The Vatican Newspaper’s Rehabilitation of Judas During Holy Week
On Holy Thursday, April 1, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s daily newspaper, published a front-page editorial illustrated by an obscene and sacrilegious painting. It shows a naked, resurrected Jesus, caressing the lifeless head of the traitor, Judas Iscariot, who is wearing nothing but a red loincloth (see link in Footnote 1).1
Who Is the Real “Protagonist of the Paschal Mystery”?
The editorial by Andrea Monda, the newspaper’s editor, states that during Holy Week, L’Osservatore was going to address characters that emerge from the Gospels’ narratives at the “last moments of Jesus’s earthly life.”
Monda says he was perplexed at how difficult it had been to choose. “There are so many characters who crowd the pages of the four Gospels… thus the choice is not easy.”
Many of his readers, one would hope, were aghast at his choice: “For today, [the choice] has fallen on the figure of Judas, the most tragic and disturbing character of the Gospels.”
Thus, under the general title “Featured today—Protagonists of the Paschal Mystery: Judas,” the newspaper devotes three pages to the traitor.
On Good Friday, the same “Protagonist” series paid homage to Pontius Pilate, the cowardly and arrogant governor of the Roman province of Judea.2 The real “Protagonist of the Paschal Mystery,” “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), was left out.
As for Holy Saturday’s Protagonist, the paper headlined “the silence of Saturday and the announcement of the women”!3
Having discussed him first, does the Vatican’s paper consider Judas to be the real “Protagonist of the Paschal Mystery”? Did it choose Maundy Thursday (not Good Friday) for this rehabilitation because that was when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the Garden?
No Place for Mary, the Co-Redemptrix of the Human Race
Like her Divine Son, Mary Most Holy was forgotten. She whom we honor and venerate as Our Lady of Sorrows. She whom the Church has wept with for 2,000 years. She whom we try to comfort when praying the Stabat Mater: “At the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to her Son to the last.”4
Our Lady was at the foot of the Cross, joining the Passion of her Divine Son and offering His sufferings and her own for the redemption of the human race, as Pope Pius XI exclaimed: “Oh! Mother of love and mercy, who were close to your sweet Son when consummating the redemption of mankind on the altar of the Cross, suffering with Him as co-redemptrix.”5
Obscene and Sacrilegious Painting, a “Fruit of the Meditations” of Pope Francis
The illustration chosen for the editorial raises many questions because of its homosexual connotations.
Why was this sacrilegious and obscene picture selected? The L’Osservatore Romano editor explains:
“This painting is a ‘fruit of the meditations’ of Pope Francis gathered in the 2018 title, When You Pray, Say Our Father. In the book, the Pontiff speaks about Judas and God’s mercy, citing the capital atop a column in the church of Vézelay, a photo of which he hung behind the desk in his personal study. A French faithful Catholic—reading those meditations and having been struck since childhood by the same column portraying Jesus the Good Shepherd carrying dead Judas on his shoulders as the last lost sheep—decides to compose this painting and give it to the Pope. This painting, which we are publishing today on the front page, has since hung next to the Vézelay photo behind the Holy Father’s desk.”6
Pope Francis Tries to Rehabilitate Judas
Pope Francis has spoken affectionately of Judas countless times, implying that the traitor was saved, but without stating this clearly, as is his custom. As proof, he presents a sculptured capital in the medieval Benedictine abbey church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine in Vézelay, France.
In the just mentioned book, Pope Francis again refers to that capital and Judas’s possible salvation. After saying that Judas hanged himself, he continues: “But there is one thing that makes me think that the story of Judas does not end there… Maybe someone will think: ‘This Pope is a heretic…’ But no! Go and look at a medieval column in the basilica of Saint Mary Magdalene in Vézelay, Burgundy. The men of the Middle Ages did catechesis using sculptures, images. In that column, on one side you have Judas hanged, but on the other is the Good Shepherd who loads him on his shoulders and takes him away.”7
The pope claims that the young and beardless person carrying the dead Judas is Our Lord. However, the more plausible interpretation is that the medieval capital sculpture portrays the anonymous person who disposed of the traitor’s corpse.
