Rather, I’ll focus on one of Goldhagen’s broader charges: that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a “deeply flawed document” because its traditional understanding of the Jews as the bearers of the Old Covenant replaced by the New Covenant of Christ (supersessionism) is the deepest source of historical anti-Semitism.
In other words, to believe, as most Christians do, that Jesus Christ is the Messiah long foretold by the prophets but rejected by most of the Jewish people, is itself the seed of all the hatred and violence against the Jews throughout the course of Western history. With this teaching, “the disparagement of the Jews became central to Christianity.”
Goldhagen is saying, then, that the Catholic Church cannot defend itself against the charge of anti-Semitism by explaining it away as an aberration of doctrine or a sinful error. No, for Goldhagen, it arises necessarily from the core of Christian doctrine that teaches that the Jews rejected Christ and then killed him (the charge of Deicide).
He claims these beliefs portray Jews “as the greatest obstacle to the well-being of Christians and humanity.” If Goldhagen is correct, then much of the Apostle Paul and the Gospels are indirectly, if not directly, responsible for inciting prejudice, hatred, and violence against the Jewish people (never mind, of course, that Paul and the Gospel writers were Jews themselves).
What Goldhagen fails to do is present any compelling evidence of his claim, apart from an anemic suggestion that Jews were identified with the modernism condemned by Benedict XV and Pius XI, and the anti-Jewish tracts of the Italian Jesuit journal Civiltà Cattolica. The plain fact is, the structures of the New Covenant in Christ — liturgical, spiritual, ecclesial, theological — are so clearly modulations of the Old that Christian believers should be deeply disposed toward respect for Judaism.
History, admittedly, doesn’t always follow logical lines. It’s true that past Christian teaching on the Jews — especially on the subject of Deicide — has been used by anti-Semites over the ages to justify their actions. Goldhagen presents reasonable evidence on this point, much of which is downright chilling (quotes from Civiltà Cattolica at the turn of the century, for example). As terrible as this is, he fails utterly to show the connection between this behavior and St. Paul’s teaching about the relation between Moses and Christ, the old and the new law.
One sad fact is undeniable, and all Catholics should admit to it, as John Paul II has already done: In the past, anti-Semitic actions were taken in the name of Christ. Goldhagen is at least correct that Church scholars and leaders should do all they can to bring the whole truth to light. It’s just a shame he couldn’t make this demand in a more truthful article.