A time to act for Catholic-Jewish reconciliation

The Church should reassert that 'Nostra Aetate' and the Catholic post-conciliar documents are still the guiding principles for the Vatican.

Pope John Paul II 88 (photo credit: )
Pope John Paul II 88
(photo credit: )
Pope Benedict's recent decree advancing the sainthood of Pope Pius XII is another serious blow to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people. The record of Pius XII during the Holocaust is still a subject of legitimate historical question and a longtime point of emotional disagreement between some in the Vatican and Jewish leaders.
Consideration of Pius's sainthood should be reserved for a time when the complete Vatican archives of the Holocaust period are released and historians can objectively evaluate Pius's efforts to save Europe's Jews from extermination. Any rush to judgment before the record is clarified will only give a larger forum to Pius's critics, undermine Vatican credibility in the eyes of the world and cause deep hurt to Jews whose families and loved ones were murdered during the Shoah.
While the Vatican has its own reasons for accelerating Pius's canonization now, it is the fourth recent troubling development in Catholic-Jewish relations, coming after the Vatican's July 2007 authorization of wider use of the Tridentine Mass with its Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews; its January 2009 lifting of the excommunication of four bishops of the anti-Semitic Society of Pope Pius X, including the Holocaust-denying Richard Williamson; and the June 2009 (but later retracted) United States Conference of Catholic Bishops statement that Catholics in interfaith dialogue are obligated to evangelize to Jews and extend to them an implicit invitation to the Church.
These developments have left many Jews and Catholics alike to worry about the future of Catholic-Jewish relations. Indeed, some professionals now question whether the salutary achievements of the Second Vatican Council toward reconciliation are still operative Catholic teaching.
FOR 50 years after Vatican II, Catholics and Jews well informed about Nostra Aetate and official Catholic post-conciliar documents regarding Catholic-Jewish relations were enormously impressed by the Church's spiritual strength to revise its theology regarding its elder brothers and permanently rid itself of replacement theology and its concomitant Adversus Judeaos teachings. Buoyed by the leadership of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II, they were convinced of the sincerity of the Church's determination to reconcile with the Jewish people.
If this is now being questioned, the uncertainty can - and should - be laid easily to rest. It is time for the Church to reassert loudly and clearly that Nostra Aetate and the Catholic post-conciliar documents are still the guiding principles for the Vatican, and that the warm friendship extended to the Jewish people by the saintly Pope John Paul II still characterizes the current policies of Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican.
This can be achieved powerfully in deed. Catholic and Jewish distress regarding the future of Catholic-Jewish relations would be significantly alleviated by positive Vatican steps, such as authorizing the mandatory teaching of Nostra Aetate to Catholic worshipers and seminarians, promoting the study of Pope John Paul II's teachings about the Jewish people and Judaism and instituting a prayer for Jewish people and Israel on the Feast of St. James, the patron saint of Jerusalem.
The reconciliation of the Church with the Jewish people is one of God's great blessings, one that inspires all people around the world. If the Church and the Jewish people can make peace with each other after nearly 2,000 of enmity, then peace is possible between any two peoples anywhere. Recognizing that Catholics and Jews are brothers and sisters deeply bound by their fervent belief in the one creator of heaven and earth who revealed Himself to the people Israel is one of the miracles of the last century - and it is too important for Jews, for Catholics and for the world to allow to lapse.
Jews and Catholics share a common spiritual patrimony and all people of good will should pray that both the Church and the Jewish people continue to work for this historic reconciliation grounded in mutual understanding, respect and equality.
Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn is the North American Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin is the Chancellor.