A Fake: “Pope John XXIII’s Prayer for the Jews”

We are conscious today that many many centuries of blindness have cloaked our eyes so that we can no longer either see the beauty of Thy Chosen People nor recognize in their faces the features of our privileged brethren. We realise that the mark of Cain stands upon our foreheads. Across the centuries our brother Abel has lain in the blood which we drew or shed the tears we caused by forgetting Thy Love. Forgive us for the curse we falsely attached to their name as Jews. Forgive us for crucifying Thee a second time in their flesh. For we knew not what we did…


This “prayer for the Jews” attributed to Pope John XXIII, who died on June 3, 1963, is a fake. This fake appeared in January 1965 in a “report” of the American Jewish magazine Commentary entitled “Vatican II and the Jews” under the by-lineF. E. Cartus” which, the reader was told, “is the pseudonym of a Roman Catholic observer who has watched developments at the Ecumenical Council very closely[1]”.

The text’s contents alone ought to have led the reader to think that a Pope, even one who was so very favourable to the Jews as Angelo Roncalli (1881-1963), could hardly express himself in such terms with regard to Catholics. The “prayer” amounts, in effect, to saying: the Jews are beautiful; they are God’s chosen people; on their faces they bear the traits of our privileged brothers. For centuries, the Jews have shed blood and tears. We Catholics have been blind to all this. Our own faces are hideous in that they bear the mark of Cain. We are responsible for the blood and the tears shed by the Jews. We have forgotten the love of God. We have lied in inventing the account telling that God cursed the Jews. It is we – and not the Jews ­– who have crucified God. We were men unaware.

This text is excessive: it exudes too much hatred for some and too much love for others.

In following the destiny of this “prayer” chronologically in the press, in France alone, from 1966 to the present day, one may notice that the fake was at first very quickly denounced, and that then, in the face of the repeated assaults by certain persons in favour of a text that was so interesting for the Jewish cause, the truth began to be silenced; soon the public was led to believe that it was an authentic document. The daily Le Monde, for instance, would for a few years try to put its readers on their guard against the fake, which it cautiously presented as “apocryphal”, then abandoned any effort at clarification and even, as will be seen below, ended up giving the fake its implicit endorsement.


In October 1966, under the heading “Une prière de Jean XXIII pour les juifs”, La Documentation catholique published a text presented as the reprint of an article from La Liberté of Friburg (Switzerland) of September 9, which began thus:

Vatican circles confirmed on September 7 the existence and authenticity of a prayer drafted by John XXIII only a few days before his death in which he asks forgiveness of God for all the hardships that the Church has caused the Jews.

The existence of this prayer which, according to its author’s intentions, was to have been recited in all churches, had been announced recently during a lecture given in Chicago by Mgr John S. Quinn, who was one of the Council experts.[2]

There followed the text of the “prayer”. No precision was supplied as to “the Vatican circles” that had, reportedly, confirmed the item’s authenticity, nor as to the source enabling the writer to state that, in line with the late Pope’s intention, the “prayer” was to have been read out in all churches.

A month later, La Documentation catholique published a disclaimer entitled “La prière de Jean XXIII pour les juifs est un faux” (“The prayer for the Jews is a fake”). Here is the full text of that disclaimer:

The office of the Secretary of State [of the Vatican] issued, on October 26, the following release concerning the so-called prayer of John XXIII published in our edition of October 2, col. 1728, in which we echoed certain press information, adding no comments of our own:

La Documentation catholique (October 2, 1966, no. 1479, col. 1728) reproduced, after La Liberté of Friburg of September 9, a “prayer of John XXIII for the Jews” and stated that Vatican circles had confirmed its authenticity.

It is, in reality, a fake.

La Liberté of Friburg took the text in question from the Dutch newspaper De Tijd of March 18, 1965. De Tijd had got it from American Commentary of Chicago (organ of the American Jewish Committee) of January 1965, where it had appeared under a pseudonym (“F. E. Cartus) without any indication of source or of authentification. The very fact of its publication under a pseudonym ought to have put readers on their guard. Mgr Quinn, who is from Chicago, made this prayer his own (in all good faith, one may believe) and spoke about it at an interfaith gathering.

No bureau of the Vatican can have confirmed the authenticity of this prayer, which exists neither at the Apostolic Penitentiary, nor in the writings, whether printed or not, of Pope John XXIII.

Mgr Loris Capovilla, the trustee of those writings, denies without hesitation this prayer’s authenticity.

