Center for Ethics and Leadership

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Difficulties in Catholic-Jewish Dialogue

It has only been a short time since the exhibit, A Blessing to One Another, closed here at Alvernia University, but certain statements issued by the Catholic Church over the last few months have put a strain on Catholic-Jewish interreligious dialogue.

The first was a correction issued by the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to an earlier document on Catholic-Jewish relations. The correction added that Catholics should always witness their faith. A few days ago, the Vatican approved a change to the Catechism that removed the statement that the covenant with Moses remains eternally valid for the Jews and instead now speaks of the covenants, the promises, the patriarchs, and the law belonging to them. The change was made to indicate that the covenants made with the Jews are fulfilled in Christ said the USCCB.

Add to these two recent statements the restoration a few years ago of the earlier Good Friday liturgy that prays for the conversion of the Jews and the Vatican's ignorance of Bishop Richard Williamson's denial of the Holocaust, and Jewish partners in the dialogue are concerned.

This glass is half-empty and half-full. All of these statements are aimed not externally at Judaism, but internally at Catholic theologians, or for the benefit of traditional Catholics, or at the reconciliation of schismatics with the Church. Unfortunately, interreligious dialogue has changed the rules of the game and theological statements must take the faith of non-Christians and non-Catholic Christians into account before they are finalized. The decrees of Vatican II make this consideration necessary.

Should Christians always witness their faith? Yes. In addition, however, the clarification states explicitly that Catholics should not proselytize Jews, so this statement is of less concern, or should be. Does the covenant with Moses remain eternally valid for Jews? Yes. Although Christians have always seen Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the prophets (read Matthew's Gospel), Paul is very clear in Romans 9-11 about the permanency of God's covenant with the Jews. Consequently, God's relationship with the Jews is God's work, and this Pauline point raises questions about praying for their conversion, something for which Paul never asks. And once Pope Benedict was informed of Bishop's Williamson's statements, he took swift action. Of course, Vatican aides should have caught the problem earlier.

So things have gotten a little rough. Hopefully dialogue will continue. But statements from some rightfully concerned Jews have been harsh. There should be no threat to cut off dialogue, as there has been. More dialogue is called for.


  • This is a disturbing comment that is felt very deeply with me. I cannot begin to imagine the dialogue ending nor do I want the Jews to be proseletized. I think that one who is a Christian, would understand that it was the Jews who carried that covenant with God that now the Christians have as the history and base of their faith. What the Jews deserve is a debt of gratitude for the "old" covenant, because if this hadn't happened there would be no one they call the messiah. Also I would like to point out that even in the "new" testament it repeatedly states, " to the Jew first and then to the Gentile". Therefore the Jews haven't been replaced, and their covanants with God still remain only to them.

    By Anonymous "Who I am", At September 17, 2009 7:02 AM  

  • If, as a Protestant pastor, I am not considered to even be an heir to salvation, since I am not part of a real church, how do non-Christians expect to be respected and honored? The pope should just not deal with ecumenism or interfaith dialogue if he can't be more respectful.

    By Blogger Steve Ohnsman, At September 18, 2009 8:50 AM  

  • Ignorance would never really something I connected with the Catholic church and the Vatican, but it seems like the direction the Vatican is headed is down the road to borderline anti-semitism. The loss of Pope John Paul II was the end of what I feel full tolerance towards non-Catholics, excluding other Christians. Pope Benedict is doing his best, but it's almost feels to me like he's undoing a lot of the good JP II put into place. Personally, I would love to see a world-wide interfaith council to allow some of the misguided in all of the churches of the world to feel the repercussions of their actions.

    By Anonymous Corey, At September 20, 2009 11:57 AM  

  • There exists in organizational theory what is termed "unintended consequences". People in public positions need to consider the consequences of their words and actions more carefully than some of the rest of us. "All of these statements are aimed not externally at Judiasm, but internally to Catholic theologians", the law of unintended consequences suggests that the originators of these comments should be more conscientious of the impact of their words and the power implied by their positions. There are so many troubles confronting our world today some Judeo-Christian cooperation, rather than concerns about inter-faith conversions, might have to potential to bring blessings to us all.

    By Blogger kobe2, At September 20, 2009 12:01 PM  

  • I would like to say that I firmly agree with Who I am in that the Christian faith basically began because of the Jews and their covenent with God. Christ himself was not merely a Christian, but a Jew and we hold him in such high standards. He is God and God is he, so does that mean we would stop dialogue with God?

    By Anonymous MBower, At September 22, 2009 3:33 PM  

  • "Why can't we all just get along?"

    I find that many religious arguments are completely hypocritical to each other. For two strong religious faiths to argue between each other is completely ridiculous. Instead of arguing maybe they should find peace between them to represent a more holy and properly represented group.

    By Anonymous Sean Hartman, At September 24, 2009 7:48 AM  

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