“What Is the Mystery of Judas? I Don’t Know … Don Primo Mazzolari Explains it Better Than Me”
In addition to his constant, direct, and friendly references to Judas, Pope Francis has also quoted Fr. Primo Mazzolari (1890–1959), a revolutionary priest who is considered a precursor of Vatican II.
Andrea Tornielli, currently director of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, wrote in 2016 about a speech the pope gave: “[T]he Pope spoke about an ancient medieval capital depicting Judas on one side and Jesus carrying the dead traitor on his shoulders: ‘Don Primo Mazzolari gave a beautiful speech on this, he was a priest who understood the complexity of the Gospel’s logic well: Getting one’s hands dirty like Jesus did, he was not clean, he went and met people and accepted people as they were, not as they should be.’”
Further on, Tornielli says: “Pope Francis quoted a homily on ‘Judas, the traitor’, given by a pioneer of the Second Vatican Council, Don Primo Mazzolari, parish priest of Bozzolo (northern Italy), on Holy Thursday, 1958. ‘Poor Judas,’ the priest starts off by saying, ‘just what went on in his soul I don’t know. He is one of the most mysterious figures in the Passion of the Lord. I won’t even try to explain it to you, all I ask is for you to have some mercy on our poor brother Judas.’”8
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This is not the only time Pope Francis has adopted Fr. Mazzolari’s favorable view of Judas. At the sermon of an April 8, 2020 Mass, he stated: “What is the mystery of Judas. I don’t know … Don Primo Mazzolari explains it better than me.”9
The Argentine Pope not only quoted Father Mazzolari several times but went to visit his tomb, showing entire consonance with him: “I would not like to leave out anything I would like to say about Fr. Primo Mazzolari. I am a pilgrim here in Bozzolo and then in Barbiana, in the footsteps of two parish priests who have left a luminous trace, however ‘uncomfortable,’ in their service to the Lord and the people of God.… It is not up to me to tell you or analyze Fr. Primo’s work… [I prefer] to meditate on the timeliness of his message.”10
“Our Brother Judas”
Is it any wonder, then, that L’Osservatore Romano published in Holy Week a sermon by Fr. Mazzolari titled “Our Poor Brother Judas”?
In his homily on Holy Thursday, 1958, Fr. Mazzolari says, among other things:
“When he received the kiss of betrayal, in Gethsemane, the Lord answered with those words we must not forget: ‘Friend, with a kiss you betray the Son of man!’ Friend! This word, which tells you about the infinite tenderness of the Lord’s charity, also makes you understand why I called him [Judas] brother at this time.…
“And perhaps at the last moment, remembering that word and the acceptance of his kiss, even Judas will have felt that the Lord still loved him and received him among his own. [Judas is] perhaps the first apostle who entered [heaven] with the two thieves. A procession that certainly does not seem to honor the son of God, as someone conceives him, but which is a greatness of his mercy.”11
Judas in Heaven? The bad thief too? Our Lord only promised heaven to Saint Dismas, the Good Thief.
The same issue of L’Osservatore Romano publishes excerpts from other writers on Judas such as progressive Carlo Cardinal Martini, anarchist Giuseppe Berto, and the devil’s admirer, Giovani Papini.12
“Judas Mercator Pessimus…” — “Judas, the Vile Merchant…”
In his October 28, 2014 Mass homily, Pope Francis said Judas Iscariot was not the only sinner among the Apostles: “Judas was not the one who sinned the most: I don’t know who sinned the most.… Judas, poor man, is the one who closed himself to love and that is why he became a traitor. And they all ran away during the difficult time of the Passion and left Jesus alone. They are all sinners.”13
One cannot compare Judas’s betrayal with the other Apostles’ reprehensible behavior during the Passion.