Moreover, a careful examination of the text makes it apparent that, in style and vocabulary, the prayer is alien to the late lamented Pontiff.[3]

Shortly before, the French daily Le Monde had published an article entitled “La prière de Jean XXIII pour les juifs est apocryphe” (“John XXIII’s prayer for the Jews is apocryphal”). The article was presented as coming from the paper’s own Rome correspondent and bore the date October 26. It began with the words:

“The prayer for the Jews attributed to Pope John XXIII is apocryphal”. Such is the categorical assertion that we have received from a competent Vatican source.

The rest of the article showed that the Le Monde reporter and the author of the piece published in La Documentation catholique of November 6 had drawn on the same source, in Rome. But Le Monde made three “smoothings-over”. Instead of a clear heading, it chose an obscure and inexact one; “apocryphal”, a relatively rare word, signifies: of doubtful authenticity. Instead of mentioning that the text had originated with Commentary, organ of the American Jewish Committee, it was content with saying “[this prayer] has been published in the United States.” Finally, to depreciate a bit more what it called “the assertion” (proposition put forth as true) of a competent Vatican source, the newspaper added the following remark:

This disclaimer concerns quite precisely solely this text. It should hardly call into question the attitude of Pope John who expressed, as is known, his desire to include in the Council’s documents a declaration on the Jews, the main author of which was Cardinal Bea.[4]


 Six months after that word of caution from Le Monde, Henri Fesquet, its special correspondent in Lyon at the French Congress of Judeo-Christian Friendship, nevertheless began his piece in these terms:

The epic event of the State of Israel’s rebirth, despite the ambiguity of its significance, surpassed the world’s expectations whilst the Roman Church gave itself a Pope who was truly attentive to the beseeching of Jules Isaac, author of L’Enseignement du mépris [English edition: The Teaching of Contempt: Christian roots of anti-Semitism]; did John XXIII not admit: “The sign of Cain is etched on our foreheads. Centuries and centuries of blindness have closed our eyes. Forgive us, Lord, for having crucified Thee a second time in the flesh of the Jews. For we knew not what we did[5]”? 

Henri Fesquet’s version is comparable to the counterfeiters’ original.

Some days later, Le Monde issued a rectification under the simple headline “Jean XXIII et les juifs”. It confided that the bit of the “prayer” quoted by its correspondent had been “taken from Mr P. E. Lapide’s book Rome et les Juifs, just published — translated from the English [English title: The Last three Popes and the Jews] — by the éditions du Seuil”. After this advertisement for a work containing a forgery, it added that Mgr Capovilla had “belatedly [sic] denied the [prayer’s] authenticity[6]”.


In its issue dated December 31, 1974 Le Monde printed a letter from “Mr Paul Samuel, of Paris” under the heading “L’UNESCO, le Vatican et Israël”. It was a protest against the Vatican’s award of the John XXIII prize to UNESCO. Mr Samuel considered that UNESCO, in excluding Israel, had obeyed “the dictatorship of oil totalitarianism”; as for the Vatican’s decision, he criticised it, deeming that “the greatest Pope of the twentieth century, John XXIII, would not have acted in this way”. And he proceeded to quote the text of the “prayer”. Le Monde agreed to publish this letter although it contained a fake: a fake against which the paper no longer thought it necessary to put its readers on guard.[7]

Irony had it that some Jews, probably moved and delighted at discovering the “prayer”, should write to the newspaper expressing their surprise at the silence hitherto surrounding the document. Such was the case with “Mr and Mrs Léon Zack of Vanves”. It was necessary indeed to resign to issuing a disclaimer. But Le Monde’s assumed such a form that the reader might believe the “apocryphal text” had been circulated with the same good (or bad) faith by Commentary (there being no indication of the review’s Jewish character) and by “various organs in Europe, including La Documentation catholique”. The headline chosen was “À propos de la prière apocryphe de Jean XXIII sur les juifs[8]”.


In Le Monde of January 30, 1983, Alexandre Szombat wrote a purported “Inquiry into the murder of Theodor Erich von Furtenbach who called himself a Nazi”. One sentence read:

After the war, the Church quit the path of error along which it had strayed and a Pope himself acknowledged “the sign of Cain on our foreheads”.

Those words were attributed to a “witness” to the murder, a murder which, let it be said in passing, was to earn the perpetrator but a single day in jail; he had done a pious deed.[9]


In September of 1989, in a programme on the French television channel La Cinq about the Auschwitz Carmelite convent, Jean Kahn, president of the Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France (CRIF), read aloud John XXIII’s “prayer” before the Jesuit theologian Father Martelet. Father Martelet steered clear of pointing out that it was a forgery.

