U.S. Clerics Again Lead Catholic Move to Clear Jews of ‘deicide’
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U.S. Clerics Again Lead Catholic Move to Clear Jews of ‘deicide’

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Two United States Bishops, continuing the debate in the Ecumenical Council on Catholic relations with the Jews, insisted today on a declaration rejecting completely any blame on the Jews–past and present–for the crucifixion of Jesus and eliminating any reference which Jews could interpret as a bid for conversion.

The debate on the “Jewish question” began yesterday and was ended today. A vote on the issue was not expected for several weeks.

The American prelates were Archbishop Patrick O. Boyle of Washington, D. C. and Auxiliary Bishop Stephen A.Leven of San Antonio, Texas. They were backed by Archbishop Franjo Seper of Zagreb, Yugoslavia, a member of the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, in debate in which 20 of the Council’s 2, 500 prelates took part.

Council debates are closed to the press. The discussions today were reported again by a press panel sponsored by the American bishops. The panel said the discussions today showed once more a remarkable consensus of support for changes in the draft declaration to end sharp criticism of the second version, now before the Council’s third session.

The first version, prepared by Augustin Cardinal Bea, president of the Secretariat, specifically absolved all Jews, those of Christ’s time and of later times through the present, from the ancient charge of deicide. The revised version refers only to Jews of the present, leaving an implication of blame against all prior generations of Jews. It also contains a reference to the traditional Christian hope of “reunion” of Jews with Christianity, which has been widely interpreted by Jews as a bid for conversion.


Archbishop O’Boyle urged amendments so that “the text will be clear to Jews.who otherwise might misunderstand it. ” He added that “the spirit of the text will be carefully studied by them, and their rightful sensitivity must be taken into full consideration. “

“Any even remote suggestion of conversion, ” the American prelate warned his colleagues,”will recall the sufferings of the past and the forced conversions imposed on them. Therefore our dialogue with them will be gratuitous without that purpose. They are right in opposing any proselytism.”

He asked that the version before the Council have its earlier wording restored to exclude from the deicide charge Jews of all time.He also went beyond similar statements made yesterday in the debate, in asking for expression of “an act of contrition” for present and past sins against the Jews.


Bishop Leven offered three amendments, the first two in the name of nearly all of the American bishops and the third in his own name. First, he said, the sentence in the original version that Jews must never be called a “deicide people”should be restored to the present version.

The Texan noted that, among the arguments for dropping the term “deicide” from the draft was that the word was philosophically and theologically “absurd and contradictory” and therefore “not worthy” of inclusion in a Council document.

“But,” he declared, “we are not dealing with some philosophical entity but with a word of infamy and execration which was invented by Christians and used to blame and persecute Jews. For so many centuries–and even in our own time–Christians have hurled this word against Jews and, because of it, they have justified every kind of horrible excess, and even their slaughter and destruction.”

Bishop Leven warned; “It is not up to us to make declarations about something philosophical, but to reprobate and damn a word which has furnished so many occasions of persecution through the centuries. We must, ” he declared,”tear this word out of the Christian vocabulary so that it may never again be used against Jews.”

As his second amendment, he proposed an addition to the draft of a sentence to read; “Not all the Jews of the time of Christ are to be blamed for his death. ” He asserted “it is obvious that many of the Jews in Christ’s time, especially outside the Holy Land, had never heard of Him. It is as absurd to accuse all the Jews of that time of His death as it would be to blame all the Romans of that time for His death because the Roman, Pilate, delivered Him up, and Roman soldiers nailed Him to the cross.”

The third amendment, offered in his own name, Bishop Leven said, was that there be added an expression of the Christian hope that all men and every race and people, Jews and Gentiles,”will be gathered together in God, in the celestial future. “


Archbishop Seper took up the issue of fears of opponents of a stronger draft, stemming from concern over projected consequences in Moslem countries where Catholics reside. He insisted such fears were unfounded because “our declaration is purely theological and not political.”

“Our reasons for proposing it, ” he continued, “are serious and impelling because of the links between Catholicism and the Jews in our common Holy Scriptures, in liturgy. The third reason is the persecutions of Jews, old and recent. Innocents have been put to death, atrocious things were done–how could we disinterest ourselves in a people so strongly linked with God?”

In addition, he said, it was a fact that persecutions of Jews had been “explained” by Catholic “reasons, ” and the Scriptures have been used to accuse Jews.This is the reason to make this declaration and to finish such abuses once and for all, he insisted.

In proposing changes in the new version, Archbishop Seper urged additions to emphasize what Jews and Catholics had in common–the Scriptures, the history of salvation until Jesus, the belief, in Messiah and the “blood relationship” with Jesus, which was understood as a clear rebuke to Hitler’s racist theories.


Archbishop Seper also went well beyond earlier requests for changes and additions, by proposing that the Secretariat for Christian Unity issue a “guidebook” on Catholic-Jewish relations, and that the Secretariat should continue to treat Jewish problems in the future by creating a special section for that objective.

Another proposal that the Council ask pardon for “all that the Jews had to suffer through the centuries” was offered by Archbishop Elchinger of Strassbourg, France. He said that the Jews of today were “in great number living and authentic witnesses to the Sacred Scriptures” by their intensive studies of the Holy Writ.

“They are the pilgrims of the absolute, ” he exclaimed.”They have an extreme sensitivity to God’s transcendency. Their authentic virtue is their great esteem for the Decalogue.Their family life is imprinted by Biblical influence. Therefore, ” he asserted, “Jewish believers are privileged partners” with Christians “in defense of eternal God in the face of atheistic attack.”


The time has come, the French prelate asserted, to change the “teaching of contempt” for the Jews to “an education of respect. ” He proposed also that the text on the Jews be treated as a separate document, while all other non-Catholic religions be treated in a third declaration mentioning Moslems and other monotheistic religions.

“Jews are waiting for the right word” from the Council, he added. “What is at stake now is whether the door opened by John XXIII, ” Pope Paul’s predecessor who organized the present Ecumenical Council, “will be open or closed for a longtime to come.”

Earlier, Spanish Cardinal Jose Maria Bueno y Monreal of Seville, contended that no mention of the word” deicide” was needed in the declaration because “no one really holds that view today. ” He supported the declaration in general, but added that the Council must make clear that the draft had no political connotation. He said this was necessary because of the Jewish -Arab situation in the Middle East.

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