Thursday, February 21, 2008

Saying "Peace!" When There Is No Peace

They would repair, as though it were nought, the injury to my people: ‘Peace, peace!’ they say, though there is no peace. They are odious; they have done abominable things, yet they are not at all ashamed, they know not how to blush.” (Jer. 6:14-15)

From 2002 forward, Bob has made several statements about his anti-Jewish postings that have at first glance appeared to be genuine apologies and/or retractions. In fact, even those involved in RSATJ once believed he had apologized and intended to refrain from such activities in the future. However, as documented at Robert Sungenis and the Jews, it became apparent that these apologies were not what they initially appeared to be. And since 2002, Bob has made claims about his intention to stop attacking Jews in the interest of “peace”, only to renew those attacks and expand on them when he felt matters had cooled down sufficiently. He has given a variety of excuses for recommencing his attacks over time, but the one common thread is anger and a drive to prove that he was correct about Jews all along. To be clear, the intention of this article is not to ridicule Robert Sungenis. It is to document what Sungenis has actually said and done as opposed to what some people may think he has said and done, and concurrently, to document a troubling pattern of behavior.

As Michael Forrest documented in relation to Bob’s 2002 “apologies”:

I errantly defended Bob, largely due to personal conversations we had at the time wherein he indicated that he would retract and apologize for any of the problematic material posted at CAI. But about two years later a situation arose that forced me to more thoroughly investigate exactly what had publicly transpired. This was no small task, as a great deal had been written.

When I searched at length for Bob’s public apology and retraction, I identified only an occasion on which Bob asserted that he had previously apologized. Eventually, I encountered two statements by Bob that made everything quite plain:

(Sungenis): “The only reason it (the article of Sept 2002) went through some "revisions" is that when this whole thing first started I was trying to be accommodating to those who were levying their charges. I took off some material that some people found offensive, even though I still stood by the material (and no one has proven it wrong).” (emphasis added)


(Sungenis): “I told whoever would listen that I would remove those sections in the interest of peace….Again, all the material that Mr. Cork is objecting to in this present article was removed from my website weeks ago in the interest of peace.” (emphasis added)

In these places, Bob made clear what his apology was and what it was not. He neither retracted nor apologized for any of the material. He merely apologized for upsetting “some” people because “some” of it was associated with scandalous organizations. He stood firmly by the material itself. He removed the most offensive and scandalous items only “in the interest of peace.”

This was not the apology that I believed he had offered. In truth, it was really no apology or retraction at all. Bob has referred others to this article even now and has repeated or expanded upon many of the views expressed in it.

Sadly, this pattern of offering such “tactical” apologies has continued unabated. As previously documented at Robert Sungenis and the Jews, Bob began returning to his anti-Jewish crusade when matters cooled down. And few, if any, said a word in public during that time period. This is a critical fact to consider for the few who have argued that Bob would stop attacking Jews if only people would leave him alone. He was largely “left alone” for over 3 years after the 2002 debacle subsided.

Nevertheless, he returned to his anti-Jewish polemic with a vengeance. He proceeded to amass over 100 articles, Q and A’s and “Features” attacking Jews, publishing and even plagiarizing material gleaned from Holocaust deniers, white supremacists and other anti-Jewish extremists in the process (link 1 and link 2 and link 3).

Then, when he became aware of the Robert Sungenis and the Jews website early in September 2006, he posted what some people perceived as a genuine apology and a sign of repentance: his “Open Letter to the Patrons of CAI”. In this “open letter”, Bob portrayed his newest change of direction as though it was completely due to his own introspection, with no reference at all to any of the contributors to Robert Sungenis and the Jews. (This fact is particularly noteworthy as Bob would soon proceed to retract this “Open Letter” and specifically blame Jacob Michael and Michael Forrest for his return to attacks upon Jews, going so far as to say that now “I am even more determined to write about these issues”: Question 41, November 2007. Clearly, the idea that criticisms leveled by two men could ever justify attacking an entire ethnic group is absurd and clearly illustrates Bob's spiteful mindset).

He then acknowledged that he had been on a “somewhat controversial path” and that this path had “detracted from the expertise we offered to the public in the area of biblical studies” and therefore “we are retreating from those more controversial areas for the foreseeable future so that we can concentrate on our areas of strength.”

Bob continued on to say that because of this new focus on his areas of actual expertise, “we will hardly have time for anything else” but that he would rely on men like Ben Douglass, one of “the best men ever to work at CAI”, to help handle the Q and A load.

