One of the most high profile figures in the Australian Catholic church has publicly labelled the Jewish population as intellectually limited.
Speaking on a television debate with Richard Dawkins, Cardinal George Pell attacked the “little Jewish people” and dismisses them as shepherds who had made little contribution in the ancient world. He also suggested that the main victims of the Holocaust were the German people.
Cardinal Pell, the highest ranking Catholic in Australia, said he had great admiration for the Jews. But he added: “We don't need to exaggerate their contribution in their early days.
"They weren't intellectually the equal of [the Egyptians or Persians] – intellectually, morally,” he added. “
The poor – the little Jewish people, they were originally shepherds. They were stuck. They're still stuck between these great powers."
Questioned about the Holocaust, Cardinal Pell commented that “no people in history have been punished the way the Germans were”. Only when prompted did he clarify that it “might be right” to state that Jews suffered a worse fate.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry called some of his remarks “deeply problematical from a Jewish perspective”.
The cardinal later defended his controversial remarks, explaining tht it might have been more appropriate to call the Jews "Historically or culturally unequal” than refer to their intellect.
“The last thing I would want to do is give offence to [the Jewish community],” he said. “I am sorry that these points which I tried to make ... did not come out as I would have preferred."
“We welcome as a first step Cardinal Pell’s clarifying statement that he did not intend any offence, and his expression of continuing friendship with the Jewish community and esteem for the Jewish faith,” said the ECAJ’s executive director.