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Italian Jewish Leaders Protest Pope’s ‘passion Sunday’ Sermon

Judge Sergio Piperno, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, and Dr. Elio Toaff, Chief Rabbi of Rome, expressed today “the painful surprise” of Italian Jews over Pope Paul’s Passion Sunday Lenten sermon in which the Pontiff stated outright that the Jews killed Christ. The concern of Italian Jewry was expressed in a telegram sent by the Jewish leaders to Cardinal Cicognani, the Vatican Secretary of State. Rabbi Toaff signed the wire on behalf of the Italian Rabbinical Council.

The telegram said that the Pope had “confirmed the accusation against the Jewish people,” and that “the old accusation of deicide was renewed, which has been for centuries the source of tragic injustices against Jews.” The message noted that the charge apparently had “seemed to have been removed forever by the solemn affirmations of the Ecumenical Council” which adopted last year a provisional declaration exonerating the Jewish people, past and present, from any blame in the crucifixion.

Vatican circles told the Italian press today they received the message “with certain surprise, since the actual reasons which motivated the Pope’s statement are not understood.” “What is more,” the Vatican circles added, “the motives for the protest, listen in the telegram, are not justified.”

Noting that the Pope had taken the Passion Sunday Gospel as his theme, the Vatican circles said he was only explaining a passage in the Gospel referring to the Jews killing Christ, giving the passage its “traditional interpretation of the historical fact, an interpretation that traces back to the moral responsibility of the Jews of that time for the death sentence pronounced by the Roman Judiciary.”

“Secondly, the Vatican circles said, “the Pope, further in his speech, clearly affirmed that the drama is repeating itself and perpetuates itself also today by all those who, by words and deeds, deny Christ, offend Him and renew Him in the passion.”

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