Letter From Rome

The evangelical pope remains undeterred by attacks from rigid church ideologues
Letter From Rome

Pope Francis meets worshipers as he arrives to celebrate Mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Rakovski, in southern Bulgaria, on May 6. (Photo by Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP)

Pope Francis has been known to make off-color or politically incorrect jokes from time to time. For example, he has provoked sighs and raised eyebrows with stereotypical mother-in-law asides and occasional references to women as strawberries on the cake.

Then there's his constant harping about modern-day Pharisees, as he frequently labels those Catholic priests and bishops who are being hypocrites.

Jewish leaders are not at all amused at the reference, to put it mildly. They say the way Francis continuously attributes a negative connotation to the word Pharisee only perpetuates age-old anti-Jewish stereotypes.

Riccardo Di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome, even criticized pope to his face about this back in 2015. He said Francis replied, "I know very well. I'm a Jesuit and I know the term 'Jesuitical' also sounds bad. 

Setting the record straight

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Nearly four years later scholars from the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish traditions are set to look more carefully at Di Segni's concerns.

They'll be gathering at an international conference at the Gregorian University in Rome aimed at setting the record straight about the unflattering, though conventional image of these "doctors of the law."

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