Action Alert!
Catholic World News

Jewish organizations disturbed by archdiocese’s support of Hebrew Catholics

August 06, 2010

Local Jewish leaders are disturbed by the Archdiocese of St. Louis’s support for the Association of Hebrew Catholics, an organization that works to preserve the identity and heritage of Catholics of Jewish origin within the Church. The association was welcomed into the archdiocese by Archbishop Raymond Burke in 2006; Auxiliary Bishop Robert Hermann and the rector of the cathedral basilica will offer Mass at the group’s October conference.

“One of the things that the Jewish community knows, or should know, with confidence is that the Catholic church does not proselytize, particularly to Jews,” said Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Aroesty’s comment illustrates the ambiguity of the word “proselytism” in interreligious and ecumenical relations. While the term is commonly a synonym for any missionary activity, the Church’s Magisterium distinguishes evangelization-- the proclamation of the Gospel-- from proselytism, defined as the proclamation of the Gospel by unworthy means. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith noted in 2007:

[T]o evangelize does not mean simply to teach a doctrine, but to proclaim Jesus Christ by one’s words and actions, that is, to make oneself an instrument of his presence and action in the world. Every person has the right to hear the ‘Good News’ of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ, so that each one can live out in its fullness his or her proper calling … In the Christian context, the term proselytism was often used as a synonym for missionary activity. More recently, however, the term has taken on a negative connotation, to mean the promotion of a religion by using means, and for motives, contrary to the spirit of the Gospel; that is, which do not safeguard the freedom and dignity of the human person.

Pope Benedict has spoken frankly on the issue of Jewish conversion to Christianity in two little-noticed addresses. In a March 2006 general audience, he taught that

the number twelve, which evidently refers to the twelve tribes of Israel, already reveals the meaning of the prophetic-symbolic action implicit in the new initiative to re-establish the holy people. As the system of the twelve tribes had long since faded out, the hope of Israel awaited their restoration as a sign of the eschatological time. In choosing the Twelve, introducing them into a communion of life with himself and involving them in his mission of proclaiming the Kingdom in words and works, Jesus wants to say that the definitive time has arrived in which to constitute the new People of God, the people of the twelve tribes, which now becomes a universal people, his Church. With their very own existence, the Twelve -- called from different backgrounds -- become an appeal for all of Israel to convert and allow herself to be gathered into the new covenant, complete and perfect fulfillment of the ancient one.

In a January 2009 Sunday Angelus address, the Pontiff returned to the theme, noting that “in Paul's case, some prefer not to use this term [conversion] because, they say, he was already a believer, rather a fervent Hebrew, and therefore he did not pass from no faith to the faith, from the idols to God, nor did he have to abandon the Hebrew faith to adhere to Christ. Actually, the Apostle's experience can be the model of every authentic Christian conversion … In this consists his and our conversion: in believing in Jesus dead and risen and in opening to the illumination of his divine grace.”


For all current news, visit our News home page.

Further information:
Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Aug. 06, 2010 8:15 AM ET USA

    To Ms Aroesty: "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" and "There is no other Name under heaven by which men are saved." Sorry, we're going to keep trying to convert non-Catholics to the faith. You can't intimidate us.