The following month, on the occasion of the Jewish new year, the same Jean Kahn gave an interview to two Le Monde reporters, Patrice Jarreau and Henri Tincq, in which he stated:

[Mgr Decourtray] has decided, also, to send all parishes [of his diocese] a copy of the last prayer composed by John XXIII, regretting the centuries of the Church’s contempt for the Jewish people, for it to be read aloud by the priests.[10]

In a brief letter of the following day a reader of the paper wrote to its managing editor, André Fontaine:

Jean Kahn, president of the Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France (CRIF), has asserted to you (Le Monde, October 3, 1989) that Cardinal Decourtray has decided to send “John XXIII’s prayer for the Jews” to all [his] parishes. I am surprised that on this occasion your paper, which printed that statement in an “interview” with Jean Kahn, should not have thought it necessary to recall, as it has done at least once in the past, in 1974 or thereabouts, that this prayer is nothing but a fake; you spoke euphemistically at the time of an “apocryphal” text. I await your rectification.[11]

The rectification never came and the letter “for publication” was not published. I am unaware whether Cardinal Decourtray ever intended to circulate the bogus prayer or whether that was a project abusively ascribed to him by Jean Kahn. Perhaps the Cardinal of Lyon had that intention and perhaps he even put it into effect. Jean Kahn is a case. He would seem to be endowed with a “particular sensitivity” and with an “extra bit of soul”; amongst his coreligionists there would seem to exist, in effect, “a particular sensitivity that makes the Jewish voter a voter with an extra bit of soul[12]”. For him, French Jews are “Frenchmen often more patriotic than the others[13]”.

As for Le Monde, true to its tradition regarding such matters it had dealt with the subject in a slanted fashion all throughout the period from 1966 to 1989.

The officials of the American Jewish Committee took part, in their style, in the campaign directed towards the Vatican and Paul VI to have the Catholic Church proceed to unburden the Jews of their responsibility in “the sentencing to death of Jesus Christ”. As the reader may recall, texts in the Good Friday service denounce the “perfidious Jews” who had demanded that sentence of Pontius Pilate:

[The Jews] wished to lay all the blame for their crime on the person of the [Roman] judge; but could they fool God, who is also a judge? Pilate was a participant in their crime to the extent of what he did: but, if compared with them, he is to be found much less criminal.[14]

In 1965 organised Jewry was hoping that the Vatican II Ecumenical Council would declare unambiguously the non-perfidy of the Jews and their absence of responsibility in Christ’s being condemned to death. But, the longer the Council ran on, the more it appeared that the Vatican was hesitating, especially in the face of pressure from the Eastern Catholics.

All told, the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Ætate)” of October 28, 1965 made broad concessions to the Jews but disappointed them.

This is a little-known point and, today, rumour will have it that the Church, in 1965, withdrew the charge of perfidy along with that of any responsibility in Christ’s sentencing. The truth is different. The Council remembered “the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock”, decried and deplored anti-semitism, said that “Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation”. It insisted that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures”.

But some words — eight in the Latin text — recalled all the same, in a concessive clause, that “the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (auctotitates Judæorum cum suis asseclis mortem Christi urserunt). The Council fathers could not, after all, alter the contents of the Gospel account.[15]

Jacob Kaplan, chief rabbi of France from 1955 to 1980, whilst expressing his gladness at certain features of the declaration, would write:

What was hoped of Vatican II was above all a rejection of the charge of deicide brought against the Jews. One was entitled to hope for it. As is known, there were three projects on the matter. The first in 1963, the second in 1964, the last which became definitive in 1965. However, the 1964 version (the second) effectively rejected the charge of deicide, but in the last one there was no mention of it. It was quite simply eliminated. What had happened? An article in Le Monde (June 19, 1987) lets us know. In the review of a book written in English by an orientalist of some authority, Bernard Lewis, a passage of the author’s Sémites et Antisémites [Semites and Anti-semites: an inquiry into conflict and prejudice] is given in which he reports on the pressures brought to bear on the Vatican by Arab nations in order that the Jews not be exculpated from the crime of deicide. The Vatican yielded. Regretting the elimination, Cardinal Liénart of Lyon could not help saying: “One might believe that the Council did not wish to clear the Jewish people of the charge of deicide[16]”.


Today other struggles mobilise the Jews in their demands on the Catholics.