Judas did not deny the Divine Master in a moment of weakness, as did Saint Peter, or cowardice, like the other Apostles who, except for Saint John, abandoned Our Lord on Calvary. However, all eleven repented because they loved the Divine Master.
Judas willingly went to the Jewish priests who were trying to kill Jesus and offered to hand him over: “What will you give me, and I will deliver him unto you?” (Matt. 26:14-16).
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Saint John Chrysostom comments on this matter: “And see how great is the wickedness of Judas, in that he comes unto them of his own accord, in that he does this for money, and for such a sum of money.”14
Nor did Judas betray his Master in an impulsive moment. He gradually moved away from the love of Jesus, becoming lost in his disbelief and sinking into the vice of avarice.
In the episode of the woman who anointed Our Lord with precious perfume, Judas murmured that He should have sold that perfume and given the money to the poor. To which Saint John explains, after narrating the episode: “Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the purse, carried the things that were put therein.” (John 12:4–6).
“Judas mercator pessimus…” — “Judas, the vile merchant…”15
The Cainites, an Early Church Gnostic Sect of Judas Worshippers
Around the year 180, Saint Irenaeus (Against Heresies, bk. 1, ch. 31) denounced a heretical Gnostic sect intent on rehabilitating Judas Iscariot.
They were known as the Cainites because they venerated as saints, all those condemned in Holy Writ. The Cainites presented these evildoers as spiritual heroes: Cain (who murdered his brother Abel), the Sodomites (notorious for their sexual depravity), Esau (who sold his birthright for a plate of lentils, then vowed to kill Jacob), Korah (who led a rebellion against Moses), and especially the “son of perdition,” Judas Iscariot.
These Gnostics deemed most aberrant sexual practices (including sodomy) as a religious duty, and some invoked a special angel as they performed their immoral acts.
Their doctrines are summarized in apocryphal writing, the so-called “Gospel of Judas.”
See: G. Bareille, “Cainites”, in the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, t. 2, 2e. partie, cols. 1307-1309; John Alzog D.D., Manual of Universal Church History. Translated by F. J. Pabisch and Thomas S. Byrne. Vol. I. New Edition. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, O’Connell Street, 1900, pp. 220-221. //archive.org/details/manualofuniversa01alzouoft/page/222/mode/2up (PDF).
Judas’s Obstinacy and Despair
Judas was not a “poor repentant man who did not know what to do,” as Pope Francis said at the sermon of a Mass in the Chapel of Casa Santa Marta on April 11, 2016.16 He knew very well what he was doing, for the Savior had continually warned him. However, he was obstinate in evil.
Saint John recounts that the disciples were scandalized when Our Lord referred to the Eucharist for the first time and in veiled terms, asserting that His Body and Blood were food and drink.
After the Savior challenged the Apostles (“Do you want to leave, too?”) and Saint Peter’s prompt reply full of faith and love, He said these terrible words: “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” The same Evangelist adds: “Now he meant Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon: for this same was about to betray him, whereas he was one of the twelve” (John 6:71–72).
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With his betrayal already consummated by the deal with the Sanhedrin, Judas was hard-hearted enough to attend the Paschal supper with the Savior and the other apostles.
In it, Our Lord announced His Passion and the traitor’s terrible end: “The Son of man indeed goes, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed: it were better for him if that man had not been born. And Judas that betrayed him, answering, said: Is it I, Rabbi? He said to him: Thou hast said it” (Matt. 26:24–25).
As Our Lord answered Saints Peter and John’s question on who the traitor would be, He dipped the bread in the wine and gave it to Judas. Saint John recounts, “And after the morsel, Satan entered into him” (John 13:27). Thus, Our Lord permitted him to consummate his betrayal, making clear he could prevent it if he so wanted (John 13:28–30).
Desperate Judas Hangs Himself
The betrayal shows again Judas’s obstinacy and hardness of heart, as well as his cynicism. Leading the soldiers to arrest his Master, he arranged with them that Jesus would be the one he kissed according to oriental custom.
