Q - Is a Papal Decree binding? The reason I ask is that I stumbled across this quote today:
"We decree and order that from now on, and for all time, Christians shall not eat or drink with Jews, nor admit them to feasts, nor cohabitate with them, nor bathe with them. Christians shall not allow Jews to hold civil honor over Christians, or to exercise public offices over them."
--Pope Eugenius IV, Decree of 1442
A - Thanks for the question. There are many dark moments in the Church's history where individuals do very bad things. This is one of them. Pope Eugenius IV was playing politics and the Jews got the brunt of it.
There is also an unfortunate history of anti-semitism in many eras of the Church, as in every other part of Western culture. There is no excuse for it. But, the Church has never had any doctrinal statement that is anti-semitic. In fact, all doctrinal statements have been very pro-Israel and pro-Jew, because of the Jewish foundations and necessary part of salvation history. Jesus, Mary, and the apostles were Jews and anti-semitism necessarily means one acts/thinks in an un-Christian manner.
The basics, in this incident cited, goes something like this:
-Pope Eugenius IV was in a power struggle with other Church leaders.
-To win over some allies in Spain he issued restrictions on Jews and those associating with them.
-There is no excuse for it.
-The bull issued is not in any way binding.
A while back I wrote about the different levels of church teaching. This decree of Eugenius IV is of the lowest level and requires no religious submission of intellect or will. A papal bull /decree is not always doctrinal or enforceable ipso facto. It is merely a medium to get a message out. Here the decree should not have been issued and is contrary to the faith. Remember that not every act of a Pope is automatically correct. While given special graces to fulfill his duties as Pope, he has to cooperate with them and can always sin, mess up, or generally act like a fool.
John Paul II apologized for the way in which some Catholics have persecuted Jews over the centuries, and Benedict XVI has continued the push for inter-faith dialogue and peace.
Pray for all non-Christians, for peace, and for forgiveness.