SYDNEY — Cardinal George Pell of Sydney apologized for comments he made about ancient Jews and German suffering during World War II in a televised debate with author and acknowledged atheist Richard Dawkins.
The cardinal said in a statement April 11 to J-Wire, a Jewish online news service, that his comments during the Australian Broadcasting Corp. program “Q & A” April 9 “did not come out as I would have preferred in the course of the discussion.”
“My commitment to friendship with the Jewish community and my esteem for the Jewish faith is a matter of public record, and the last thing I would want to do is give offense to either,” Cardinal Pell said.
In one exchange with the program’s host, Cardinal Pell referred to the ancient Jews as people who were intellectually inferior to ancient Egyptians and Persians. He also described ancient Jews as “morally inferior” to their pagan neighbors.
He said in his statement that he should have described the ancient Jews as “historically or culturally unequal.”
“My reference to ‘morally’ was interrupted,” he explained, “but … I would never describe the Jewish people at any stage as morally inferior to their pagan neighbors. I was attempting to establish a counter poise to my earlier comment when interrupted.”
He also said during the program in response to a question about suffering and the Holocaust that, referring to World War II, “probably no people in history have been punished the way the Germans were.”
The cardinal said he was attempting to cite the work of Jewish writer David Berlinski, whose “thoughts point us to the mysterious ways in which great crimes are sometimes brought home to those who have committed them.”
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry welcomed Cardinal Pell’s clarification. Peter Wertheim, the council’s executive director, told the Australian Jewish News the council had discussed its concerns with the cardinal’s office and expressed concern about “some of the statements … which are deeply problematical from a Jewish perspective.”
“We welcome as a first step Cardinal Pell’s clarifying statement that he did not intend any offense and his expression of continuing friendship with the Jewish community and esteem for the Jewish faith,” Wertheim said.
Yair Miller, president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies in New South Wales, also welcomed the cardinal’s clarification. He said he looked forward to future discussions to “clear up those matters still not completely addressed.”