Radical members of the ultra-conservative Catholic splinter group Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) openly challenged Pope Francis by disrupting an interfaith ceremony in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral meant to promote religious harmony on the 75th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom in Nazi Germany. The annual gathering of Catholics, Jews and Protestants in Argentina marks the Nazi-led mob violence in 1938 when about 1,000 synagogues were burned and thousands of Jews were forced into concentration camps.
A small group disrupted Tuesday night's ceremony by shouting the rosary and the ‘Our Father’ prayer, and spreading pamphlets saying that “followers of false gods must be kept out of the sacred temple.''
Buenos Aires Archbishop Mario Poli, named by Francis to replace him as Argentina's top church official, appealed for calm as others in the audience rose up to repudiate the protesters, who were soon escorted out by police. “Let there be peace. Shalom,'' Poli then said, urging everyone to take their seats. “Dear Jewish brothers, please feel at home, because that's the way Christians want it, despite these signs of intolerance. Your presence here doesn't desecrate a temple of God. We will continue in peace this encounter that Pope Francis always promoted, valued and appreciated so much,” the archbishop then said.
Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a close friend of the pope who co-wrote a book of dialogues with Bergoglio seeking common ground between Judaism and Catholicism, described the incident in an interview with Radio 10 on Wednesday. “The cathedral was full, with people standing, prepared for a profound act of introspection, when a group of about 40 people began to recite from the Christian liturgy, the 'Our Father,' and began to hand out little pieces of paper saying that Jews were blaspheming the place.” Skorka said the protesters had made comments like “the Jews killed Jesus.'' He said one Jew confronted them, saying, “My grandmother died in Auschwitz,'' to which an activist replied, “Do you believe that lie?''
The Rev. Christian Bouchacourt, the leader of the SSPX South American chapter of the Pius Brotherhood, said that the protesters belonged to his organization and that had a right to feel outraged when rabbis presided over a ceremony in a cathedral. “I recognize the authority of the pope, but he is not infallible and in this case does things we cannot accept,'' Bouchacourt said in an interview with ‘Radio La Red’. “This wasn't a desire to make a rebellion, but to show our love to the Catholic Church, which was made for the Catholic faith. A mass isn't celebrated in a synagogue, nor in a mosque. The Muslims don't accept it. In the same way, we who are Catholics cannot accept the presence of another faith in our church.''
The Vatican spokesman declined to comment, saying the issue was outside his normal area of jurisdiction.
Jewish groups denounced the incident. Latin American Jewish Congress Executive Director Claudio Epelman said: "In the face of manifestations of fundamentalism and intolerance we have to strengthen dialogue. World Jewish Cngress Vice-President Julio Schlosser, who heads the Argentine Jewish umbrella group DAIA, denounced the "attack of an anti-Jewish, fanatic group".