Finally, Bob ended with this apology:

“…let me offer my sincerest apologies to all the people or groups that I have offended by the manner in which I have sometimes communicated my ideas in the past four years. Whether Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Muslim or whatever, I know that some of the words I chose and some of the sources I used tended to incite offense. I can assure you that such will be the case no longer. Whenever we write about any group or individual it will be with much care and consideration.”

However, as previously noted at RSATJ, Bob only apologized for the manner in which he presented false and bigoted material, not for the actual substance of the material itself. Yet, he promised to exercise “much care and consideration” from then on.

It was at this point that Michael Forrest and Ben Douglass spent a great deal of time trying to reach an agreement that would bring a more authentic “peace” to the situation and some tangible fruits of repentance (Douglass was Sungenis' vice-president at that time). And in fact, they did hammer out an agreement. However, after explicitly giving Douglass permission to negotiate on his behalf, Sungenis proceeded to reject every element of their agreement and even added that various apologies must be made instead to him (a fuller account may be viewed here: article).

Then came another deluge of anti-Jewish articles, Q and A’s and “features” and new claims of being the target of a massive conspiracy of Jews and “Shabbot goys” [sic] (Question 44, January 2007)

Bob’s writings at CAI became so offensive that the bishop of Harrisburg intervened. And remarkably, a mere 5 days after receiving a “cease and desist” letter from Bishop Rhoades on June 29th, Bob chose to post an article smearing his bishop. And although he was given 2 weeks to comply with his bishop’s orders, not only did Bob leave his anti-Jewish material up for a full month, he opted to add to it.

He posted a cartoon of a Jewish soldier with a machine-gun pointed at the head of a young Palestinian child. He posted a Q and A in which he went to great lengths to downplay the relationship of the Jewish people to God. He wrote “,Jacob Michael, As Ass in Sheep’s Clothing”. And he also posted a review of a book by James Petras in which he made the following statements, including his own personal prophecy of “judgment” and “punishment” for Israel:

Sungenis: "The Jews are godless and getting more ungodly with each passing day."

Sungenis: “There was such unbridled destruction of people and property that, like Jacob saw in his day, we have all the signs that the nation of Israel has made itself 'stink' among the nations. As Jacob predicted, it may not be too long before their neighbors 'shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.' St. John may have predicted the same when he stated that the 'Whore of Babylon' would one day be hated and burned by the Beast and the Ten Horns (the nations)."

Sungenis: "Peace in the Middle East can only come if Israel learns her place…”

Sungenis: “Israel is as ungodly today as they were in St. Paul’s day, and the world, especially the United States, must stop condoning and encouraging its sin...If the United States does not stop, it will also soon come under God’s judgment and it will be severely punished.”

Recall, all of this after being ordered by his bishop to cease and desist writing about the Jewish people and Judaism. Then, after being called in to meet with the bishop’s representatives on July 27th, Sungenis decided to change tactics, apparently because he believed he could work with the diocese enough to save some face, as proven by a letter he subsequently wrote:

Sungenis: “If I have read [the diocese of Harrisburg and the USCCB] wrong and their intention is to censor me wholesale, then I will demand a trial and I will bring it as far up the hierarchial [sic] ladder as possible in order to fight it. For now, there is no reason to fight it, because both parties are in a win-win situation.” (Sungenis email of August 5th, forwarded by Sungenis ally Edgar Suter to a wide audience).

On July 31st, Bob posted his third “apology” at CAI, entitled: Catholic Apologetics and Its Teachings on the Jews (henceforth, CAITJ). In this letter, he once again spent considerable ink blaming others and even the Church herself for his difficulties, from “the partiality many Catholics maintain for the Jews and their ideological causes” to “the difference in emphasis that the Catholic Church herself has taught regarding the Jews, since in more traditional times a more hard-line approach was prevalent.”

And perhaps most remarkably, considering the fact that he was fully aware that he had just openly defied and attacked his own bishop over the last month, he proceeded to publicly laud his own faithfulness and humble obedience:

“Since I am a faithful son of the Catholic Church, I take their wisdom and counsel with the utmost seriousness and consider their direction as if it was from God himself. I consider it an honor not only to be a member of the Catholic Church but also to be under the vigilance of such wise and caring pastors.”

