Update: Neil Steinberg explains his anti-Catholic stereotyping in the Sun-Times

Neil Steinberg now has tried to explain the anti-Catholic stereotyping that he used in his recent Sun-Times column, "The pope stumbles over Charlie Hebdo,"  Jan. 15, 2015. In it and his follow-up,  ("Do Jews go to Heaven?" in his blog, "Every goddamn day" here) he asserts that Catholic teaching (doctrine, dogma) condemns Jews (and by extension, all non-Catholics) to "eternal torment in a fiery furnace for the unforgivable crime of being ourselves."

It's no doddle, he says, because you can find it in certain Catholic texts, including the big set of Catholic encyclopedias in his personal library.

Ah, well.

I suppose we can fling citations back and forth all day, but I'll go with the latest one, from the current pope, Francis I. During his homily at Mass in Rome last May, he said:

The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can... "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!".. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there. [Emphasis added.]

That view was underscored by Rev. James Martin, S.J. a Jesuit, who emailed the The Huffington Post:

Pope Francis is saying, more clearly than ever before, that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for everyone. That's always been a Christian belief. You can find St. Paul saying in the First Letter to Timothy that Jesus gave himself as a "ransom for all." But rarely do you hear it said by Catholics so forcefully, and with such evident joy. And in this era of religious controversies, it's a timely reminder that God cannot be confined to our narrow categories.

I'm no Jesuit, but if I may, I take this to mean that good works  can get everyone to the promised land thanks to Christ's suffering and resurrection. Disagree with it, certainly, but that is the faith that I practice and millions of others do.

Dueling quotes might not be persuasive enough for my friend Neil. Especially when he says that Catholics who tell him that they don't believe that Jews (and non-Catholics) don't go to heaven are ignorant of their own faith. ( I guess if they're not ignorant, they can be accused to trying to keep their hatred secret.)
And while questions about salvation were not the central point of his original column, the anti-Catholic sting remains in his stereotyping. I'm not one to constantly be asking for apologies when "I'm offended," like so many others demand. And I don't want (or expect one) from Neil. But maybe he should try on the insult if I had said something about Jews being "the chosen people" and what does that make the rest of us? Unchosen? Those Jews, what arrogance! I could mine the Torah quotes that clearly state such a claim. About how Jews slaughtered thousands of people in God's name because they were unchosen.
But that's not what I believe. I know that it's not true. There are many different beliefs held by many different Jews. And there's no single hierarchy that can speak for all Jews. Some modern interpretations soften the meaning, holding that Jews were chosen to be special so as to bring the idea of a single deity to the rest of the world.
Hope this  clears things up, Neil.

My first post in response to Sternberg's column:

My  friend, Neil Steinberg,

Someone brought my attention to your column ("The pope stumbles over Charlie Hebdo,"  Jan. 15, 2015) in which you said:

I don’t mock the Catholic Church often only because it does such a good job of mocking itself, of undercutting Jesus’ teachings in ways so clear that no commentary is necessary.

But were I to decide to mock the church, I’d like to reserve the right.

It’s only fair. After all, the church mocks me.

Where do Jews end up? Hell. Our children? Hell. Damned to eternal torment in a fiery furnace for the unforgivable crime of being ourselves. That isn’t a doodle on a magazine, that’s the official line, softened with various throat clearings to make it appear less vile, but here nonetheless. The fact that the pope isn’t emphasizing it every Sunday is the sort of false politeness he seems to be demanding.

I should have seen it coming.  The Catholic Church being also subject to the crude derision of the French weekly, Catholic leaders were quick to try to use the slaughter as a teaching moment.

Actually, the Catholic Church does not. As a practicing Catholic and as someone who attends Catholic schools from Kindergarten in the late 1940s through college, I've never heard that taught. Precisely the opposite is taught--that salvation rises from your our actions, not beliefs. I'm unaware of any doctrine or suggestion that condemns Jews and their children to "eternal torment in a fiery furnace" for any reason. Among my Catholic friends, it is not an article of faith. It's not something we obsess about. It does not come up in normal discussion.

True, the record of the Church's antisemitism through the ages is quite clear; can't be denied. Jews have good reason to suspect that Catholics believe that Jews and anyone else who don't "accept Christ" are eternally condemned. Many Catholics themselves are troubled that such views might be contemporarily held within the Church. They cringe when that mistaken view is supported by the Gospel story that Jews said let the crucification of Christ be "on our children's heads."

But that's not the official Catholic teaching now.

