News that Robert Spencer has been dis-invited from speaking at a Roman Catholic Men’s Conference in the US Diocese of Worcester has prompted renewed interest in Spencer’s own Catholicism; a comment posted to a short account of the cancellation derived from a Boston Globe article includes the following:
Posted by: Archpriest – Jan. 31, 2013 10:36 PM ET USA
Appalling! Robert Spencer is a Catholic deacon in good standing with [a] Melkite Diocese… To call Father Deacon Robert a “hate-monger” is unjust and adds further injury to the situation of Eastern Catholics – daily persecuted and even martyred in the Middle East. I am a retired military chaplain. Deacon Robert has addressed military staff symposia. Is the Diocese of Worcester so politically-correct that it would ignore the suffering of fellow Christians in the lands of Christ’s birth?
Spencer’s identification as a Melkite Greek Catholic is well-known, but the detail that he is a deacon is new, and can be confirmed via reference to other sites noted by Loonwatch. Spencer here follows the example of the late Paul Weyrich, whom he regarded as a mentor-figure, although Spencer’s Melkite affiliation also reflects his personal circumstances: he is of Greek Orthodox heritage (family displaced from Turkey) and married to a Catholic, and so a form of Catholicism that follows an Orthodox style has obvious attractions.
Some of Spencer’s books include the name of the priest of his church among the acknowledgements, although the church itself does not appear to promote the kind of anti-Islam polemicising for which Spencer is notorious. In 2006 Spencer promoted a report about a speech given by then-US Melkite leader Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, in which Bustros made criticisms of Islam; however, Bustros did not resort to the kind of rabble-rousing rhetoric and sloppiness that are Spencer’s hallmarks.
Spencer was less pleased with Bustros in 2010, when it was reported that Bustros had opined at a Vatican Synod that
We want to say that the promise of God in the Old Testament, relating to the ‘promised land’ … as Christians, we’re saying that this promise was essentially nullified [in French, "abolished"] by the presence of Jesus Christ, who then brought about the Kingdom of God. As Christians, we cannot talk about a ‘promised land’ for the Jews. We talk about a ‘promised land’ which is the Kingdom of God… Sacred scripture should not be used to justify the occupation of Palestinian land on the part of the Israelis.
The ADL described this as “the worst kind of anti-Judaism, bordering on anti-Semitism”, and argued that “Archbishop Bustros contradicts decades of official Vatican and papal teachings which affirm God’s ongoing Covenant with the Jewish people at Sinai, and calls on Christians to appreciate the Jewish people’s religious self-understanding, including its spiritual attachment to the land of Israel.”
Spencer, while declining to disclose that Bustros was his clerical superior, explained that
…he is strongly in the running to become the next Archbishop of Beirut, and could be trying to reassure Muslim leaders in Lebanon that his stint in the United States has not tainted him with Zionism, and he is still as anti-Israel as he was as Archbishop of Baalbek, before he came to America. It is a pity that a Christian leader would have to behave this way, and I am not saying he is not doing it out of conviction also, but in any case it is a reflection of the situation on the ground in Islamic countries: Christians who don’t echo the Islamic political line face hard going…
Accordingly, we cannot judge… Archbishop Cyril harshly.
Those anti-Israel comments formed the basis of a follow-up guest post by David Littman; Bustros had spoken to the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Rabat in 2002, and his words had been ugly and crude:
…Today, the Jews allege that Al-Quds belongs to them only. They have made it the capital of their Zionist state, arguing that it is the land of their ancestors since Ibrahim. If only they followed the example of this ancestor, who accepted to sacrifice his own son for the love of God. Instead, they have no qualms about killing the children of the others for the sake of their racist ambitions. John the Baptist, the great prophet who prepared for the advent of Jesus and called people to repent their sins to God, told the Jews: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance, and think not to say within yourselves. We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham”[Matthew 3: 7-8]…
Littman, like Spencer, puts this down to the “dhimmitude mindset”, but the reference to “Al-Quds” for Jerusalem notwithstanding, in both 2002 and 2010 the Bustros appears to be drawing on long-standing independent Christian traditions of anti-Judaism.
However, Spencer then posted the following:
I owe the Melkite Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros an apology: when I wrote about his remarks at the recent Vatican Synod, I was relying on incomplete and inaccurate press reports, and did not fully understand his position. Now, in a Jihad Watch exclusive, Archbishop Cyril clarifies his remarks and explains his position.
Spencer does not explain how the press reports were “inaccurate”, although the statement that follows his introduction takes a more moderate line and calls for a two-state solution (this is also – surprisingly – Spencer’s own position). One wonders why the Archbishop thought it would be sensible to put things right through a exclusive statement to an opportunistic anti-Islam blog, rather than to issue a statement through more reputable channels; perhaps Spencer’s position as a “deacon in good standing” is the reason.
According to the Boston Globe, Spencer had been due to speak at the Men’s Conference in Worcester on the subject of Islam, and the paper quotes the Diocese on why the invitation was recinded:
…”Although the intention of the conference organizers was to have a presenter on Islam from a Catholic’s perspective, we are asking Robert Spencer to not come to the Worcester Catholic Men’s Conference, given that his presence is being seen as harmful to Catholic–Islamic relations both locally and nationally,” Raymond Delisle, a spokesman for the diocese, said in a statement issued to the Globe.
The report adds that the Islamic Council of New England had urged the Diocese to cancel “after the Globe sought comment on his scheduled appearance from the diocese and from Muslim organizations”; Spencer now alleges, citing “sources”, that the article’s author, Lisa Wangsness, had asked Islamic groups to contact the Diocese (she denies it).
Of course, the problem with Spencer goes beyond “Catholic–Islamic relations”; the man is not a sensible speaker for any organisation that wants to be taken seriously. His blog frequently carries inaccurate and inflammatory items; sometimes, he quietly deletes material without making corrections if he knows that he can’t defend a claim (see here and here), but he also sometimes lashes out, accusing those who challenge an inaccuracy of supporting Islamic extremism. Spencer also identifies completely with the lurid claims and activism of the birther Pamela Geller. In 2009, Spencer cried “libel” when it was suggested he may have met leaders of the English Defence League; yet now, following Geller, he is an enthusiast for the organisation, appearing alongside Stephen Lennon (“Tommy Robinson”) and Kevin Carroll and opining that Lennon’s current imprisonment for passport fraud means that he is a “political prisoner”.
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