The Charge of Deicide: Is this Dogma?

Dear Catholic Exchange:

Recently I was corresponding with someone who told me that the Catholic Church holds as dogma that the Jewish people are guilty of deicide and that the persecution of the Jews is dogma as well. The correspondent stated that this dogma was retracted.

I always understood dogma to refer to principles of Faith that are unchangeable, e.g. truth is truth and cannot be changed. Could you clarify this for me? I sure would appreciate it as this person is arguing that the Church's teaching on homosexuality could be changed if the Church was to be found in error (as it has been before, says he).


Michelle Kohuch

Dear Michelle,

Peace in Christ! Your question is an important one and I hope the following will serve to clarify this issue.

Has the Church ever claimed that the charge of deicide against the Jews is a dogma? Has “the persecution of the Jews” ever been a dogma? Anyone who claims as much is probably not very clear on what a dogma is. Very simply, according to Catechism, no. 88, a dogma is a “truth contained in divine Revelation.” On what basis do we recognize something as being contained in divine Revelation? It is when the Church “defines . . . that is when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith,” a particular teaching. The Magisterium exercises its authority when it defines dogmas and also “when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these” (Ibid.).

One might assume the alleged change came at Vatican II. The Church said in Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions) that “neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion” (no. 4). The Magisterium of the Church, however, has never proposed the contrary as dogma that all Jews at all times are guilty of deicide and that all Catholics at all times should persecute them. No previous “dogma” was overturned. These considerations are to be distinguished from facts of history. The teaching authority of the Magisterium and the charism it possesses to teach without error does not guarantee moral indefectibility. Individual Catholics, including prelates, can sin in thought, word, and deed. The historical fact of the matter is that the Catholic Church has black spots in its history. It has a frail, human side. That there has been anti-semitism in the Church, persecution of the Jewish people, and other such crimes in her history, the Catholic Church has not denied. The Church knows and has many times acknowledged that she is, well, full of sinners. It is interesting that, while there is probably not a single race of people or religion that does not have its own share of black spots and atrocities, the Catholic Church seems to be the only one that has stood up, confessed its sins, and asked for forgiveness. Few non-Catholics, who like to point out our sins, will equally acknowledge all of the good the Church has done (and which is much more characteristic of the Church) or are willing to confess their own sins.

The Church's sins notwithstanding, never has the Magisterium taught that the Jews are guilty of deicide and should be persecuted. To be sure, one can find interspersed quotes from Church Fathers (e.g., Chrysostom) and even Popes. Historical texts, however, cannot be read in a vacuum. Responsible interpretation of these statements require that one ask questions of time, circumstance, etc. For example, is the Church Father speaking to a particular group or situation? Is he making a broad, generalizing statement? In one case involving a private audience with a Pope, the Pope expressed a lack of support for Zionism, stating that the Jews had rejected Christ. Anti-Zionism is not anti-semitism as some might suppose, but if the Pope's sole reason was because they were Jews, then he was wrong. Being against anyone for reasons of race alone can never be justified. However, such a statement doesn't even amount to a Pope giving a theological opinion, let alone making a dogmatic statement.

While no one can justify anti-semitic/anti-Jewish statements, the point is that these are not and never were teachings that the Church has now overturned. If your friend can provide something he or she believes to be substantial, we would be pleased to address the instance.

For more information on what the Church has taught regarding homosexual acts (which is rooted more deeply in her teachings on human sexuality and the image of God in man), see the Catechism, no. 2357.

I hope this is helpful. If you have further questions about this or would like more information about Catholics United for the Faith, please call us at 1-800-MY-FAITH (693-2484). May God bless your day.

United in the Faith,

David E. Utsler

Information Specialist

Catholics United for the Faith

827 North Fourth Street

Steubenville, OH 43952

800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

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