Talking Catholic-Jewish relations, popes and holidays

Here’s hoping you had a good holiday.

Just before Holy Week and Passover, Archbishop Dolan and Arnold Eisen — chancellor of the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary — had a conversation about Catholic-Jewish relations at the seminary in NYC.

Actually, Dolan spoke. Then the two religious leaders chatted.

According to Catholic New York and the Jewish Week, Dolan said that Catholic-Jewish relations were characterized for a long time by “grievances” but could now focus on a “a dialogue of mutuality,” which I believe means issues of mutual concern.

One issue that Jews and Catholics face, Dolan said, is “stopping the leakage of faithful.”

Dolan acknowledged Jewish support for the beatification of Pope John Paul II, who may have done more for Christian-Jewish relations than anyone. “I’ve been moved by how many of you have expressed your desire to join with us Catholics in thanking God for the gift of John Paul’s leadership,” he said.

On the always emotional question of Pope Pius XII’s record of condemning the Holocaust, CNY reported that Dolan said this:


“As a trained historian, I very much look forward to the opening of the Vatican archives at the earliest possible date,” he said. “The Catholic Church cannot fear the truth.” But he added, “I do resist the circular argument being advanced by many that says the purpose for opening the Vatican archives is to prove the guilt of Pius XII. We must remember that it is impossible to judge moral responsibility when the facts themselves have not yet been clearly established.”


On the same question, Eisen said: “I’m going to leave it to the experts and activists on the Pope Pius XII matter. He [Archbishop Dolan] said he wants to start without preconceptions and with openness. I welcome the initiative.”

On the possibility that Pius could be beatified before the historical record is clear, Eisen said: “I think there will be a certain amount of disappointment if that turns out to be the case. I understand the Church is also moving ahead with the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and people will welcome that.”

CNY also reported this exchange:


During the informal dialogue between the archbishop and the chancellor, Eisen asked, rhetorically, what lesson should be drawn from Easter and Passover, and Archbishop Dolan answered, “The towering necessity of hope” symbolized by Israel’s escape from bondage in Egypt and Christ’s resurrection from the dead and promise of eternal life.

Catholic-Anglican, Catholic-Jewish updates

A couple of quick updates:

1. I tried to make some sense yesterday of the Vatican’s plans for welcoming disaffected Anglicans. Seveal readers thought it’s a bigger deal than I did — and they may be right.

tjndc5-5b1zfjkl3wh1kt3dbk3i_layoutI got a pithy reaction from Bishop Catherine Roskam, the assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which I share here:


We appreciate the welcome the pope extended to those in the Anglican communion who are disaffected. We for our part continue to welcome our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, both lay and ordained, conservative and liberal, who wish to belong to a church that treasures diversity of thought.


John Allen has a comprehensive analysis of “What the Vatican’s Welcome of Anglicans means” HERE.

2. I wrote at the start of the week about Archbishop Dolan planning to take part in a program about Catholic-Jewish relations with the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC.

It turns out that Dolan will be focusing quite a bit about Catholic relations with the Jewish community — and not just in New York.

tjndc5-5p0fc6hpy5iqbjxb6h4_thumbnailHe’s been named Moderator of Jewish Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a pretty significant role. He’s replacing Cardinal William H. Keeler, the retired Archbishop of Baltimore, who has been a key international figure in Catholic-Jewish relations.

The appointment is effective Nov. 11 and is good for five years.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the Bishops  Conference, says:


Since the Second Vatican Council, important strides in this relationship have been made through dialogue and collaboration in countering racism, anti-Semitism and other offenses against human dignity. Our Episcopal Conference, through the leadership of your predecessors in New York, and especially through the tireless and generous service of Cardinal William Keeler, has sought to contribute to the work of reconciliation between the Church and the Jewish people after centuries of mutual estrangement. While we look back with gratitude on nearly a half century of progress in these efforts at healing and renewal, we also know that important and pressing challenges lie ahead for us.


George also said that the Jewish community will find Dolan to be “a friend who communicates the joy of his own faith, while at the same time conveying profound respect for the spiritual gifts of the other.”

Dolan will join Keeler on November 11 for the semi-annual USCCB’s consultation with the National Council of Synagogues — with Dolan taking over as co-chair.

Archbishop Dolan, JTS’s Eisen to talk Catholic-Jewish stuff

Archbishop Dolan will share the stage with a prominent Jewish leader next month to speak about an always interesting subject (and one that’s surprisingly sensitive at the moment): the state of Catholic-Jewish relations.

