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In Defense of the Founder of the Dehonians

Interview With Superior General

ROME, JULY 3, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The founder of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, known as the “social apostle,” condemned anti-Semitism and defended the poor against injustices, said the superior general of the order.

Father Leon Dehon (1843-1925), founder of the order of priests known as the Dehonians, has been the subject of recent controversy in Rome.

The beatification of the French priest, originally scheduled for April 24, was postponed because of Pope John Paul II’s death.

As Benedict XVI prepared to set a new date, unexpected difficulties arose on the part of the French episcopal conference. Figures in the Jewish community published phrases and writings in which Father Dehon criticized the behavior of some Jews.

Benedict XVI subsequently appointed a commission to look into the accusations.

In this interview with ZENIT, Father José Ornelas Carvalho, superior general of the Dehonians, rejects the recent criticisms made against Father Dehon, and illustrates his heroic virtues.

Q: What do you make of all this?

Father Ornelas: All Father Dehon’s works, including the incriminating passages, were published in their totality and submitted to the examination of censors of the Congregation for Sainthood Causes. There was not the least bit of “camouflaging,” as the French newspaper Le Monde wrote on June 10.

The process of beatification was not interrupted in 1952, as opposed to what some have written, for the simple reason that the cause was introduced in 1952. In the work published by Father Dehon, Karl Lueger is not mentioned, who defended anti-Semitism. To link Father Dehon’s work with Lueger’s, whom Hitler praised in “Mein Kampf,” is, therefore, grave defamation.

The Le Monde article stated that Pope Leo XIII distanced himself from Father Leon Dehon; however, in 1897 he appointed him consultor of the Congregation of the Index, specifying: “Let it be known that I approve his positions, as I entrust to him the function of one who must judge the doctrine of others.”

Q: So it’s not true that Father Dehon was anti-Semitic?

Father Ornelas: Absolutely not. Father Dehon’s attitude toward the Jewish people was in no way anti-Jewish. He highlighted, particularly, the providential dimension of the Jews in the history of salvation, also desiring the great figures of the Old Testament to be included in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church.

I quote, as an example, one of his texts: “The Jewish people are no less a providential people. God has not abandoned them definitively. He preserves them as witnesses of history and of sacred Scripture. He still reserves for them as gift a great mission in the end times of the world.”

Q: Is it true that Father Dehon condemned anti-Semitism?

Father Ornelas: Of course. As consultor of the Congregation of the Index, he acted with vigor to start the prosecution of French Action. In charge of writing the report on this argument, he mentioned explicitly the anti-Semitism of French Action as a reason for condemning it.

Q: Some French Jewish exponents think that in Father Dehon’s “social catechism” there are phrases that are offensive to the Jewish people.

Father Ornelas: We are distressed by the way in which a personality like that of Father Dehon is slandered, using texts taken totally out of context and quoted in a mutilated manner, to present them in a negative way. I would like to clarify that what drove Father Dehon in all his positions was his active commitment to the denunciation of the social injustices of his time, in particular, usury, and its causes. Father Dehon hoped for the advent of another society, for “Christian social renewal.”

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