Here's a sampling of  what popes and Catholic commentators have said:

From Notes on the relationship of Catholic with Jews:,

On March 6th, 1982, Pope John Paul II told delegates of episcopal conferences and other experts, meeting in Rome to study relations between the Church and Judaism:

"...[Y]'ou yourselves were concerned, during your sessions, with Catholic teaching and catechesis regarding Jews and Judaism' We should aim, in this field, that Catholic teaching at its different levels, in catechesis to children and young people, presents Jews and Judaism, not only in an honest and objective manner, free from prejudices and without any offences, but also with full awareness of the heritage common" to Jews and Christians.

Here's another, as reported by the Catholic News Service in response to one bishop who seemed to differ from the papal document on Catholic relationship with Jews, suggesting that Jews were to blame for Christ's death.

Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke to reporters May 16 after delivering a speech on Catholic-Jewish relations in light of Vatican II's declaration "Nostra Aetate" on the church's relations with non-Christian religions....

At the same time, Cardinal Koch said, "it is very necessary to make clear the difference between the position of the Society of St. Pius X and the negation of the Shoah (the Holocaust), which is a position that has no place in the Catholic Church. It is very clear.

Here are quotes from the papal document, Rostra Aetate, proclaimed by Pope Paul VI on Oct. 28,1965. ("Delcaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions"):

Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone....

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ;(13) still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.

Recent popes and other church leaders have long, going back to the 19th Century, attempted to repair the understandable distrust of Catholics and  Christians. Sadly, this has become the basis of an incorrect stereotype of all Catholics. That we condemn everyone to hell who doesn't think like us. That we want to "force" our religious views on "non-believers."

That's a popular perception, derived I believe from Catholics standing up to protect their own beliefs, such as not being forced against their conscience, for example, to pay for other people's abortificants.

Sure, Catholics, other Christians and other faiths attempt to proselytize. The accurate interpretation of evangelical and missionary acts, as currently viewed, is to share a gift of love with others. Yes, they believe what they "preach," but what they preach is not "believe as us or you will die" or otherwise be punished.  True Catholic belief is "we offer you an opportunity to share the joy and comfort of our faith. If you choose not to, we're not offended or pissed. We respect you for your beliefs. We love you for them."

Neil, you might choose to continue to cling to your hurtful stereotypes, albeit in the face of evidence otherwise. But rest assured, won't be sending the papal army to change that.

Here's something--"Do Nonbelievers go to Hell?--more detailed that seeks to explain the JudeoChristian relationship. I don't know if it's the "official" Catholic position, but I liked it. Although long, it is quite "nuanced."

For information on my award-winning historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812," visit: http://www.madness1812.com


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  • I never could understand anti-Semitism. It never resonated with me. Mr. Steinberg might be justified to feel the way he does if it were hundreds of years ago, or even a hundred years ago. But as Dennis has correctly pointed out, the teaching of the Church about the Jews and other non-Catholics in general is now clearly and firmly centered around love and understanding. If it were otherwise, I assure you, many of us would denounce it for what it would be: irrational bigotry.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    This time, we are absolutely in agreement.

  • NS is 2 dimesional as writer and thinker, Dennis. He has a Cliff's Notes understanding of larger issues and broader ideas; that is why writers of heft and subsatnce and heart, Jospeh Epstein rarely embrass themselves. 2 dimensions are great in comic books and comic books are popular, but for real answers? No so much.

  • Even as a Jew, I have been to countless Catholic funerals-sadly those of young soldiers cut down long before their time. The message from the pulpit and at the cemetery has been clear and consistent among Catholics and other Christian denominations, as well. Those who accepted Christ as their savior will rise up, those who haven't are doomed. That's the point of last rites, to bring the dying into the fold. That, in fact is what is meant by the word, "savior."

  • The teachings of the Church have been pretty consistent, especially after Vatican II about the place of non-Catholics and salvation. Of course, like so many religions, that doesn't stop people with power within those religions to promote and teach wrong ideas. I'm guessing I'm younger than Dennis, but in my Catholic school experience I was told flat out, by my religion teacher, Ghandi is in hell. When I countered that if that's the case then I don't believe in God, I was sent to the principal's office and received a detention and was told to apologize to Sister Roy or face greater punishment.

  • Steinberg is second rate hack.

  • The guy has brtains and talent, Pete. The sad thing is they are put to use in defining people who are three dimensional in the actions and beliefs, in the same way a lion tamer uses a whip to make Simba behave against his instincts.

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