”If in the future we write any new material on the Jews, it will always be with the required due diligence, as if the bishop were present with us. Since he acts in God's stead, we will do our utmost to please him so as to preserve the peace and tranquility he so desires to maintain in the body of Christ.” Article

However, he also went on to say that the bishop’s representative (Fr. King) and the representative from the USCCB (Fr. Massa) indicated that he “had crossed the line into inappropriate language and accusations”, that he had been corrected for his “tone and content” and “I communicated to them my agreement with their overall assessment.” And as a result of this, he was removing his anti-Jewish postings, “at least until they can be rewritten with a ‘human and Christian spirit’ (can. 822: 2,3)”. He then stated that these men are "the shepherds God has placed as overseers of my life and work" and that it is "a privilege to obey them."

It is important to keep in mind that Sungenis openly acknowledged here that he was corrected for his “inappropriate language and accusations”, his “tone and content” and that he “communicated to them [his] agreement.” Because shortly thereafter, he began asserting that the diocese and USCCB only corrected him in regard to his “tone” or “manner” of expression.

According to the record, this is false. Sungenis already made clear that he was corrected for both tone and content. Furthermore, it is simply not credible to suggest that his diocese and the USCCB believed that there was an appropriate way to say that Jews have "infected" the Church and that Judaism is an “infection”, that they are “godless and getting more ungodly with each passing day” or that they toppled Bill Clinton by setting him up with Monica Lewinsky. No, the diocese saw rightly that the problem was not merely with his “tone”. And Sungenis stated that he had “communicated to them my agreement with their overall assessment.”

Sungenis then continued on in CAITJ to elaborate on his “seven theological points” about Jews. Clearly, it was presumptuous and inappropriate to publish such an extended, negative theological critique of Jews in the context of an acknowledgement of -- and supposed "apology" for -- offenses against those same people. If one has just been corrected by one’s father for unjustly attacking someone, the proper response is to apologize and observe silence for at least a time. It is completely inappropriate to immediately launch into a new critique of the harmed party. It is also worth noting that Sungenis’ theological critique of Jews was twice as long as his acknowledgment of error.

But perhaps most importantly, one will note the lack of any actual apologies or substantive retractions made by Sungenis in this entire letter. Yet, in a recent email, he still claims to have “apologized”:

“I wrote a website article that apologized for any improper tone that I had in my previous articles, but an article in which I included seven short summary points of my position on the Jews.” (email of Feb. 20, 2007)

Again, we notice Sungenis referring solely to his "tone." And the reader is challenged to identify exactly where this apology was stated in his July 31st article, CAITJ. The most charitable interpretation is that Sungenis does not understand the difference between acknowledging an offense and actually apologizing for it. Furthermore, as previously noted, what Sungenis terms “seven short summary points of my position on the Jews” took twice the space of his supposed “apology.”

An analogy may be of benefit:

Joe spreads falsehoods about Bill’s family and defames them. Joe’s falsehoods are discovered by Joe’s own father. His father confronts him. In response, Joe says, “Yes, I defamed Bill’s family. Okay, I’ll stop doing that any longer. But let me tell you what’s REALLY wrong with Bill’s family!”

Has Joe apologized? No! He has merely acknowledged what he has done and indicated that he will stop. And then he even had the audacity to immediately criticize the very people he had just offended! There was no “I’m sorry”, “I apologize”, no actual expression of remorse for having caused harm to the innocent. This is elementary Catholic moral theology that applies in the confessional as well. Not only do we acknowledge our sins, we express remorse, make whatever amends are reasonable and promise to sin no more.

Again, the reason for drawing this out is simply that Sungenis has a demonstrated history of making statements that mislead people into believing he has done what he has not done. He has not been willing to unequivocally apologize for and retract the hateful things that he has written and said. And he has repeatedly returned to his offensiveness, brushing off what people mistook for apologies as merely magnanimous gestures he has offered “for the sake of peace” or because people have simply “misunderstood” him and been offended for no real reason.

Shortly after posting CAITJ, Sungenis also began pressuring Michael Forrest and Jacob Michael to remove their documentation of his anti-Semitic activities. And in that correspondence it was clear that he had experienced no real change of heart but that his latest claims of a change in direction were just another change in tactics for the sake of public relations. He affirmed that he still believed most of what he had written about Jews, in fact, going so far as to state to Forrest:

“Neither you nor anyone else is going to get me to change my mind about the Jews, Israel, Judaism and even Roy Schoeman. What I’m telling you is, I will refrain from addressing it if you take down your website. I’ve said my piece and could easily move on.” (email of Aug. 28, 2007)

Then, in January 2008, Sungenis wrote an extensive article for Culture Wars magazine “The Old Covenant, Revoked or Not Revoked” which he also posted at BTF. In this article, he chose to slander his bishop, paint the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops with the broadest (and most condemnatory) brush and propounded a Catholic-Jewish conspiracy theory. All of this, mind you, after multiple apologies and promises to change. There is, of course, much more but it would take too much space and time to document it all.