A recent article in Le Monde by Henri Tincq recalls that, in the affair of the Auschwitz Carmelites, the Jews have obtained satisfaction and the nuns will have to leave their place of prayer on the edge of the camp for a centre of dialogue and research on the Shoah.[17] The Catholics have already laid out large sums of money for the centre’s construction but Pope John Paul II has announced the freeing of an additional $100,000 to speed up the work.

Still, the Pope remains suspect and, as the Le Monde reporter says, “proceedings for ‘revisionism’ have been instituted against John Paul II”. The Pope is taking too long to bring out a document that he had, in September 1987, promised to draft on the “Holocaust” and that was to endorse the notion of the Nazi gas chambers’ reality.[18] He is too interested in the project of Queen Isabella the Catholic’s beatification. The Jews, with the support of Mgr Lustiger, Cardinal of Paris and an ethnic Jew himself, are striving to prevent the beatification of a “too Catholic” Queen, guilty of having, in 1492, issued the edict banishing the Jews from her realm, a deed done under the influence of Grand Inquisitor Torquemada who, it is said, had abjured his original faith: Judaism.

The myth of “John XXIII’s prayer for the Jews” is far from vigorous, but it lingers discreetly and, thanks to that very discretion, it may yet survive for a fair number of years.

As for the American Jewish Committee, still in good stride, it has recently announced two false news items: according to its Paris correspondent (?), Roger Kaplan, the Fabius-Gayssot bill has not been passed and Faurisson is deceased.

November 29, 1990



[1] Commentary, monthly of the American Jewish Committee (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles), January 1965, no. 1, vol. 39, p. 19-29; the “prayer” appears on page 21.

[2] La Documentation catholique, October 2, 1966, col. 1728.

[3] La Documentation catholique, November 6, 1966, col. 1908-1909.

[4] Le Monde, October 27, 1966, p. 9.

[5] Le Monde, April 21, 1967, p. 11.

[6] Le Monde, May 7-8, 1967, p. 17.

[7] Le Monde, December 31, 1974, p. 4.

[8] Le Monde, February 2, 1975, p. 8.

[9] Le Monde, January 30, 1983, supplement, p. i, iv-v. Concerning the individual going by the name of “Szombat”, one may read an article that I devoted to him entitled: “Une enquête du Monde diplomatique sur les chambres à gaz (mars 1988)” in the Annales d’histoire révisionniste, no. 4, Spring 1988, p. 135-149, reprinted in volume II of my Écrits révisionnistes, op. cit., on pages 751-763.

[10] Le Monde, October 3, 1989, p. 16.

[11] Letter from Mr G. D., kindly conveyed to me by its author.

[12] Le Quotidien de Paris, February 11, 1986, p. 6.

[13] Le Figaro, November 20, 1989, p. 16. A piece to be read in parallel with André Glucksmann’s “L’Europe sera ‘juive’ ou ne sera pas” (Libération, April 16, 1982, p. 14) and with a statement by chief rabbi Sitruk: “Every French Jew is a representative of Israel” (Le Monde, AFP, July 12, 1990, p. 7), a remark that was to be distorted and softened by two Le Monde journalists who subsequently asked him: “During your latest trip to Israel, did you not state that every French Jew had to consider himself as a representative of Israel?” (Le Monde, report by Jean-Michel Dumay and Henri Tincq, September 30, 1990, p. 9).

[14] Dom Gaspard Lefebvre, Missel vespéral romain (quotidien), 1946 [1920], Good Friday, Tenebrae Service, 6th lesson, p. 674.

[15] Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religionsNostra Aetate, October 28, 1965.

[16] “Dossier juifs et catholiques en dialogue”, La Documentation catholique, July 3, 1988, p. 680.

[17] Le Monde, December 7, 1990, p. 1, 14.

[18] Nonetheless, on August 26, 1989, in a message to Polish bishops, he at last evoked the extermination of the Jews in the gas chambers. Then, on September 27, 1990, L’Osservatore Romano published on its front page an article about a “meditation of the Pope at Jasna Gora [Poland]”. John Paul II, it read, speaking of the Jews, had stated, in Polish: “This people underwent the terrible death of millions of their sons and daughters. At first they were stigmatised in a particular way. Later, they were pushed into the ghetto in separate neighbourhoods. Then they were taken to the gas-chambers, and put to death simply because they were children of this people (Poi portati alle camere a gas, dando loro la morte soltanto perché erano figli di questo popolo)”. Barring an error on my part, John Paul II will thus have been the first Pope to sanction in that way timidly, it is true the existence of the homicidal gas chambers. (An English translation of the passage as quoted by a January 1991 “Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops in Poland” is archived at the website Jewish-Christian Relations – Translator’s note.)