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?