Relations between Catholicism and Judaism

Relations between Catholicism and Judaism

This article on relations between Catholicism and Judaism deals with the current relationship between the Catholic Church and Judaism, focusing on changes over the last fifty years, and especially during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. For an overview historical relations, see anti-Judaism.


As a reaction to the Holocaust, many theologians, religious historians and educators dedicated their efforts to seek reconciliation between Christians and Jews. By reconciliation it was meant that Christianity sought to understand how its antisemitic teachings over millennia contributed to the Holocaust, to ensure it did not happen again. It was not an effort to synchronize the theological positions of the two religions, Christianity and Judaism.

econd World War to 2005

The Second Vatican Council, commonly known as "Vatican II", was a pastoral ecumenical council of the Catholic church opened under Pope John XXIII in 1962 and closed under Pope Paul VI in 1965. One of the most revolutionary changes that resulted from interpretations of this council's documents are those which concerned the document "Nostra Aetate".

:True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ. Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

In 1971 the Catholic Church established an internal International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, outside the Church's Magisterium, to further these efforts.

Modern Catholic teachings about Judaism

On May 4, 2001, at the 17th Meeting of the International Liaison Committee in New York, Church officials stated that they would change how Judaism is dealt with in Catholic seminaries and schools. In part, they stated:

:The curricula of Catholic seminaries and schools of theology should reflect the central importance of the church's new understanding of its relationship to Jews....Courses on Bible, developments by which both the church and rabbinic Judaism emerged from early Judaism will establish a substantial foundation for ameliorating "the painful ignorance of the history and traditions of Judaism of which only negative aspects and often caricature seem to form part of the stock ideas of many Christians. (See notes on the [ Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching and Catechesis] , #27, 1985 [] )

:...Courses dealing with the biblical, historical and theological aspects of relations between Jews and Christians should be an integral part of the seminary and theologate curriculum, and not merely electives. All who graduate from Catholic seminaries and theology schools should have studied the revolution in Catholic teaching on Jews and Judaism from Nostra Aetate to the prayer of Pope John Paul II in Jerusalem at the Western Wall on March 26, 2000....For historic reasons, many Jews find it difficult to overcome generational memories of anti-Semitic oppression. Therefore: Lay and Religious Jewish leaders need to advocate and promote a program of education in our Jewish schools and seminaries - about the history of Catholic-Jewish relations and knowledge of Christianity and its relationship to Judaism....Encouragement of dialogue between the two faiths does involve recognition, understanding and respect for each other's beliefs, without having to accept them. It is particularly important that Jewish schools teach about the Second Vatican Council, and subsequent documents and attitudinal changes which opened new perspectives and possibilities for both faiths.

This new understanding of the relationship between Catholics and Jews is also reflected in the revised liturgy of Good Friday in a particular way. The pre-1962 version of the Good Friday Prayer had Catholics praying for the "perfidis Judaeis", the "unfaithful Jews". [The English cognate "perfidious" had, over the centuries, gradually acquired the sense of "treacherous." In order to eliminate misunderstanding on this point, Pope Pius XII ordered in 1955 that, in Catholic liturgical books, the Latin word "perfidis" be properly translated "unbelieving", ensuring that the prayer be understood in its original sense: praying for the Jews who remained "unbelieving" concerning the Messiah. Indeed, the same adjective was used in many of the ancient rituals for receiving non-Christian converts into the Catholic Church. Owing to the enduring potential for confusion and misunderstanding because of the divergence of English usage from the original Latin meaning, Pope John XXIII ordered that the Latin adjective "perfidis" be dropped from the Good Friday prayers for the Jews; in 1960 he ordered it removed from all rituals for the reception of converts. See: [,9171,939775,00.html?iid=chix-sphere Time Magazine August 15 1960] . that they might convert to the truth. Pope John XXIII] The Latin adjective "perfidis", whose derivations in modern languages had taken on a strongly pejorative sense, was excised from the text. As part of the revision of the Roman Missal, the prayer was completely rewritten, so that the Catholic Church now prays for "the Jewish people, first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant".

Efforts by Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II was one of the few popes to have grown up in a climate of flourishing Jewish culture, one of the key components of pre-war Kraków, his interest in Jewish life dated from early youth.

Pope John Paul II made efforts in the hope of promoting Christian-Jewish reconciliation. He wrote and delivered a number of speeches on the subject of the Church's relationship with Jews, and often paid homage to the victims of the Holocaust in many nations.

He was the first pope to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, in 1979 and his visit to The Great Synagogue of Rome in April 1986 was the first known visit to a synagogue by a modern pope. He visited the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Israel in March 2000, and touched the holiest outward remaining shrine of the Jewish people, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He placed in the Western Wall a prayer that read:

:God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who, in the course of history, have caused these children of yours to suffer. [ Pope John Paul II Visits the Holy Land]

The Pope has said that Jews are "our elder brothers."

