Ecumenical Council Session Opens Today; Jewish Issue Provokes Interest
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Ecumenical Council Session Opens Today; Jewish Issue Provokes Interest

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The “revised” draft of the document on the attitude of the Catholic Church towards the Jewish people–which provoked great dissatisfaction among Jews–is by no means final, Vatican circles declared here today on the eve of the opening of the third session of the Ecumenical Council at which the draft will come up for discussion.

The session, which opens at the Vatican tomorrow with more than 2,400 cardinals and bishops from all parts of the world, is expected to face strong opposition against the revisions in the draft on the part of the liberal wing of the Council which constitutes a large majority of the priestly participants. However, the possibility also exists that the approximately 500 members of the Council who constitute the conservative wing may manipulate to keep the Jewish issue from being debated openly, thus weakening the stand of the liberals.

Vatican circles today indicated that a debate on the “revised” draft could bring substantial changes in the proposed text, and may even lead the Council to go back to the original text presented last year by Augustin Cardinal Bea, head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, which exonerated the Jewish people from the collective guilt for the death of Jesus by declaring that Jesus died for the sins of all mankind.

The “revised” draft says that the Jews “of our time” are not to be kept responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans, thus implying that the Jews of 2,000 years ago are responsible. The “revised” text has also been interpreted by Jewish leaders as an unveiled overture to Jews to accept Christianity.


Vatican circles have been dismayed by the storm which the “revised” draft has created and by the fact that its contents have become public prior to being taken up by the Council at its third session. An inquiry is going on in Rome into the source of the leak. There is a feeling in the Vatican that had the document come before the Council in the normal way without being first made public, the Council Fathers could have dealt with it in an atmosphere not charged with the bitterness that will now surround the debate.

The “backlash” of Jewish and other dissatisfaction with the new version of the proposed declaration on the Jews is seen here as possibly strengthening the hand of many of the liberal Council Fathers who want the Council to adopt an outspoken statement, ending once and for all the anti-Semitism implicit in the deicide charge and in other Church teachings. However, it is also pointed out that the situation is now different from last year.

It is emphasized that at the session which opens tomorrow, the proposed draft dealing with the Jewish question is unlike last year, not a part of a schema but only a “proposition” which need not–under the Council’s procedural rules–be debated openly on the floor. Since the “revised” draft is an appendage to other chapters, it becomes only a “rider” which, the conservatives hope, they may put through in its present form without floor discussion. The battle could thus be restricted to behind-the-scenes maneuvers.


Joseph Cardinal Ritter, of St. Louis, one of the leaders of the progressive wing among the Council fathers, has voiced the hope that the Council will produce a declaration on the Jews “satisfactory to our Jewish friends.” Cardinal Ritter expressed that “hope and belief” when he arrived here this weekend at the head of a delegation of 90 United States and Canadian prelates and other priests to attend the Council.

Another prominent churchman, and one of the Council’s experts on the drafting of various schema and declarations, asserted here today that Cardinal Bea’s secretariat will retain jurisdiction over the Jewish problem. He said the new Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions, recently set up by Pope Paul VI, will be too busy with its own work, since, unlike the Catholic Church, most other non-Catholic Christians lack centralized bodies, making contact with them an extremely difficult task.

That opinion was expressed by the expert, Prof. Hans Hirschmann, a Jesuit priest who is on the faculty of the Frankfurt University Theological Department, in West Germany. Prof. Hirschmann said that Cardinal Bea’s unit has already established contacts with Jewish bodies. He predicted that the declaration dealing with the Jews will come before the Council “rather soon,” probably in October, during the third or fourth week of the session.

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