Saturday, September 09, 2006

On "Robert Sungenis and the Jews"

On "Robert Sungenis and the Jews"

A bit of history is in order . . .

In September, 2002, Robert Sungenis of Catholic Apologetics International (CAI) wrote an article entitled, "Conversion of the Jews Not Necessary? The Apocalyptic Ramifications of a Novel Teaching" in response to the document Reflections on Covenant and Mission, a joint-publication of the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Sungenis' article caused no small amount of controversy in the online Catholic world -- not because of his criticism of the document itself (indeed, a good number of Catholics found justifiable reason to do so), but rather because of his (unwitting?) citation, and proclaimed agreement with, some rather unsavory charges against the Jews drawn from anti-semitic sources (including neo-Nazis, "white separatists" and "historical revisionists"). The whole scandalous affair was researched and documented by Bill Cork, first on his blog and subsequently compiled in his investigative report, AntiSemitism and the Catholic Right (August 2002).

One would think that when called out on the matter in 2002, Sungenis would have recognized and apologized for his errors (at most, he removed some of the questionable material "in the interest of peace," claiming that he still stood by it). One might have presumed further that he would exercise greater care in his acceptance and use of ideologically-extremist material in the formulation of his own views on the Jews.

This was not to be, however, as evidenced by the discovery of Matt Anger (Fringe Watch) in April 2006 that CAI had reproduced on their website word-for-word two articles from the racialist, neo-nazi National Vanguard. The articles were ultimately removed after their origins were made known (and FringeWatch's post removed, as a sign of good faith), but again it demonstrates the same disregard for the necessary vetting of sources that got Sungenis into hot water back in 2002.

And now, we come to the release of Robert Sungenis and the Jews, an extensive paper published by Michael Forrest, himself a former associate of CAI, who went so far as to defend Sungenis in 2002 ("While others decided they had to leave, I continued to defend and excuse things that I should not have in retrospect"). Disturbed by Sungenis' increasing preoccupation and negative bias towards the Jews, Michael Forrest now finds himself compelled to step forward publicly.

I should be clear that Mr. Forrest does not charge Sungenis with being an anti-semite -- that is to say, of harboring a personal hatred of Jews. He admits he is "not certain what has created the negative predisposition evident in his writings and at his website." Nevertheless, drawing upon statements by Sungenis, public and private, and material not previously known, he has built a solid case that:

  1. Bob Sungenis expresses views in regard to “Jewish issues” in such a way as to explicitly or implicitly convey a level of certainty and authentic scholarship that is materially exaggerated. He is not an authority or expert on these issues.
  2. He has repeated verbatim or sometimes merely reformulated slightly writings he has obtained from others on Jewish issues. He has sometimes represented these as his own, without acknowledgment or attribution and has even defended these practices.
  3. He continues to evidence a propensity to uncritically seek out and accept unsavory, dubious and/or negatively biased information in regard to Jews and has drawn others with similar proclivities to his website.
  4. He maintains a vigorous commitment to expressing and propagating these views and an unwillingness to retract or genuinely apologize for any of them.

At one time an undeniably gifted Catholic apologist and scholar, Bob Sungenis' preoccupation with the Jews and his persistent, indiscriminate acceptance and employment of dubious, anti-semitic sources on this subject continues to remain a source of grave scandal, and should be an issue of concern to those involved in the ministry of Catholic apologetics. It is to their credit that Mr. David Palm, Dr. Art Sippo, Mr. Michael Lopez, Mr. Matthew Anger, Mr. John Novotny, Mr. Jacob Michael and Mr. Patrick Morris have all publicly indicated that they share in this concern and take it seriously.

Having read Michael Forrest's detailed investigation into this matter, together with Sungenis' views on the the conversion of the Jews, and what I would describe as a "hermeneutic of suspicion" towards Jewish converts to the Catholic faith), I wholeheartedly agree with his conclusion:

The kind of persistent, expansively negative rhetoric about and attacks on the Jewish people that appear on Robert Sungenis’ website have no legitimate place in civil discourse at all, much less under the banner “Catholic.” Certainly, there are legitimate criticisms to be made and legitimate discussions to be had regarding various “Jewish issues.” But those who persistently create and repeat the kinds of views he reiterates are manifestly not the ones to lead them. Such discussions and criticisms, if they are to have any hope of bearing godly fruit, must be led in spirit of genuine charity, humility and honesty. It is my heartfelt prayer that all those reading these words will reject the ugly and dangerous approach that demonizes the Jewish people and effectively reduces all the world’s ills to their supposed machinations and nefarious conspiracies.