ACTION to rebuke anti-Jewish threats in Catholic circles, and support Catholic nuns

Dear friends, 

 This is a letter about ACTION.  Action supporting nuns and other women who are under attack from the Catholic hierarchy, and ACTION to rebuke any recurrence of anti-Semitic threats from Catholics.

 Two weeks ago, I wrote you a Shalom Report letter criticizing the Catholic hierarchy’s attacks on the religious freedom of Catholic nuns and American women.

 That letter sparked a lot of excitement and debate, plus one response that was hostile and threatening. It came from Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League, threatening me or other Jews who might dare criticize the Catholic hierarchy.

[For additional  information on the national pro-and-con discussion that arose from the original article, including comments responding to those threats by Mayor Koch, R. David Saperstein, and Gloria Steinem, please click here. — AW]

Mr. Donohue justified his threat  by "quoting"  former Mayor Ed Koch.  But  Mayor Koch himself came forward to say that Mr. Donohue had utterly misstated  what Koch had said.

 For the sake of Heaven, for the dignity of the Church itself, and for the sake of comity in American society, all members of the Catholic Church need to know that this kind of rhetoric will not be tolerated by its official leaders.

 So I think the time has come for firm and gentle action. I want to ask you to join me in sending a firm and gentle letter to Archbishop Dolan of New York

I ask you to write Timothy Cardinal  Dolan, Archbishop of New York, through Joseph Zwilling, Director of Communications for the Archbishop, by emailing him at

 I ask you to remind him that “No religion is an island,“ as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught; to urge him to insist that not only Mr. Donohue but all who claim to support the church must use no rhetoric whatsoever threatening Jews if they criticize actions of the Catholic hierarchy; and to urge that he himself reflect on the dangers of recent actions trying to restrict American nuns and other women in their work for social justice and their own religious freedom.

I am sending you, just below, in a different color, what I myself wrote the Archbishop.   Just as I drew on my own style and voice, I hope you will draw on your own thought, words, and style so that your letter speaks your own voice:

Timothy Cardinal  Dolan, Archbishop of New York
Via Joseph Zwilling, Director of Communications for the Archbishop

My dear Archbishop:
“No religion is an island.“ That is what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught when he met with high Church officials during the Second Vatican Council.
For the sake of Heaven and of the dignity of the Catholic Church, I urge you to rebuke Mr. Bill Donohue for the use of anti-Semitic rhetoric. Recently he let his anger toward my criticism of actions by the Church hierarchy tempt him into threatening Jews who criticize decisions and views of the USNCCB and of Vatican agencies.

Specifically, he wrote me: “Ed Koch, my friend, once said that Jews had better not make enemies of their Catholic friends since they have so few of them. Think about that the next time you feel compelled to attack my religion.”
This alleged quotation from former Mayor Ed Koch was so incorrect and improper that the Mayor dissociated himself from it:
 “My comments have always been about fostering good feelings between Jews and Catholics toward mutual understanding of our shared interests. However, I certainly do not believe that Jews, or Catholics, should be threatened for making critical remarks, nor should my name be used when doing so.  While I do have a high regard for Bill, his references to me and my remarks were inappropriate and different in substance and tone than what I said on an earlier occasion.  My remarks did not and do not refer to the Rabbi’s comments.”
So Mr. Donohue’s remarks flowed from his own animus, not the Mayor’s teachings. His “quoting” the Mayor, a well-known Jew,  served the function of masking the anti-Semitism in his remark.

This incident  concerns me for other reasons as well. The Book of Esther teaches us how intertwined are hatred and contempt for Jews, and fear or contempt toward women.  I am concerned that this flare-up of anti-Semitic feeling may accompany and feed on a wave of official Church hostility toward our nuns and toward the making of conscientious religious decisions by American women.
So I urge you to reflect most deeply on the likelihood that recent decisions of the American bishops and the Vatican toward women as well as Mr. Donohue’s anti-Semitic remark are, God forbid, becoming a scandal to the Church.

With blessings of pax, shalom, salaam --
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director
The Shalom Center  


Please take the time NOW to write your own version of this letter, in your own voice, and send it by Email to Mr. Zwilling.

 On behalf of the courageous nuns especially, thank you! 

 Now let me share with you a brief review of what happened after my letter/ essay appeared:

 As soon as my letter reached you-all, there came an outpouring of thanks for my critique of the Catholic hierarchy. Plus a few letters disagreeing with me  -- thoughtfully and warmly. 

 And then came Bill Donohue’s  anti-Semitic threat against me or other Jews who might dare criticize the Catholic hierarchy.  He justified his threat  by "quoting"  former Mayor Ed Koch.

 But  Mayor Koch himself came forward to say that Mr. Donohue had utterly misstated what Koch had said. Instead, Koch affirmed that of course Jews should feel free to speak out and should not be threatened for making critical remarks.

We issued a news release urging that Catholic authorities rebuke Mr. Donohue for his anti-Semitic remark. We also shared Mayor Koch’s comment, a supportive note from Rabbi David Saperstein, and a "We are all nuns now" note from Gloria Steinem.

 For that news release, see this entry on our website. 

And out of that came a post on a well-known political/ cultural blog called BuzzFeed, which drew literally thousands of hits. You can see it here. 

 With blessings of pax, shalom, salaam --  Arthur









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