of Christians and as far distant as possible from churches. On Sundays and other solemn festivals they should not dare to have their shops open or to work in public” (Session 19).
Pope Paul IV in Cum nimis absurdum forced Jews to live in ghettos segregated from the rest of society:
“Forasmuch as it is highly absurd and improper that the Jews . . . should, on the pretext that they are cherished by Christian love, and permitted to dwell in our midst, show such ingratitude to Christians as to insult them for their mercy and presume to mastery instead of subjection that beseems them; and forasmuch as we have been informed that in Rome and elsewhere their shamelessness is such that they presume to dwell among Christians in the neighborhood of churches without distinction of dress, and even to rent houses in the more elegant streets and squares of the cities, villages and places in which they live . . . to hire Christian maidservants and wetnurses and other salaried attendants, and to perpetrate divers other misdeeds to the shame and contumely of the true Christian faith . . . we do therefore order the following measures, which are perpetually valid.”
Other crimes of the papacy against the Jews include ordering Jewish books like the Talmud to be burned, forcing them to run naked through the street for entertainment, supporting accusations of blood libel, forcing them from their lands, and forbidding Jews and Christians from interacting with one another.
If you can’t trust what the pope says when it comes to how we should treat Jews, why should you trust him when it comes to Christian doctrine?