An article in Haaretz (“Israeli Jew turned Catholic priest named head of papal court”) describes one David Maria Jaeger who “converted” from Judaism to Catholicism and will now become a member of the highest court in the Vatican. The word ‘converted’ is in quotes because it’s apparent that Jaeger has in no sense ceased being a Jew. Jaeger was born in Tel Aviv and had a Jewish religious education before assuming his high position in the Church.
[A prominent Israeli professor comments:] “He is a special man. … He’s told me about his deep ties to Israel. We didn’t delve deeply into the reasons for his Christianity. He only gave hints.”
When Jaeger was asked yesterday whether he feels Israeli, he replied, “at least as much as you do,” adding, “I’m just like any Israeli citizen who works for an international organization situated outside the country – just like there are Israelis at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, the UN in New York or UNESCO in Paris. I am in a supra-national international body, that’s the only the difference.”
“I’m a loyal and patriotic son of our people and our country,” he said. “After all, that was the whole point of the Jewish people’s emancipation in the 19th century, that we would become a nation, not a religious minority among gentiles. A person can live according to his conscience, he can not believe in any religious faith or believe in one rather than another, all according to his own intellectual conscience.”
It is stunning that a very prominent Catholic has a deep Jewish identity and thinks of the Church as just another non-governmental international organization. The ceremony for his ascendancy in Rome will be attended by his sister Leah, an Israeli citizen, bringing a sculpture by Menashe Kadishman, a famous Israeli sculptor. He served as legal adviser to the delegation that negotiated the Vatican’s Fundamental Agreement with Israel–sort of like having Dennis Ross negotiate with the Israelis on behalf of the U.S.
Beginning in the 15th century in Spain, people like Jaeger were called Conversos or Marranos (pigs)—Jews who had the appearance but not the reality of having converted to Catholicism. The Inquisition was designed to ferret such people out and subject them to penalties. Indeed, a major problem in the eyes of the Inquisition was that the Church itself had been infiltrated by Jews pretending to be Catholics (see here, p. 118; I deal with Jewish apologia on the Inquisition, including denials that crypto-Jews had infiltrated the Catholic Church here, p227ff).
During the centuries of the Inquisition, the Church acted as if it was much more than an international NGO. It was a community of faith where ethnic networking on behalf of non-believers was the ultimate betrayal. In the contemporary world, crypto-Judaism in the Church results in high office and, who knows, perhaps election as the next pope. (Jaeger is so upfront about identifying as a Jew that perhaps calling him a crypto-Jew is inaccurate. Making statements like Jaeger’s could only have been a death wish during the period of the Inquisition.) Whatever the past successes of the Church in defense of our people, the appointment of a strongly identified Jew to a position in the Church hierarchy is certainly a bad sign indeed of the state of Catholicism in the contemporary world.