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June 10: The Jewish Archbishop

June 9, 2015

0037_0359Archbishop Theodor Kohn of Olomouc (Olmütz), a province of Czechoslovakia, was forced by Pope Pius X to resign on this date in 1904 because of his Jewish background. Some sources say that Kohn’s grandfather had converted to Catholicism; others say that Kohn himself was born Jewish. He was ordained a priest in 1871, at 26, and obtained a doctorate in theology four years later. Pope Leo XIII confirmed him as archbishop in 1893; Kohn was the first commoner in three centuries to achieve the post and was embraced by the people as “one of us.” A contemporary report (1902) describes him offering “his golden chariot and eight horses for sale, to use the money for the benefit of the poor. The chariot has been in possession of the bishopric for several hundred years.” The anti-Semitic press in Germany and Czechoslovia, however, which was in the process of redefining anti-Semitism from a religion-based to a race-based ideology, targeted Archbishop Kohn. At a Church congress in Salzburg in 1896, a jeering crowd even prevented him from speaking. The Vatican’s move to force his resignation seems to have been more for public relations than for any malfeasance on his part, and he retired quietly, and with considerable wealth — commoner or not — to a castle in Styria, where he died in 1915.

“[T]raditional Catholic anti-Semitism is supposed to be entirely religious in nature, not racial. Catholic apologists, trying to defend Catholic Christianity against charges that it helped pave the way for the Holocaust, typically argue that their traditional anti-Semitism is completely different from the racial anti-Semitism of the Nazis.” —