VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a ringing endorsement of the world's best-known traitor, the Vatican's most prestigious publication has dedicated its Maundy Thursday Italian edition to rehabilitating Judas Iscariot through word and art.
L'Osservatore Romano's cover page features a painting of a naked Jesus by an unnamed artist bending over a dead Judas who has a blood-red loincloth around his waist. The tree on which Judas has hung himself is in the background.
In the front-page editorial titled "Judas and the Scandal of Mercy," which accompanies the illustration, the newspaper's director Andrea Monda reveals that L'Osservatore Romano decided this year to highlight the "most tragic and unsettling" figure in the New Testament.
Monda, however, does not disclose the painter's name or the title of the painting. Instead, he praises the work as having "dizzying expressive power," which "can be admired on the front page" of the publication.
The editorial writer explains that the painting is the "fruit of the meditations" of Pope Francis' book Quando pregate dite Padre Nostro (When you pray say Our Father).
In the 2018 book, Francis speaks of Judas and God's mercy, basing his theological argument for the likelihood of Judas' salvation on a sculpture of the traitor carved on the capital of a column in the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene in Vézelay, Burgundy.
Monda informs the reader that Francis has a picture of this sculpture hung behind his desk in his study and explains that the painting on the front page of L'Osservatore Romano is from the brush of a French Catholic who was inspired by Francis' reflections on the "same sculpture that portrays Jesus as the Good Shepherd carrying Judas as the last lost sheep."
The French Catholic decided to paint this picture and give it to the pope. This painting of Jesus bending over Judas now occupies the pride of place on the wall in the papal study next to the image of the sculpture of Jesus carrying Judas, Monda reveals.
"There is no need for words to comment on this scene — which is powerful, precisely it is true for the believer," Monda comments. "The crucified Christ embraces Judas after having removed him from the tree on which he committed suicide."
Drawing on St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians where the Apostle speaks of "the scandal of proclaiming the crucified Christ," Monda stresses "the mercy of the dead and risen Jesus is the source [stone] of scandal even today in a world accustomed to condemning rather than forgiving."
L'Osservatore Romano's inside pages dedicated to Judas also feature a controversial 1958 Maundy Thursday sermon preached in Bozzolo, Mantua, by partisan and pacifist Fr. Primo Mazzolari.
Titled "Our Brother Judas," Mazzolari's homily exhorts the faithful to have "a little pity on our poor brother Judas."
"Don't be ashamed to take on this brotherhood. I am not ashamed of it, because I know how many times I have betrayed the Lord; and I don't think any of you should be ashamed of him," Mazzolari urges.
"And by calling him brother, we are using the language of the Lord," Mazzolari preaches. "See, Judas, our brother! Brother in this common misery and this surprise! ... I also love Judas; he is my brother Judas."
The priest climaxes his sermon by saying he will pray for Judas this evening, "because I don't judge, I don't condemn. I should judge myself; I should sentence myself."
Mazzolari concludes with the suggestion that Judas may have been saved because of the "mercy of God," especially as the word "friend" used by Jesus to address him would have "made its way into his poor heart."
"Perhaps [Judas] is first Apostle who entered [into paradise] with the two thieves," Mazzolari declares.
There are also three short essays including an excerpt from a book by former Milanese cardinal Carlo Maria Martini titled "The Darkness and the Light."
Martini quotes Mazzolari on Judas insisting "there is something in each of us that recalls his [Judas'] personality traits" and we all have "Judas within us."
The hugely controversial postwar writer Giuseppe Berto — who was a fascist in his youth and later described himself as an "anarchist out of desperation and disgust" — also features in the Holy Thursday edition of the Holy See's newspaper, which publishes two excerpts from his 1978 book, The Glory.
According to Berto's retelling of the betrayal, Judas has no intention of betraying Jesus. It is the gospel writer John who distorts the story by a dishonest portrayal of the hapless figure of Judas.
"I was one of yours, and I know that in a certain way I was too and perhaps most loved until the end, but John, who hated me, hastened in his story to exclude me from your love," Berto's reconstructed Judas tells Jesus.
"It's not true. In my mind, up to a certain point of the dinner, there was no betrayal, but only the desperate resignation to do whatever you had commanded me to do," Judas says. "I, Judas, marked by you as a son of perdition, was I simply an instrument for the fulfillment of Scripture."
A final essay is by Giovanni Papini — a controversial novelist and popularizer of the literary schools of pragmatism, futurism and post-decadence.
The excerpt from Papini's 1921 book, "The Story of Christ," argues that Judas must have had an ulterior motive to betray Jesus as 30 silver coins was "a very small sum of money, especially for a man who was coveted by wealth."
Sources close to the Vatican told Church Militant that Andrea Monda was merely restating the theology of Pope Francis, "who has been seeking to rehabilitate Judas under the rubric of 'mercy' — a leitmotif of the Francis pontificate."
In 2016, Francis speculated: "Perhaps if he had met the Virgin Mary, things would have gone differently, but the poor man goes away, doesn't find a way out of his situation, and he went to hang himself."
"I do not claim that Judas is in Heaven and saved. But I do not claim the opposite," Francis told Die Zeit in 2017.
On Wednesday of Holy Week 2020, Francis again suggested that Judas may have been forgiven:
"How did Judas end? I don't know," Francis asked, quoting Jesus: "Woe to that man from whom the Son of Man is betrayed — better for that man if he had never been born!"
"Does this mean that Judas is in Hell? I don't know. I look at the Gospel and, He calls him 'friend,' and He kisses him," the pontiff said.
Catholic New Testament scholar Raymond Brown in The Death of the Messiah explains that Jesus is using irony. There is irony in Judas greeting Jesus with a kiss and saying, "Hail, Rabbi!" Jesus responds with equal irony: "Friend, do what you came to do."
Jesus also does not use the word for a bosom friend, i.e. philos. Instead, He calls Judas hetairos — comrade or colleague — a term used exclusively by Matthew and always used negatively.
Moreover, biblical scholars note that Judas does not repent since Matthew uses the Greek verb metameslesthai, not metanoia, to describe Judas' "remorse" or "regret." This verb is very occasionally translated as "repent."