Finally, on January 25, 2008, we arrive at apology number four: Response to P. Catan. In this apology, we come full circle with a slight twist.

Once again, Sungenis opted to use a tactic documented at the very beginning of this article: he removed his articles for the sake of peace:

Sungenis: “Whether right or wrong, I took them down so there could be peace between me and my Jewish opponents.”

After 5 years, there had only been a slight change. In 2002 Sungenis insisted that he “stood by” all of his anti-Jewish assertions. In 2008, he’s apparently not quite as sure any longer: saying “whether right or wrong” (although privately he insists he still stands by most of it). But still, it was for the sake of “peace”, not because he had actually done something wrong.

However, then we come to what is perhaps Sungenis’ most convoluted and conflicted apology to date:

“There is a fine line between criticizing the Jews and stirring up anti-Jewish sentiment, since many people, both Jew and Gentile, do not seem to have the ability to distinguish the two. I can also understand how and why, when my quotes are isolated and placed in this video, people who view it would react negatively and think I’m some kind of monster. My intentions could be very easily misunderstood, and the potentiality of that is very high.

Hence, because such political, cultural and social criticism of the Jews can so easily be misunderstood, I have decided to refrain from any more dealings with those aspects of Jewish life. I’ll leave criticism of Jewish politics and culture to people more capable than I apparently am. My expertise is in theology, and that is where I will put all my efforts. Hence, any future dealings that I have with the Jews, whether on our website or in published articles, will only concern the theological side of things. As you can see by the Jewish material presently on our website, every article is about theological matters, and that will always be the policy of our apostolate from here on out.

Finally, whatever quotes are on that video, and whatever other quotes have been stored by various people from previous things I’ve said about the Jews that may be in other places on the web, I disavow myself of all of them. Further, I retract and apologize for anthing I have said about the Jews presented in that video. Although some of the material in those quotes I will reserve the right to hold and believe in my personal thoughts because I believe the material to be factual, nevertheless, I will not be expressing those opinions in my speeches, articles, website or any other public venue. Again, I will only be expressing my thoughts in public that deal with the theological dimensions, as our apostolate has done for the past several months.”

First, Sungenis laid blame for his difficulties on the inability of many readers to make the distinction between “criticizing the Jews" and "stirring up anti-Jewish sentiment.” Remarkably, Sungenis clearly doesn’t believe he suffers from this deficit himself.

Second, he implied that he has simply been “misunderstood” because he has been taken out of context. One may reasonably inquire how Sungenis believes he was simply taken out of context and misunderstood in these sample statements (which could be multiplied):

"the Jewish element has so infected our Catholic Church today...The infection of Judaism and Zionism has become the number one enemy for us."

“Unfortunately, the Jews haven’t changed in our day. They are still the same godless racists they were in Jesus’ day. Few of them have repented of their sins.”

"The Jews are godless and getting more ungodly with each passing day."

"as long as [my critics] hold to the Jewish racist heresies of Roy Schoeman and refuse to condemn the USCCB and other hierarchy for their capitulation to the Jews, then they will never be my friends, they will be my enemies. God will be the judge of who of us has been right."

"The intend to rule the world. And now the problem is that they want to rule the Catholic Church, too."

“Christianity is certainly not inherently violent, but unfortunately, Judaism tends to be, because real Judaism considers all non-Jews goyim that are less than animals, and this precipitates a loathing and violence against non-Jews.”

“A telltale sign in the movie industry of the shift in mores was demonstrated no better than in the Walt Disney Corporation. Founder Walter Disney was well-known in the 50s and 60s for wholesome family entertainment. Interestingly enough, Walt had a policy of not hiring Jewish people.”

“The charge of 'anti-Semitism' is nothing but a clever ploy”

Of course, this does not take into account his use of fraudulent quotes to smear Jews or the phenomenon of accusing essentially all of his critics of being “Jews”, partial Jews, having Jewish family members or “hiding” their Jewish ethnicity and then pushing a naïve follower, against his conscience, to attempt to “out” one of his critics as a Jew. (Article)

Third, Sungenis has already violated his promise to deal only with theological issues involving Jews (article 1, article 2 and article 3).

