An Italian bishop has condemned “anti-Semitic regurgitations” in the Church after a “traditionalist” Catholic unveiled a painting depicting the blood libel.

– “Nothing to do with Christianity”

Bishop Ambrogio Spreafico, president of the commission of the Italian Episcopal Conference for ecumenism and dialogue, blasted last week a canvas recently completed and published on Facebook by painter Giovanni Gasparro, entitled The Martyrdom of St. Simon of Trento By Jewish Ritual Murder.

Gasparro, who lives in Bari, was described by local paper L’Quotidiano Italiano as forming part of the “traditional Catholic world who celebrates Mass according to the ancient Roman rite”.

But Bishop Spreafico deplored Gasparro’s work – which depicts stereotyped Jewish characters draining the blood of an infant for supposedly ritualistic ends – as “a sad demonstration of how much the human mind chases old stereotypes”.

“Sometimes there are faithful who prefer to fabricate truths detached from Tradition, effectively slipping into heresy, while Vatican II documents are mistakenly perceived as optional, which one is free to know [or not to know] and to observe or not to observe”, Spreafico wrote.

That was a reference to the Vatican II condemnation of anti-Semitism in the declaration Nostra aetate (1965).

“Never mind that they [Church condemnations of anti-Semitism] are binding statements, signed by the Bishops of the Catholic Church and promulgated as such by the Holy Father”, the Italian Bishops pointman on interreligious relations lamented on the opposition of traditionalists to authentic Church teaching.

Gasparro’s picture cannot be regarded as an expression of the Christian faith, Spreafico went on, adding that it has “nothing to do with Christianity” and warning that “Catholics should conform to the Magisterium of the Church and definitively suppress these anti-Semitic regurgitations”.

– Anti-Semitism and the coronavirus

Bishop Spreafico also referred in his condemnation of Gasparro’s painting to the danger that anti-Semitism could spread as rapidly as the coronavirus.

“We are aware that racism is growing in fear of the global world, in this difficult moment, in which we are heavily attacked by a pandemic that triggers instinctive instincts of defence and violence”, the Italian prelated warned.

“We do not need to add anything to the suffering we are already experiencing at the time!”, Spreafico implored.

– Academic: “No longer simply ‘right-of-center’, but outside the Catholic community”

Both Catholic and Jewish damnations of Gasparro’s canvas, however, have been swift and decisive.

Professor Philip Cunningham – the director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic relations at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia – told The Algemeiner, for example that the accusation underneath Gasparro’s painting of Jews killing Christian children “was never a Church teaching or doctrine, and was rejected even by Popes during the medieval period”.

Cunningham said he was “appalled” by Gasparro’s painting, which in the professor’s opinion “clearly revives all of the old tropes and visual stereotypes and caricatures” of Catholics against Jews.

The academic emphasised that those who opposed the “living” Catholic tradition of positive relations with the Jewish community after Nostra Aetate have left Catholicism “by their own choice”.

“They are no longer simply ‘right-of-center’, so to speak… They are outside the community”, Cunningham declared.

For his part, Abraham Foxman – former director of the US Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an active promotor of Jewish-Catholic dialogue – lamented in the context of the painting’s appearance during the coronavirus pandemic that “crisis times bring out the best and the worst”.

“So while we continue to be shocked by the classic anti-Semitism that’s surfaced during the coronavirus crisis, we shouldn’t be surprised”, Foxman deplored.

“One new virus fuels the ancient virus of anti-Semitism”, the lawyer and Jewish rights activist decried.

More on Novena on the fight against anti-Semitism in the Church:

Rome rabbi blasts Vatican “suspicious sensationalism” in opening of WWII Pope Pius XII archive

European Jewish Congress honours Pope for “unrelenting commitment” to fighting anti- Semitism

Cardinals in Germany, Italy clamour against anti-Semitism, racial hatred: “Not with me! Never again!”

“Cowardice”: Italian priest fighting anti-Semitism suffers parish robbery

Italian bishop Spreafico decries Catholic anti-Semitism: “Jesus was Jewish in every respect”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.