ROME – After having warned just days ago of “many steps backward” in Catholic-Jewish relations as a result of contrasting reactions to Israel’s war with Hamas, the Chief Rabbi of Rome has used a new interview to express “great disappointment” with the way the Vatican has responded to the crisis in Gaza.
“The Jewish community, and not only, is very disappointed, yes,” said Rabbi Riccardo di Segni in a Jan. 22 interview with the Italian newspaper Il Giornale.
“There’s great disappointment,” di Segni said. “I hope that it’s understood, and that the crisis will be resolved.”
A medical doctor specialized in radiology by training, Di Segni, 74, has served as the Chief Rabbi of Rome since 2001, playing a key role in Catholic-Jewish relations.
On Jan. 17, Di Segni spoke at an event at Rome’s Jesuit-sponsored Gregorian University marking the 35th annual day for the development of dialogue between Catholics and Jews sponsored by the Italian bishops’ conference, and staged every year on the eve of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
On that occasion, Di Segni complained of a “regressive theology and substantial misunderstanding of the situation” since Hamas’s Oct. 7 sneak attack on Israel, asserting that “there have been many steps backward in the dialogue, and it’s necessary to resume the thread of the discussion.”
In particular, Di Segni objected to what he described as “a jumble of political and religious declarations that have left us confused and offended,” coming not only from the Vatican but from other church sources, including the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and an ecumenical grouping of the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem.
Noting that Pope Francis had presided over a special day of prayer for peace in the Middle East shortly after the outbreak of the war in Gaza, Di Segni pointedly told his Catholic counterparts that “you don’t have a monopoly on peace.”
“Everyone wants peace, but it depends on what kind,” he said. “Whoever does evil must be defeated, as happed with the Nazis in 1945. You can’t just accept the idea that war, in itself, is a defeat for everyone,” he said, quoting a frequent line from Pope Francis.
The idea of a just war, Di Segni said, “doesn’t authorize everything, but you can’t put on the same level someone who suffers an incredible abuse and someone who’s trying to eliminate the origins and repetition of that abuse.”
During the same event, the vice president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, a Turin-based attorney named Giulio Disegni, rejected what he called “the impossible equivalence proposed by the pope between who attacks and who reacts.”
“There’s a spreading anti-Semitism, and certain concepts expressed by exponents of the church in an incorrect way represent a damage and a danger,” he said.
In his new interview with Il Giornale, Di Segni expressed hope that his recent criticism of the Vatican and the Catholic Church will start a conversation.
“Dialogue has always been an obstacle course, with moments of difficulty and problems to overcome,” he said.
“To me, the Christian world seems divided,” he said. “I hope that my complaint will solicit a discussion. These divisions can be overcome, but it’s going to take time.”
Di Segni also said that many Italian Jews are having second thoughts about participating in the country’s annual Jan. 27 Day of Memory, an annual Holocuast observance, given that some activists are organizing counter-demonstrations critical of Israel’s war.
That counter-programming includes a march through the streets of Rome organized by the city’s Palestinian community, to denounce what organizers have described as the “genocide the Palestinian people is suffering.”
The official Day of Memory, organizers claimed in a statement, comes “at the expense of the cadavers of over 25,000 lives lost and more than 62,000 wounded, beating one’s breast for the victims of a genocide that’s already happened while turning an indifferent and complicit face toward a genocide that’s happening now.”
A spokesperson for the Italian Jewish communities compared the currents that shaped the Holocaust to contemporary Islamic militancy.
“The hatred and racial supremacy of the time generated the Shoah. Today, Islamic extremism generates the terrorism which today reaches even Europe,” the spokesperson said.