AUSTRALIA’S most senior-ranked Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, has apologised for comments during a debate with Richard Dawkins in which he claimed the Jews were an intellectually and morally inferior people.
In a widely watched televised debate – which led to ongoing debate over the winner – Cardinal Pell said "the little Jewish people" were shepherds who lacked intellectual development.
"I've got a great admiration for the Jews but we don't need to exaggerate their contribution in their early days," he said on ABC television. "They weren't intellectually the equal of [the Egyptians or Persians] – intellectually, morally ... The poor – the little Jewish people, they were originally shepherds. They were stuck. They're still stuck between these great powers."
Later, Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, seemed to suggest the Germans had suffered more than the Jews during the Holocaust.
Asked why god permitted the Holocaust to occur, he said: "He helped probably through secondary causes for the Jews to escape and continue. It is interesting through these secondary causes probably no people in history have been punished the way the Germans were. It is a terrible mystery." When the debate host suggested that the Jews had suffered more than the Germans, Cardinal Pell said: "Yes, that might be right. Certainly the suffering in both, I mean the Jews, there was no reason why they should suffer."
Cardinal Pell subsequently issued a statement clarifying his comments and insisting he did not intend to offend the Jewish community.
"Historically or culturally unequal might have been more appropriate than intellectually," he said. "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 offence to either. This was certainly not my intention, and I am sorry that these points which I tried to make ... did not come out as I would have preferred in the course of the discussion."
As for the debate, in which both men did little to conceal their anger or animosity, there were mixed views on the winner. And some seemed to think the debate itself was futile.
"Let me ask my cocker spaniel, snuggled up on the seat of my Ferrari if he is finally aware of how it works and understands the complex design process," said Peter Bower, in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald. "Some things are simply beyond the logical comprehension of certain species."