Catholic World News News Feature
Vatican clarifies: no change in teaching on role of Jews April 04, 2008
The Vatican has issued a statement emphasizing that a revised version of the traditional Good Friday prayer for Jews should not be seen as a change in Catholic teaching regarding the role of the Jewish people.
The 4-paragraph Vatican statement, issued by the Secretariat of State on April 4, responds to protests raised by some Jewish leaders after Pope Benedict XVI released a new version of the prayer for the Good Friday liturgy in the 1962 Roman Missal. While eliminating a reference to the "blindness" of Jews, the Latin-language text retained a prayer for their conversion.
Some Jewish leaders expressed the concern that the revised prayer could be seen as justification for new efforts to convert the Jewish people to Christianity. Such efforts, they said, would clash with the policies followed by the Church since the Second Vatican Council, when the declaration Nostra Aetate formed the basis for a new friendship between Catholics and Jews.
The April 4 document underlines that the revised Good Friday prayer "in no way intends to indicate a change in the Catholic Church's regard for the Jews." The statement notes that in a September 2005 address to the rabbis of Israel, Pope Benedict XVI said that Nostra Aetate "has proven to be a milestone on the road towards the reconciliation of Christians with the Jewish people."
That Vatican II document, the Secretariat of State proclaims, "presents the fundamental principles which have sustained and today continue to sustain the bonds of esteem, dialogue, love, solidarity, and collaboration between Catholics and Jews." Citing the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith, the statement "rejects every attitude of contempt or discrimination against Jews, firmly repudiating any kind of anti-Semitism."
The April 4 statement concludes by underlining the Church's hope that "the growth in esteem between Jews and Christians will continue to develop."
Rabbi David Rosen, a Jewish leader actively involved in talks with Vatican officials, had predicted that the Vatican statement would affirm "the Church's total opposition to proselytizing." But the full text of the Vatican statement does not directly address the question of conversion.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, who heads the Vatican commission for dialogue with Jews, observed in March that Jewish leaders are particularly sensitive to any call for their conversion, viewing such efforts as "a threat to their existence." Cardinal Kasper argued that the prayer for the conversion of the Jewish people should be understood as a reference to the end of time, when all mankind comes to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Acknowledging the concerns raised by Jewish leaders, Cardinal Kasper pointed out that the Vatican has no organized plan for a mission to convert Jews.
However, Cardinal Kasper pointed out in a Vatican Radio interview in February, the amended prayer is fully in keeping with the unchanged doctrine of the Church. In amending the traditional prayer, the German cardinal said: "The Holy Father wanted to say, 'Yes, Jesus Christ is the savior of all men-- including the Jews.'"
The American Jewish Congress welcomed the Vatican statement, emphasizing its support for Nostra Aetate. The statement, said Rabbi Rosen, "is in keeping with the Church's past declared repudiation of all attempts to proselytize among Jews which are incompatible with true esteem and solidarity for the Jewish people."
A key factor in the debate over the Good Friday prayer is the difference between Catholic and Jewish understanding of evangelization. Jewish leaders resent any effort at "proselytizing"-- understood as an aggressive effort to persuade Jews to change their religious beliefs. Catholics insist on their right and duty to evangelize-- meaning to spread the good news of the Gospel to all of the world's peoples. While renouncing any hostility toward the Jewish faith, the April 4 statement from Rome does not call into question the Church's willingness to welcome Jewish individuals into the Catholic fold.