Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Catholic World News News Feature

ADL injects new tension in Catholic-Jewish dialogue June 24, 2009

In the latest show of tensions between Catholic and Jewish leaders, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has issued a critical statement about a document released by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). ADL president Abraham Foxman said that the bishops' statement might be considered "unacceptable."

Unacceptable to whom?

In their statement, released without fanfare at the close of their meeting last week, the American bishops corrected several defects in an earlier statement, Reflections on Covenant and Mission, which had been produced as a joint product of Catholic and Jewish authors in 2002. The clarification, as the new document explained, was necessary to clear up some false impressions about the nature of Catholic teaching. In other words the US bishops, through their committee on doctrine, were doing what Catholic bishops are morally obligated to do: providing clear guidance about the authentic teachings of the Church.

In a sense it goes without saying that some Catholic teachings will be "unacceptable" to Jews. After all, if a Jew accepts all of the teachings of the Church, he becomes a convert to Catholicism. And conversion is precisely the question on which the latest tensions arise.

The ADL criticism of the new USCCB document centers on the idea that in undertaking religious dialogue with Jewish counterparts, Catholics do not entirely renounce the hope that their Jewish partners in this dialogue might come to recognize the truth of the Catholic faith. The 2002 document had conveyed the impression that there is no reason for a Jew to be baptized into the Church. The new USCCB document notes that this earlier text "could lead some to conclude mistakenly that Jews have an obligation not to become Christian and that the Church has a corresponding obligation not to baptize Jews."

"This is an objectionable understanding of Jewish-Catholic relations," announces the ADL in its complaint. The ADL press release continues:

The League called on the Bishops Conference to reaffirm the sentence from the original document that states that interfaith dialogue with Jews is devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism.

The US bishops cannot possibly provide the reassurance that the ADL wants; to do so would be to renounce the mission entrusted to the Church by Christ Himself: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

If Catholics believe that theirs is the one true faith, that the Church founded by Christ is the conduit of all grace and the instrument of salvation, it would be heartless to deny their Jewish interlocutors an opportunity to enter that Church and enjoy the full fruits of Christ's redemptive work. On the other hand if the Catholics engaged in inter-religious dialogue do not believe that the Church is the one true faith and the way to salvation, then they are not giving their Jewish partners an accurate understanding of Catholic teaching.

So we are left between a rock and a hard place. To render Church teachings accurately means running the risk that those teachings might give offense. To water down those teachings is to prevent genuine inter-religious understanding-- and to insult one's partners in dialogue.

Fortunately there is a way out of this quandary. Anyone who enters into inter-religious dialogue in a spirit of goodwill must come to the table prepared to accept the likelihood that his partners will make some statements that he finds theologically objectionable. The whole pupose of the inter-religious enterprise is to go beyond the hurling of mutual anathemas, to assume the goodwill of other parties in spite of serious differences, and to search for common ground beyond those disputes.

To put it differently, inter-religious dialogue presumes that neither party will attempt to cajole or browbeat the other into a change in religious beliefs. Jewish participants may want assurances that the dialogue is not merely a pretext for an attempt at conversion; Catholics are quite ready to give that assurance. In return, Jewish leaders should realize that Catholics cannot alter established Church doctrine simply to ease the tensions that are inevitable in this dialogue.

Rabbi Yehiel Poupko, a Chicago scholar, was not terribly pleased with the USCCB statement. Yet he told John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter: "No faith community should turn to another and tell them what to believe." Exactly. If the ADL wants to be sure that Catholics will not inveigle Jews into dialogue in order to "tell them what to believe," then the ADL should show the same courtesy to Catholics.