Friday, September 04, 2009

The Old/New Future of Catholic-Jewish Relations

In 1965 Vatican II began a long process toward Jewish–Catholic rapprochement that eventually produced the 2002 document on interfaith understanding called “Reflections on Covenant and Mission.” In this document the Church affirmed the Jewish mission in the world and the value of Judaism as a unique and authentic way to God.

Pretty radical stuff. Too radical it turns out, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has just published a new statement clarifying certain ambiguities in the 2002 document.

The 2002 paper said, “both the Church and the Jewish people abide in covenant with God;” and that both Catholicism and Judaism “have missions before God to undertake in the world,” and that the Jewish mission “must not be curtailed [by Catholics] seeking the conversion of the Jewish people.”

That seems pretty unambiguous to me, but, then, I’m not Catholic. To help ambiguity prone Catholics understand the meaning of the 2002 statement, the American Bishops clarified it by saying that the only way Jews can fulfill their mission is by converting to Catholicism. And, just in case you found that clarification a bit murky, they charged every Catholic to convert every Jew “in every generation.”

Wow! I guess the 2002 document really was ambiguous, since it seemed to say just the opposite!

Then there was the equally ambiguous notion from 2002 that interfaith dialogue was for the “sharing of gifts, devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner into baptism.” Clarifying that confusing statement, the Conference now tells us that it is the job of the Catholic dialogue partner to promote Catholicism and to invite her fellow partners in dialogue to follow Christ.

That really helps. I thought the earlier statement about being “devoid of any intention whatsoever” to convert the other person meant that Catholics were to be “devoid of any intention whatsoever” to convert the other person when in fact it meant that Catholics are obligated to convert the other person. I mean, talk about ambiguity!

How bad is this going to get? Before his death last year at 90 years of age, Cardinal Avery Dulles, a major American Catholic theologian, declared the Jews’ covenant with God “obsolete,” and let my people know that there is no salvation outside the Church. And earlier this year Pope Benedict XVI welcomed back into the priestly fold Richard Williamson the formerly excommunicated Holocaust denier. And last year he reinstated the Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of all Jews. So it is safe to say that it isn’t safe anymore?

If this was 1492 and I lived in Catholic Spain under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, I would seriously think about moving to Amsterdam. But for now I’ll just avoid walking by a Catholic Church after Good Friday services. Still I think I’ll purchase a few open tickets to the Netherlands just in case. Spinoza, anyone?


dtedac said...

Shalom Rabbi Rami,

I am one Catholic who is not at all happy with the "clarification of ambiguities." There were no ambiguities in the 2002 document, as you say. This document is just an attempted reversal by conservative bishops who want to follow the new hard line from Rome. The result of all of this is to derail any progress that Jews and Catholics have made.

I studied Avery Dulles in Theology class, and it sounds like he also turned rather conservative at the end of his life. The Jewish covenant obsolete? Huh? And let's not discuss B16 because he has been extremely damaging to all interfaith relations.

My ancestors were Azorean Portuguese, and according to genetic studies of people from the islands, there may be a chance that one of my relatives was one of the "new Christians" who were under the microscope of the Inquisition. I can't imagine anything more horrible than to return to the hatred and injustice of those times.

There will be many Catholics who will not follow this teaching. I hope that the Church does not reap the whirlwind for this, but I am afraid it will. God help us!

Shabat shalom,

Maggid said...


Okay, what happened to "The Same, Yesterday, Today, Forever . . . ?"

hm . . someone's got
"lots of splainin' to do, Lucy."