After that hypocritical kiss, the Divine Master tells the traitor: “Judas, dost thou betray the Son of man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48).
After the Savior’s condemnation, realizing the enormity of his crime, Judas was overcome with remorse, but not contrition. Desperate, he went back to the Jewish priests to return the price of treason but was badly received (“What is that to us? Look thou to it.”). He threw the coins on the Temple floor and went out to hang himself (Matt. 27:3–5).
Saint Peter completes the Gospels’ narrations by saying that he “burst asunder in the midst: and his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18).
“It Were Better For Him If That Man Had Not Been Born”
The Vatican’s newspaper would have done better had it prominently published Jesus’s own words about Judas in the Gospels, as well as texts by Church Fathers and Doctors, great exegetes and saints. All attest to the Church’s constant tradition and interpretation of Scripture on the condemnation of Judas Iscariot.
Our Lord said He would keep all those He had received from the Father: “None of them is lost, but the son of perdition” (John 17:11–12).
These words of the Redeemer leave no doubt about the traitor’s eternal destiny. Were we to rearrange Our Lord’s words for clarity, it could read: “The son of perdition … is the only one lost.”
Judas’s Eternal Damnation, a Revealed Truth
In an article published in 2003, Avery Cardinal Dulles finds it difficult to deny Judas’s eternal damnation:
“The New Testament does not tell us in so many words that any particular person is in hell. But several statements about Judas can hardly be interpreted otherwise. Jesus says that he has kept all those whom the Father has given him except the son of perdition (John 17:12). At another point, Jesus calls Judas a devil (John 6:70), and yet again says of him: ‘It would be better for that man if he had never been born’ (Matthew 26:24; Mark 14:21). If Judas were among the saved, these statements could hardly be true. Many saints and doctors of the Church, including St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, have taken it as a revealed truth that Judas was reprobated.”17
God’s Mercy Is For Those Who Fear Him
In the Magnificat, the Blessed Mother proclaims: “And His mercy is from generation unto generation, to them that fear him” (Luke 1:50).
In the Old Testament, the Lord affirmed His mercy toward those who fear Him, praise Him, and keep His commandments (Ps. 102:17; Exod. 20:6; Deut. 5:10).
The fear of God, which “is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 110:10), is filial reverence for the infinite majesty of Divine Justice, a desire not to offend Him and not to break away from His friendship. In short, filial fear is the fruit of the love of God. Without it, one cannot acquire wisdom.
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Therefore, it is completely absurd to attribute Judas’s salvation to God’s mercy, for he gave no proof of repentance or fear of God. On the contrary, devoured by sterile remorse for his vile betrayal, he hanged himself in desperation.
Are We Seeing a Cainite Rehabilitation of Judas?
In defending Judas the traitor, “the son of perdition” during Holy Week, did the daily newspaper of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication intend to convey a message? It is not easy to know. However, Judas’s rehabilitation in several articles and an editorial highlighted with a front-page reproduction of a painting with homosexual overtones from Pope Francis’s study, smacks of the Cainites, the early Church gnostic heresy denounced by Saint Irenaeus.
In this new Passion of the Church, may Our Lady of Fatima help us always remain at her side, ever faithful to her Divine Son, never fleeing from nor denying Him, no matter how intense the persecution from Satan and his minions.
Last updated April 26, 2021.
- Andrea Monda, “Giovedi Santo: Giuda e lo scandalo della misericordia,” L’Osservatore Romano, Apr. 1, 2021, //www.osservatoreromano.va/it/news/2021-04/quo-074/giuda-e-lo-scandalo-br-della-misericordia.html. (Our translations.)
- Various authors, “Oggi in primo piano—Protagonisti del mistero pasquale: Pilato,” L’Osservatore Romano, Apr. 2, 2021, pp. 1–4, 6, //media.osservatoreromano.va/media/osservatoreromano/pdf/quo/2021/04/QUO_2021_075_0304.pdf.