He’ll discuss the subject with Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, on Nov. 5. The occasion will be the seventeenth annual Nostra Aetate Dialogue at Fordham U.

tjndc5-5qxce77ojdg11ntdqa9f_layoutThe event will take place at the McNally Amphitheatre at Fordham University Law School, 140 West 62nd Street.

Edward Bristow, professor of History at Fordham University, will moderate.

Catholic-Jewish relations have generally been bright in recent years, improving by the decade since Vatican II. But there has been some…strain…the past few years.

Mel Gibson’s movie made a lot of people uncomfortable a while back.

Then Pope B16 urged wider use of the Latin Mass, raising concerns about a once-a-year Good Friday prayer urging conversion of the Jews.

Early this year, B16 lifted the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who happened to be a Holocaust-denier.

tjndc5-5bqpzs3t3fts6xgf2g9_layoutAnd most recently, Jewish leaders have been peeved about a legalistic statement from the Catholic bishops of the U.S. that said that even though the Catholic Church recognizes the covenant between God and the Jewish people, Catholics must affirm their belief that Jesus Christ “fulfills God’s revelation begun with Abraham.”

The statement includes:


With St. Paul, we acknowledge that God does not regret, repent of, or change his mind about the “gifts and the call” that he has given to the Jewish people (Rom 11:29). At the same time, we also believe that the fulfillment of the covenants, indeed, of all God’s promises to Israel, is found only in Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, the right to hear this Good News belongs to every generation.


When one considers the near-miraculous improvements in Catholic-Jewish relations over the past 40 years — and we’re talking about a deep and meaningful relationship — one could make the case that the events of recent years are minor and somewhat inevitable, given the real differences between the religions.

Still, it will be quite interesting to see how Dolan and Eisen, two personable and articulate men, frame these issues and concerns.

Eisen (that’s him, below), who came to JTS in 2007, has expressed a great interest in interreligious work. This is a good opportunity for him to make a significant contribution on issues of interest to many people.

Archbishops of New York are remembered, in part, by how well they get along with New York’s large and influential Jewish community. Cardinal O’Connor, of course, was the Archbishop of Catholic-Jewish Relations, beloved by New York’s Jewish community.

Cardinal Egan got along well with the JC, but he was more reticent (as he was with all things).

Dolan got rave reviews from Milwaukee’s Jewish community, and got off to a good start here, as well.

You have to figure that when he gets to Fordham, he’ll be well-versed on the issues and concerns out there and ready to soothe them.

Clarifying the Catholic view of the Jewish covenant

This is an interesting moment in the long journey that is…Catholic/Jewish relations.

As I’ve noted before, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement not long ago to clarify the church’s relationship with the Jewish people. The statement noted that while the Catholic Church does not proselytize the Jewish people, it does invite the Jews, like all others, to follow Christ.

Many Jewish leaders did not react well, and talks have been held.

Father James Massa, Executive Director for the USCCB’s Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, told the Catholic News Agency: “As Catholics involved in a dialogue of truth, we cannot help but give witness to Christ, who, for us, is synonymous with truth. Without acknowledging our indebtedness to God’s revelation in Christ, we cannot sit at the table and speak as Christians about how we arrive at notions of justice, compassion and building up the common good—the very values our interreligious dialogues seek to foster.”

The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg wrote: “Forty-four years of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation, set in motion by the Second Vatican Council in 1965 and nudged forward by thousands of hours of dialogue and theological review, appear to be in jeopardy right now, threatened by an ideological battle inside the Catholic Church.”

More recently, the Vatican has approved a revision to the Catholic Catechism that further clarifies what Catholics should believe about the Jewish covenant with God.

The first version: “Thus the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them.”

The revision: “To the Jewish people, whom God first chose to hear his Word, ‘belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ.’”

A statement from the Bishops Conference said the teaching is not new: “The clarification reflects the teaching of the Church that all previous covenants that God made with the Jewish people are fulfilled in Jesus Christ through the new covenant established through his sacrificial death on the cross. Catholics believe that the Jewish people continue to live within the truth of the covenant God made with Abraham, and that God continues to be faithful to them.”

More talks, you can bet, will be held.

Is ‘witness’ different than ‘proselytism?’

I posted something recently about the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference issuing a statement to clarify the Catholic Church’s relationship to the Jewish people — primarily to note the ongoing Catholic responsibility to witness to the truth of the faith.

The bishops issued the statement because of concerns that a paper issued by Catholic and Jewish leaders in 2002 had left the impression that the Catholic Church, by recognizing the ongoing Jewish covenant with God, had resigned its role to witness to the Jewish people.

Yesterday, the Bishops Conference released a fascinating statement about a June 25 meeting in NYC between Catholic and Orthodox Jewish leaders, part of an ongoing dialogue.

