40 American Prelates Seek to Speak for Jews at Ecumenical Council
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40 American Prelates Seek to Speak for Jews at Ecumenical Council

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The controversial draft declaration on Jews, prepared at the Vatican for discussion at the current session of the Ecumenical Council, is expected to be presented before the Council Fathers this Wednesday, it was indicated here today, as the majority of the American cardinals and bishops attending the session were mobilizing themselves to actively demand a stronger statement which would absolve the Jewish people of all traces of collective guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus.

The American bishops met this afternoon and selected from among themselves a number of speakers to participate in the debate at the Council on the document on the Jews. It was later reported that about 40 prelates have requested to be chosen to speak at the Council on the “Jewish question.” The number will have to be restricted by common agreement. The debate is likely to start this week.

All but one of the five American cardinals here have indicated that they will support actively a stronger declaration. The exception is James Francis Cardinal Mcintyre, of Los Angeles, who once declined to sign a petition condemning anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union on the grounds that his anti-Communist views were already well enough known.

The fight of the American prelates to secure a clear-cut Council statement clearing the Jews of all charges of deicide is led by Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston. It is backed by a great majority of the 240 American bishops attending the session. At a meeting last week attended by 170 of the U.S. bishops, it was unanimously decided to work for the improvement of the current draft. The bishops agreed that, even in the time of Christ, the Jews could not be held responsible for the crucifixion. One bishop asserted that the Jews are no more responsible for the death of Jesus than were the people of Dallas for President Kennedy’s assassination.


The fight for a stronger draft of the declaration on Jews is being backed by Joseph Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis, and Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago. Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York has similarly expressed the view that the deicide charge should be strongly refuted. He is recovering from an illness in New York, and is expected to arrive here in time to participate in the debate.

The stand of the American prelates on exonerating the Jews from the charge of deicide is backed by many important archbishops and bishops of France, West Germany, Belgium, Austria and Latin American countries. The original draft–presented to the Council at its second session last year but not acted on–repudiated the deicide charge specifically. That statement said that Christ died to atone for the sins of all mankind, and that the Jews could not be held to special accountability. However, this draft was withdrawn as a result of objections of bishops from Arab countries and the conservative theologians of the Roman Curia.

Subsequently, the draft was considerably revised, stating only that the Jews of “our time” are not responsible, and eliminating use of the word “deicide.” In addition, the revised draft contains what many Jewish leaders regard as an unfortunate stress on the Church’s traditional hope for the conversion of Jews to Christianity. The text of the revised draft was published in the United States on September 3, and touched off a storm of criticism.


The Council press office today published a substantial summary of the revised draft with a lengthy introduction, explaining its genesis and significant dates in its four years of development. One introductory statement was that there were 70 pages of amendments and proposals to the original text, which had been examined at a meeting of the Secretariat in Arricia near Rome last spring.

A press panel of American bishops was the occasion for an explanation that a declaration receives the same complete treatment before the Council as does a decree. The reply was given in response to a question about the declarations on the Jews and on freedom of religion.

According to the explanation, the declarations, when passed, will be published like any other Council proclamation, and will be as binding and significant. The bishops said that the exact effect would depend on concrete application and by the impact of each element of the declarations carried at the pastoral level.

Bishop James Edward McManus of Puerto Rico, when asked how the declaration might be received, said it was inconceivable that it could be ignored because it was a statement of principle by the Pope and Council, when approved, and would have the greatest authority and binding force.


The Secretariat for Christian Unity, headed by Augustin Cardinal Bea, was informed about Jewish reactions to the revised draft of the declaration, it was stated at a press conference today by Archbishop John Heenan of Westminster. He said also that the Secretariat, which had first presented the earlier draft of a declaration on the Jews, had informed Jewish circles on the issue.

He added he was certain that the current session of the Council would vote on a declaration on Jewish-Catholic relations, but declined specific comment on the revised version of the proposed declaration. Since the draft was due for early debate, he said, he would not speak on this “delicate matter.”

Archbishop Heenan also said that the Secretariat headed by Cardinal Bea has had several meetings on the matter, and that he was convinced that there would be several “interventions” in the session on the draft. He added that he did not know whether he would speak before the session or whether Cardinal Bea, sponsor of the original draft, would cover the whole subject on behalf of the Secretariat. He stressed that his personal views on the subject were known.

He was asked whether it was true that the wording of the revised draft calls for conversion of Jews to Christianity, and replied that an authoritative reply to that complaint also would be given in debate.

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