In October 2003, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a statement congratulating Pope John Paul II on entering the 25th year of his papacy: :His deep commitment to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people has been fundamental to his papacy. Jews throughout the world are deeply grateful to the Pope. He has defended the Jewish people at all times, as a priest in his native Poland and during his pontificate... We pray that he remains healthy for many years to come, that he achieves much success in his holy work and that Catholic-Jewish relations continue to flourish. [ Statement on the 25th Anniversary of Pope John Paul II's Papacy] Anti-Defamation League, 2003-10-15]

On 2 April, 2005, after John Paul II's death, the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, stated that the Pope had revolutionized Catholic-Jewish relations, saying that "more change for the better took place in his 27 year Papacy than in the nearly 2000 years before." ("Pope John Paul II: An Appreciation: A Visionary Remembered")

The issue of the Carmelite Nun convent at Auschwitz

Efforts at reconciliation took a step back when the Polish national Catholic bishops conferences supported the Carmelite Nuns in their attempt to establish a convent at the former World War II Nazi-run death camp located at Auschwitz, a very sensitive site in the memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The proposed location of this convent provoked hostility from some sectors of the Jewish community to to the idea of building the Catholic institution on the ground where mass genocide of Jews and the deaths of millions of Poles was carried out. Jewish groups believed that this was inappropriate, and some groups engaged in peaceful protest. The nuns at the convent accused Modern Orthodox Rabbi Avi Weiss, of Riverdale, Bronx, NY, of attempting to assault them.

The Vatican did not support this convent, but noted that since Vatican II each national bishop's conference had local autonomy. Rabbi Leon Klenicki, founding member the of "Interfaith Theological Forum" of the "John Paul II Center" in Washington, D.C., said:

:Since Vatican II, each national bishops’ conference has its freedom to deal with local issues. Once the nuns took that place, that was under the jurisdiction of the Polish national bishops’ conference, not the Vatican. The pope couldn’t say anything. The pope intervened when the bishops’ conference was not strong enough to stop the convent. When he realized that nothing was being done, he issued an order for the nuns to move. (Lipman, 2005)

ignificant outstanding issues

Despite considerable progress in improving relations during the period covered by this article, points of contention still exist between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. Importantly, some criticise the Church for failing to ‘grab the bull by the horns and look at Christian culpability and Church culpability for the Holocaust.’ [Ranan, David, "Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church", p. 236, Theo Press, 2007. [] ] Several decisions supported by Pope John Paul II prompted criticism among some members of the Jewish community, including:

*The beatification of Pope Pius XII, whom many Jewish groups believe did little to aid Jews during the Holocaust.
*The Vatican's continued policy of allowing only partial access to its extensive World War II era archives. Many Jewish groups believe that full access to this archive might demonstrate that Pope Pius XII deliberately did not do enough to help Jews, or even that he demonstrated some sympathy for the Nazi regime.
*The canonization of Edith Stein as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Stein was a Jewish convert to Catholicism who took on the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross upon entering a Carmelite convent. She died in the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz. Jewish groups argue that she met that end because of her Jewish background, and not because of her conversion.
*Official positions and statement regarding Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict that some Jews believe are insufficiently balanced and might reflect the continuing traces of theological opposition to the renewal of a Jewish state.

In addition, although the Jewish community appreciated John Paul II's 1994 statement, "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah", which offered a "mea culpa" for the role of Christians in the Holocaust, some Jewish groups felt that the statement was insufficient, as it focused on individual members of the Church who helped the Nazis, portraying them as acting against the teachings of the Church. Some critics consider the statement to be a akin to the so-called "No true Scotsman" defense, as it absolved the Church itself of any blame. Lingering disputes also remain about some of the practical aftereffects of the Holocaust, including the question of how to deal with Jewish children baptized during the Second World War who were never returned to their Jewish families and people.

Finally, and least consequentially to the broader theme of inter-religious relations, the Jewish and Catholic communities tend to disagree about certain matters of public policy. For example, while the Church condemns all abortion as murder, even the most "pro-life" understandings of Jewish tradition would conclude that, under some circumstances, abortion is not only permissible but actually required. [Religion and abortion#Judaism]

"Traditionalist" Catholics

The term "traditionalist Catholics" has been applied to Catholics particularly devoted to practicing the ancient traditions of the Church.

There are also groups calling themselves "traditionalist Catholics" that either reject many of the changes made since Vatican II, or regard Vatican II as an invalid Council, or who broke away entirely from the Catholic Church after Vatican II.

Some of these "traditionalist" Catholics argue that the Pope at the time, and all Popes since, have led the majority of Catholic clergy and laity into heresy. They view interfaith dialogue with Jews is unnecessary and potentially leading to a "watering-down" of the Catholic faith. Some traditionalist Catholics maintain that Jews are to be damned unless they convert to Christianity. This, of course, is not the view of all who identify themselves as "traditional".

External links

* [ Staying The Course: John Paul II built a closeness between the Vatican and Jewish community, and Jewish leaders don’t expect that to change]
* Catholic Encyclopedia Article on Judaism. Of particular interest is section four: "Judaism and Church Legislation." (The Catholic Encyclopedia was written before Vatican II, and may reflect attitudes which no longer characterize the Catholic view of Judaism.)


* Ain, Stewart. "Staying The Course: John Paul II built a closeness between the Vatican and Jewish community, and Jewish leaders don’t expect that to change", "The Jewish Week", April 8, 2005
* Lipman, Steve. "The Jewish Critique: Amid the pope’s remarkable record on the Jews, issues linger", "The Jewish Week", April 8, 2005

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