The statement, a press release actually, was very blunt about Orthodox Jewish unhappiness with the bishops’ clarifying statement.

Granted, this stuff may be too “inside baseball” for many. But some (including me) are fascinated by interreligious dialogue and the very nuanced challenges that often arise.

Here is a key hunk of the Bishops Conference statement:


At the June 25 meeting, David Berger, Ph.D., head of the Jewish Studies Department at Yeshiva College, New York City, cited “grave” concerns of some in the Jewish community about the Note, which was prepared by the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine and Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Orthodox Jews can tolerate any Christian view on the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ as savior of all, but they cannot agree to participate in an interfaith dialogue that is a cover for proselytism, Berger said.

The Note affirmed that interreligious dialogue involves “a mutually enriching sharing of gifts,” but also asserted that giving witness to the following of Christ is implicit in every faithful encounter with persons of other religious convictions.

Berger and the other Jewish participants asked if the “implicit witnessing to Christ” means, in effect, a subtle attempt to convert Jews to Christianity, which would render interreligious dialogue with Catholics illegitimate and “dangerous” from an Orthodox Jewish standpoint. “We take apostasy very seriously,” he said, referring to the abandonment of Judaism for another religion.

Father James Massa, Executive Director for the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the USCCB, assured participants that interreligious dialogue for the Catholic bishops is never about proselytism or any coercive methods that would lead a person to abandon his or her religious convictions.

“The important term in this discussion is ‘witness,’” Father Massa said. “As Catholics involved in a dialogue of truth, we cannot help but give witness to Christ, who, for us, is synonymous with truth. Without acknowledging our indebtedness to God’s revelation in Christ, we cannot sit at the table and speak as Christians about how we arrive at notions of justice, compassion and building up the common good—the very values our interreligious dialogues seek to foster.”


I haven’t seen any statements from either of the two Orthodox Jewish groups that participated.

This could be a good time to read John Allen’s recent column, “Hard Truths About Jews and Catholics,” which raises a lot of interesting issues about the state of Catholic-Jewish relations (and how to move on from here).

Have a great 4th (whether that means today, tomorrow or both).

Catholic bishops clarify points on how the church relates to the Jewish people

Seven years after Catholic and Jewish scholars worked on a document about evangelism, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference has issued a few clarifying points about how the Catholic Church relates to the Jewish community.

In a release sent out today, the Bishops Conference explains that the original document, called “Reflections on Covenant and Mission,” raised “many questions among Catholics” in the U.S. about the church’s relationship with the Jewish people.

The statement includes this:


Bishop William Lori, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and Pastoral Practice, stated that there were two key points at issue.

“The USCCB reaffirms what the Holy See has stated repeatedly: that while the Catholic Church does not proselytize the Jewish people, neither does she fail to witness to them her faith in Christ, nor to welcome them to share in that same faith whenever appropriate.” Bishop Lori said. He added that current debates over the question of how Catholics understand the covenant with Moses in relation to Christ were equally important. The covenant with Moses, that continues to be adhered to by Jews today, is fulfilled, Christians believe, in Jesus.

“As followers of Jesus, we see his covenant as fulfilling God’s plan for the salvation of all peoples, both now and at the end of time,” Bishop Lori said.


The Bishops Conference also released a four-page “note on ambiguities contained” in the original document.

The note concludes with this:


With St. Paul, we acknowledge that God does not regret, repent of, or change his mind about the “gifts and the call” that he has given to the Jewish people (Rom 11:29). At the same time, we also believe that the fulfillment of the covenants, indeed, of all God’s promises to Israel, is found only in Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, the right to hear this Good News belongs to every generation. Fulfilling the mandate given her by the Lord, the Church, respecting human freedom, proclaims the truths of the Gospel in love.

What would Rabbi Klenicki say about Holocaust-denying bishop?

I should note the passing on Sunday of Rabbi Leon Klenicki, a pioneer in the world of interfaith relations, particularly relations between Jews and Catholics.

From the post-Vatican II period through the 1980s, when Catholic-Jewish relations blossomed in ways that could not have been previously foreseen, Klenicki was one of the most visible Jewish figures who met with popes, cardinals and Catholic theologians.

He was made a papal knight in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Klenicki worked as the head of interfaith affairs for the ADL before retiring at the end of 2000. Interestingly, he was for a long time professor of Jewish studies at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, Long Island.

