As modern anti-Semitism began to take shape in the latter third of the nineteenth century, the Church was a major player. According to David I. Kertzer, author of “The Popes Against the Jews,” (photo above) in Pope Pius IX’s war on Modernism, no weapon was more effective than the Catholic press, which at the time consisted of hundreds of newspapers, journals and other periodicals throughout Europe. To these publications, the traditionalist Pope Pius gave the task of combating the the forces of liberalism (promoting concepts like separation of church and state; religious freedom; freedom of thought, expression, and press; rationalism; socialism; democracy; communism; and the end of church control of public schools) unleashed by the Renaissance and Age of Revolution. And because Jews supported these forces, the Catholic press focused heavily on Jews, characterizing them, for example, as evil conspirators doing the devil’s work and warning of a rising Jewish peril.
The Edgardo Mortara forced baptism case demonstrated the power of the secular/popular press to shape public opinion against the Church. To counter this influence, Pius IX ordered the Catholic press to redouble its efforts to promote church positions. One influential Catholic periodical, regarded as the unofficial voice of the papacy, was the biweekly Jesuit newspaper, La Civiltà Cattolica, founded in 1850. In December 1880, La Civiltà Cattolica kicked off an anti-Jewish campaign with a series of thirty- six articles. Perpetuating traditional myths against Jews, the articles purported to explain why recent pogroms had occurred in Germany. In one article, the author wrote that it was because Jews were obligated to hate non-Jews that Christians despised them. European society, therefore, had to be protected, and so, “governments would be well advised to introduce special laws for a “race” that was so exceptionally and profoundly perverse. These special laws, the author asserted, would actually benefit Jews, for only by restoring restrictions on them (removed by emancipation) would violence against them be prevented. Another article attempted to prove that ritual murder was an integral part of the ritual for Purim rather than the one for Passover, concluding: “It is in vain that Jews seek to slough off the weight of argument against them: the mystery has become known to all.”
All thirty-six articles were written by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Giuseppe di Santo Stefano, one of the founders of La Civiltà Cattolica. Certain themes were repeated continuously, for example, 1) Jews had always benefited from the kindness of the Church, especially the kindness of popes; 2) Jews had lived happily in ghettos and, therefore, Christians were able to live peaceably, protected from them; 3) forbidding Jews to own real property or to practice certain occupations in the Papal States actually benefited them because such restrictions not only prevented Jews from becoming wealthy, but also prevented them from being too despised; and 4) history had shown if this foreign Jewish “race” was left too free, it immediately became the persecutor, oppressor, tyrant, thief, and devastator of the countries where it lived. Accordingly, special laws were required to keep them in their appropriate place and to protect society from the hostility they harbor against all human society not belonging to their “race.” Far from persecuting Jews, such restrictive legislation served to prevent Jews from persecuting Christians.
Another founding editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, Fr.Giuseppe Oreglia SJ wrote in an article:
“The Jews, eternal insolent children, obstinate, dirty, thieves, liars, ignoramuses, pests and the scourge of those near and far…managed to lay their hands on…all public wealth…and virtually alone they took control not only of all the money…but of the law itself in those countries where they have been allowed to hold public offices…(yet they complain) at the first shout by anyone who dares raise his voice against this barbarian invasion by an enemy ‘race,’ hostile to Christianity and to society in general.”
The most influential Catholic publication was the Vatican daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. In 1892, with anti-Semitism gaining ascendancy throughout Europe, L’Osservatore Romano devoted a series of articles to the “Jewish question.” One article argued that because recent pogroms in Russia had stirred up so much sympathy for Jews, it proved that the pogroms could only have been “engineered by the Jews themselves.” The author wrote: “We would not stray far from the truth if we said that the rather heavy-handed blow that the Muscovite Empire has aimed at the children of Judah has played into the hands of Judaism, for it has engendered compassion for the Jews, against whom the Christian and civil world has, for good reason, begun to rebel.” Similarly, the article’s author contended that French, Russian, and Austrian anti-Semitic movements were actually the work of cosmopolitan Judaism.
In indicting Pius IX for using the Catholic Press to shape public opinion against Jews, David I. Kertzer, author of “The Popes Against the Jews,” (photo above) wrote:
“What, after all, were the major tenets of this modern anti-Semitic movement if not such warnings as these: Jews are trying to take over the world; Jews have already spread their voracious tentacles around the nerve centers of Austria, Germany, France, Hungary, Poland and Italy; Jews are rapacious and merciless, seeking at all costs to get their hands on all the world’s gold, having no concern for the number of Christians they ruin; Jews are unpatriotic, a foreign body ever threatening the well-being of the people among whom they live; special laws are needed to protect society, restricting the Jews’ rights and isolating them. Every single one of these elements of modern anti-Semitism was not only embraced by the Church but actively promulgated by official and unofficial Church organs.”
As other major institutions were coming to terms with liberal trends transforming Europe, the traditionalist Holy See, through the Catholic Press and other means, was strenuously resisting them.
The Dreyfus Affair
In 1894, during a wave of anti-Semitism in France, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the French army, was charged with passing military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris. Convicted of treason on false evidence, imprisoned on Devil’s Island at hard labor, Dreyfus was eventually exonerated, but a segment of the French populace refused to believe him innocent. The campaign that led to his wrongful conviction was largely driven by French anti-Semites who denounced Dreyfus for his “perfidious Jewishness.” The Order of Assumptionist Fathers spearheaded the campaign, making Dreyfus’ conviction a special mission of its daily newspaper, La Croix. Owen Chadwick, author of A History of the Popes: 1830-1914, characterizes the La Croix’s anti-Dreyfus campaign as: “The most powerful and extreme journalism ever conducted by an otherworldly religious order during the history of Christendom.”
In an L’Osservatore Romano article defending French mobs protesting reversal of Dreyfus’ conviction, the author wrote: “The Jewish race, the deicide people, wanderer throughout the world, brings with it everywhere the pestiferous breath of treason.”
By the early twentieth century, most Catholic journalists were using the word anti-Semitism with approbation. For example, the Vienna correspondent for Civiltà Cattolica,” wrote in 1922:
“In its original form, anti-Semitism is nothing but the absolutely necessary and natural reaction to the Jews’ arrogance… Catholic anti-Semitism — while never going beyond the limits of moral law — adopts all necessary means to emancipate the Christian people from the abuse they suffer from their sworn enemy.”
Houston Stewart Chamberlain in his book, “Foundations of the Nineteenth Century,” published in 1899, contended that human history was a battle between Jews and Aryans. Also in 1899, Action Francaise (“French Action”), an anti-Semitic group, was founded in France. In 1903 in Poland, the party platform of the nationalist and anti-Semitic Narodowa Demokracja (“National Democratic Party”) was written, advocating in favor of pogroms and the forced emigration of Jews out of Poland. Between 1903 and 1906, a second wave of pogroms swept Poland and the Ukraine.