- Various authors, “Oggi in primo piano—Protagonisti del mistero pasquale: il silenzio del sabato e l’annuncio delle donne,” L’Osservatore Romano, Apr. 3, 2021, pp. 1–3, //media.osservatoreromano.va/media/osservatoreromano/pdf/quo/2021/04/QUO_2021_076_0404.pdf.
- Mass of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady (Sept. 15), Sequence.
- L’Osservatore Romano, Apr. 29-30, 1935, 1, quoted in J. B. Carol, O.F.M, et al., Mariologia (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1964), 766. (Our emphasis.)
- Monda, “Giovedi Santo: Giuda e lo scandalo della misericordia.” (Our emphases.)
- Gian Guido Vecchi, “Il Libro del Papa: “Ho imparato da Giuda che la vergogna è anche una grazia,” Corriere Della Sera, Nov. 22, 2017, //www.corriere.it/cultura/17_novembre_22/papa-francesco-saggio-rizzoli-lev-padre-nostro-6c9abd26-cfa7-11e7-a1da-9278adb4d756.shtml.
- Andrea Tornielli, “The Good Shepherd who carries Judas on his shoulders,” La Stampa/Vatican Insider, June 18, 2016, //www.lastampa.it/vatican-insider/en/2016/06/18/news/the-good-shepherd-who-carries-judas-on-his-shoulders-1.34989269. (Our emphases.)
- Kathleen N. Hattrup, “Satan pays badly, warns pope, calling us to find the ‘Little Judas’ we have within,” Aleteia, Apr. 8, 2020, //aleteia.org/2020/04/08/satan-pays-badly-warns-pope-calling-us-to-find-the-little-judas-we-have-within/. (Our emphasis.)
- Pope Francis, Speech (Discorso Commemorativo del Santo Padre), “Pellegrinaggio del Santo Padre Francesco a Bozzolo (Diocesi de Cremona) e a Barbiana (Diocesi di Firenze) Visita alla Tomba di Don Primo Mazzolari,” Vatican, June 20, 2017, //www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/speeches/2017/june/documents/papa-francesco_20170620_don-primo-mazzolari.html.
- Primo Mazzolari, “Nostro fratello Giuda: L’omelia di don Primo Mazzolari per il Giovedì santo del 1958,” L’Osservatore Romano, Apr. 1, 2021, p. 3, //www.osservatoreromano.va/it/news/2021-04/quo-074/nostro-fratello-giuda.html. (Our emphases.)
- See Giulia Ciarapica, “Il diavolo di Papini, così umano e così divino,” Il Foglio, July 29, 2018, //www.ilfoglio.it/cultura/2018/07/29/news/il-diavolo-di-papini-cosi-umano-e-cosi-divino-207335/.
- Josephine McKenna, “Pope: Judas a sinner, but no worse than anyone else.” USA Today, Oct. 29, 2014, //www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/10/29/pope-francis-judas-sinner/18123227/.
- Saint John Chrysostom, “Homily 80 on Matthew” (Matt. 26:6–7), accessed Apr. 13, 2021, //www.newadvent.org/fathers/200180.htm.
- Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday, accessed Apr. 15, 2021, //www.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Tenebrae_Responsories_for_Maundy_Thursday_(Carlo_Gesualdo).
- Pope Francis, “Aggrappati alla lettera: Meditazione Mattutina Nella Cappella Della Domus Sanctae Marthae, Vatican, Apr. 11, 2016, //www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/cotidie/2016/documents/papa-francesco-cotidie_20160411_aggrappati-alla-lettera.html.
- Avery Cardinal Dulles, “The Population of Hell,” First Things, May 2003, //www.firstthings.com/article/2003/05/the-population-of-hell; John-Henry Westen, “Why is there a painting of a nude Jesus ministering to Judas in Pope Francis’ study?” LifeSiteNews, Apr. 7, 2021, //www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/why-is-there-a-painting-of-a-nude-jesus-ministering-to-judas-in-pope-francis-study.