In a touching letter to Klenicki’s wife, Cardinal William H. Keeler, Archbishop Emeritus of Baltimore and one of the Catholic Church’s pointmen on Catholic-Jewish relations, wrote:

One can only look back on Leon’s career with gratitude to God for the paths that he opened up for so many religious leaders committed to reversing centuries of estrangement between their own faith community and other traditions. His innovative lecture at the first continent-wide Latin American meeting of Catholics and Jews in 1968 elucidated, for the first time in that milieu, the practical and pastoral implications of Vatican’s II renewed teaching on the Jewish people and Judaism, captured famously in the decree Nostra aetate. Later on, Leon labored as an advisor to Catholic educators, even while carrying on his other ample responsibilities for the Reform Jewish movement in the U.S. and for the Anti-Defamation League as its chief interreligious officer. In his vast body of writings, Leon identified the principles of a new methodology in the way Catholics speak of their “elder brothers and sisters in the faith” in both catechetical and homiletic contexts. As a teacher to Catholic seminarians, as a friend to bishops, priests, and lay scholars—and as a respectful critic of whatever he perceived as departing from the necessary agenda of advancing mutual respect and understanding between Jews and Christians—Leon was a prophetic voice in our dialogues.

Ironically, Klenicki’s death comes as Catholic-Jewish relations are feeling some strain. The pope’s decision to lift the excommunication of four “traditionalist” bishops, one of whom says that no Jews were gassed by Nazi Germany, has produced a loud outcry.

In a somewhat shocking move today, Israel’s chief rabbinate severed ties with the Vatican to protest the decision. The chief rabbis of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, who signed a letter to the Vatican, canceled a meeting with the Vatican that was scheduled for March.

Pope Benedict today said he feels “full and indisputable solidarity” with Jews and, according to the AP, warned against any Holocaust denial.

Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said “the difficulties expressed by the Israeli Rabbinate can be subjected to further and deeper reflection.”

What would Rabbi Klenicki say, one wonders?

How do you sum up Catholic-Jewish relations — in 6 inches

The day is young and I’ve already had two calls complaining about the headline on my article in the Journal News today. It reads:

Pope strains Catholic-Jewish relations

By comparison, the headline on is: Jewish leaders have mixed feelings


I have to go with the LoHud headline, which is very general but more on the mark.

A bit of background: I set out to talk to Jewish leaders about the pope. What is their impression of him so far? How is he doing following John Paul II, who dramatically changed the course of Catholic-Jewish relation? How big a deal is the flap over the Latin Good Friday prayer “for the conversion of the Jews?”

I spoke to several significant Jewish leaders, including two who will officially greet the pope at an interreligious gathering in Washington. In general, the reviews were good. Very good.

Although there are real concerns about the Good Friday prayer (I’m not going to get into them right here), Jewish leaders respect Benedict. They are aware of what he’s written about Judaism, going back decades. They respect him as a serious scholar. They like him — and they believe that he likes them.

So…Pope strains Catholic-Jewish relations just doesn’t do it. (The subhead is: Leaders question move on controversial prayer.)

Of course, the headline writer had only about 6 inches of space to work with. Headlines are difficult to write. What would have been better?

How about:

Jewish leaders respect pope’s record

But want to hear more

about Good Friday prayer

A Jewish perspective on a Catholic prayer (about the Jews)

If you want to hear the Jewish perspective on the somewhat controversial Catholic prayer for converting Jews that is part of the Latin liturgy for Good Friday, now you can…

david-rosen-homepage-portrait.jpgThe American Jewish Committee has posted a video of Rabbi David Rosen, the highly regarded and dapper director of the AJC’s Department of Interreligious Affairs, explaining the Jewish view on the prayer.

You can watch it here.

It is a measured account, from the Jewish perspective, of the history of the prayer and how Jews feel as Good Friday nears.

He says that a recently revised version of the prayer is “not derogatory” toward Jews, but is still disappointing because “it still asks Jews to find the fullness of salvation in faith in Jesus.”

Rosen calls the whole issue a “glitch” in Catholic/Jewish relations, and insists that the Jewish community mostly wants the Catholic Church to explain that its feelings toward the Jewish people have not changed.

“We’re not in the business of telling the Catholic Church what to pray,” he says. (Clearly, some Catholics will say this is exactly what he’s trying to do.)

It is important to note that few Catholics will actually participate in a Latin liturgy on Good Friday. The vast majority will be part of a post-Vatican II liturgy that only gently refers to the Jewish people.

Rosen is a heavy hitter here, as he is also chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultation, which generally represents other Jewish groups in interfaith talks.

A LATE ADD: Whispers in the Loggia notes that:

(Cardinal Walter) Kasper also announced that a “delegation from Jerusalem” would come to the Vatican later this month in light of the continuing controversy over the 1962 Missal’s recently revised prayer for the conversion of the Jewish people. Underscoring the importance of the session, the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB will lead the Vatican group at the discussion.