Bishops’ Secretariat Urges Catholics to Take Initiative in Promoting Amity

The Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations, an organization formed by Roman Catholic Bishops in America last year, has urged Catholics to take the initiative in promoting Catholic-Jewish understanding. In a statement issued on the third anniversary of the Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Jews, the Secretariat noted that “while Catholic-Jewish relations were never better in our history…many Christians and Jews are seriously indifferent about their mutual relations” and “the initiative in promoting Catholic-Jewish encounters in general still derives “largely from the Jewish community.”

The statement, adopted at a plenary meeting of the Secretariat, also addressed itself to the Middle East crisis, estrangement between black and white races in the United States, and correct interpretation by Catholics of Holy Scriptures so they would not be sources of anti-Semitism. They meeting was attended by members of the executive committee and board of consultors of the Secretariat. Presiding was the Rt. Rev. Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher, director of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University, South Orange. N.J. Also present was Rev. Edward H. Flannery, executive secretary.

The statement noted that “the pace of Catholic-Jewish dialogue was slowed down in the aftermath of the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war of June, 1967.” At that time many Jewish leaders voiced dismay that most Christian leaders and theologians had remained silent when Israel’s survival seemed at stake. The Secretariat asserted, “The fundamental issue is that of Israel’s right to exist and develop in peace. If this basic issue is settled, the solution of all other important issues, including that of refugees, will be greatly facilitated. We plead with the Arab governments to enter sincerely into negotiations…We plead with the Israel Government to maintain a conciliatory spirit in seeking negotiations and settlements with the Arabs.”

The Secretariat expressed alarm at “the ever widening estrangement between black and white people in the U.S.” and said, “We are increasingly apprehensive that this alienation has recently emerged in the form of antagonism against Jews. We are fully aware of the leadership and the devotion Jews have given to the civil rights movement, and we are painfully aware of the injustices inflicted through white racism upon black people. Unless all Americans acknowledge the rights and dignity of every group and individual, black or white, Christian or Jew, the rights and dignity of no one are safe,” Concerning Scriptural interpretations, the statement observed, “Many current liturgical readings can be, for theologically uninstructed ears, the source of serious misunderstanding of the Jews. We earnestly entreat Scripture scholars to address themselves to this problem of ancient language usage which has provocative overtones in our times. We urge our clergy, now that we have alternative Scriptural readings, to select readings with an awareness of Jewish sensibilities.” The statement also urged Catholic scholars to “place high on their agenda a complete review of the teachings of the Church with respect to Jews and Judaism. We must resolve that the grave and multiple troubles in the Church and the world do not distract our attention from the high priority that should be given to Catholic-Jewish relations,” the Secretariat said. “One hopes that such Catholic initiative will be accepted by all segments of the Jewish community as motivated exclusively by fraternal dispositions. Suspicions of insincerity and proselytism stultify fruitful conversations. Cooperation demands reciprocity and promotes mutual respect.”

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