Fourth, Sungenis recently wrote in his article of February 9, 2008, The Old Covenant, Revoked or Not Revoked :

"I did decide to calm some of the storm by removing Jewish articles from my website..." (p.11)

He removed articles "to calm some of the storm."

And finally, Sungenis indicated that he “disavows” all the most problematic statements he has made about Jews, and that he apologizes for and retracts them. In isolation, this certainly looks more like an acceptable apology.

Unfortunately, in light of all the caveats and equivocations he already made leading up this more appropriate apology, it is impossible to know what he truly intended to convey. And to further undermine the import of this apology he went on to say that he still believes some of what he wrote “in my personal thoughts” because he believes it to be "factual", although he doesn’t tell us exactly what things he still believes. Also, as mentioned previously, he has indicated to others that he still believes most of what he wrote and even insisted that “no one” would ever change his mind about Jews. However, regardless, he claims he won’t be “expressing” those thoughts in public any longer.

According to Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, the definition of “disavow” is:

To disclaim knowledge of, connection with or responsibility for; repudiate; disown.

So, an explanation of how one may “disavow” an idea while simultaneously holding to it and believing it to be “factual” would certainly be helpful and interesting. (See "More Definition Difficulties")

Certainly, if Sungenis would at least refrain from publicly expressing his non-theological prejudices against Jews, that would be a positive development. Unfortunately, as documented, he has already violated that promise (article 1, article 2 and article 3). And also, one may be permitted to question whether anyone should be satisfied when a man who has a history of expressing seriously prejudiced views essentially says, “I’m still prejudiced, but I won’t express my prejudice so openly any longer. You can come back and trust me again.” That is, if such promises can even be believed at all (article).

Additionally, as documented here, it is highly unlikely that such a deeply held prejudice could ever truly remain buried. It will almost certainly rise to the surface, one way or another. And, at least based on history, it seems highly unlikely that Sungenis will not eventually return to full expression of his animus against Jews.

Last, we are left with Sungenis’ grave mistreatment of Roy Schoeman. It is almost one year now since he realized that the damaging quote he publicly attributed to Schoeman was most likely fraudulent. And it is six months since he received absolute confirmation that it is fraudulent. And yet, he has refused to issue a public retraction or apology. And he has yet to even send a personal apology to Schoeman.

In conclusion, as we have seen over the last several pages, Sungenis’ “works” speak clearly for themselves.

In 2006, in response to the Jewish controversies, Bob wrote:

“My sole goal is to promote the Catholic Church of Jesus Christ as best I can with the gifts that God has given me.” (CAI Open Letter)

Bob has falsely accused numerous good men, including his own bishop now, of having greater allegiances to Jewish causes than to Jesus Christ and His Church. Certainly, turnabout is fair play. May one not then seriously question Bob’s allegiances? Is his primary allegiance to himself and his anti-Jewish crusade or is it to the Church?

We genuinely hope and pray that Bob finally proves that the Church and Christ come first in his life and apostolate by complying with his bishop’s orders. For while it is plain that he has been given substantial gifts that may benefit the Church, he is so significantly lacking in the virtues of charity, prudence, wisdom and discernment that these gifts have too often been used to her serious detriment and the detriment of many of the people she was created by Christ to save.

In the event that Sungenis decides to continue disobeying his bishop’s orders, then each of us will be left with a serious decision to make. Are we “of Sungenis” or are we of Christ’s Church (cf. 1Cor. 1:10-17)? Sadly, he has "refused to listen even to the Church" (cf. Matt. 18:17). And the reader can discover the remainder of the Lord's instructions for himself.

At one point in his most recent apology, Sungenis complained:

“some people have an agenda to destroy me no matter what I do to rectify the situation.”

In 2005, Michael Forrest privately gave the following assessment and remedy to Sungenis, and it applies equally well today:

“after reviewing your apologies from 2002 and talking to you on the phone about the Jewish conspiracy theories and the Holocaust you relayed back in 2002, it is now clear to me that you never retracted or apologized for the accusations you leveled, nor did you ever intend to. And I believe this is precisely the reason the issue has never really died. I believe you ought to have issued a genuine retraction and apology.”

This is a matter of basic Catholic moral theology. When we sin, we specify what we have done, sincerely ask forgiveness, seek to make reparation for any harm done, and make a firm resolution to “sin no more.” Such a process opens up the floodgates of grace, making possible true healing and reconciliation.

May God give Bob the grace to step forward in faith and may he finally repent, bring forth the fruits of true repentance and so find forgiveness and reconciliation.