Synagogue Council Sets Meeting to Consider Vatican Call for Closer Jewish Ties
Menu JTA Search

Synagogue Council Sets Meeting to Consider Vatican Call for Closer Jewish Ties

Download PDF for this date

The Synagogue Council of America announced today that it was convening its constituent agencies to give “the most careful and respectful study” to a new Vatican document that proposes unprecedented steps by the Roman Catholic Church to improve Catholic attitudes toward Israel and the Jewish people. The Synagogue Council is the representative body of the Reform. Conservative and Orthodox branches of Judaism in America.

The Vatican statement was made public yesterday by Lawrence Cardinal Shehan, Archbishop of Baltimore, in an address at a duologue on the image of the Jew in contemporary culture held at Loyola College under the sponsorship of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League and various Christian institutions.

Rabbi Henry Siegman, executive vice president of the Synagogue Council, called the Vatican statement “a religious document of far-reaching consequences” which “requires the most careful and respectful study.” He said “a document of this importance, which was months if not years in preparation, should not elicit a quick and easy response, particularly by the religious Jewish community whose central concern is the fundamental issues of faith that must remain central in any Christian-Jewish confrontation.” He announced that Rabbi Solomon J. Sharfman, SCA president, was convening the SCA constituent agencies to study the document “and the reaction of the Synagogue Council will be made public in due time.” He said the Council was meeting next week for what will probably be a series of two or three sessions.

The World Jewish Congress hailed the Vatican statement as “a courageous and much desired implementation of Vatican II” which “augurs well for an even closer cooperation between Jews and Catholics.” Dr. Joachim Prinz, chairman of the WJ Congress governing council, said “We welcome this opening of a new gate for creative coexistence of the two religions which have common origins and common goals.”


The Vatican statement highlighted specifics essential to a better understanding by Catholics of Judaism and said teaching of such information “should be extended to all levels of Christian education,” using catechetical manuals, history texts, and press, radio, films, television. Such programs “presuppose” appropriate training of teachers in Catholic schools, seminaries and universities, the statement said, and it urged “further research” on Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations.

The statement also recommended joint worship services between Christians and Jews “whenever possible and mutually desirable.” It cautioned that Catholic liturgy should not present the Jewish Scriptures as an allegory of the Christian faith but also to view it as valid in itself. Teachers were warned not to make the Old Testament appear in opposition to the New Testament, as a religion “of fear and legalism, implying that only Christianity possesses the law of love and freedom.” The “dignity of the human person,” the Vatican statement said, “requires the condemnation of all forms of anti-Semitism” and creation of a true dialogue excluding “all intent of proselytizing and conversion.”

Cardinal Shehan chose the Baltimore meeting for release of the first statement from the Vatican to implement the Ecumenical Council’s declaration on non-Christian religions issued in 1965.


The statement on Israel, apparently the most specific ever made on that issue by the Vatican, held that Jewish “fidelity to the Covenant was linked to the gift of a land, which in the Jewish soul has endured as the object of an aspiration that Christians should strive to understand, in the wake of long generations of painful exile, all too often aggravated by painful persecutions and moral pressures, for which Christians ask pardon of their Jewish brothers.”

The statement continued that “Jews have indicated in a thousand ways their attachment to the land promised to their ancestors from the days of Abraham’s calling” and “Christians, whatever the difficulties they may experience, must attempt to understand and respect the religious significance of this link between the people and the land. The existence of the State of Israel should not be separated from this perspective, which does not in itself imply any judgement on historical consequences or on decisions of a purely political order.”


Three New York area Catholic sees released today a set of “guidelines for the advancement of Catholic-Jewish relations,” which advocate joint community-level councils and outlining general rules for Christian-Jewish dialogue. The document was expected to serve as a model for community action to implement the 1967 U.S. Bishops guidelines and the Vatican Council’s repudiation of anti-Semitism.

Father Edward H. Flannery, executive secretary of the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish relations of the U.S. Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said the new guidelines would be sent to dioceses throughout the United States. The document was complied by representatives of the New York Archdiocese and the Brooklyn and Rockville Center dioceses, in collaboration with the ADL, the New York Board of Rabbis and scholars of the major Jewish traditions. The tri-diocesan area includes some 4.3 million Catholics and 2.5 million Jews.

A major new proposal in the guidelines suggested that a Catholic-Jewish relations committee be formed to consider encouraging “grass roots;; councils. Principles proposed for Catholic-Jewish programs included a creation of permanent diocesan committees, which would include Catholic clergy, religious and laity participation and rabbis and Jewish laymen. Reaffirming the U.S. Bishops’ statement, the guidelines warned against any proselytizing in dialogues with Jews. There should be stress on priest-rabbi fraternal encounters and cooperation between service organizations of both faiths, according to the guidelines, which also proposed in a spirit of “openness,” candor and friendship,” the development of institutes for clergy and lay leaders, grass roots dialogues and special education programs, as well as open houses, joint social occasions and invitations to rabbis and priests to explain liturgy and beliefs to each other’s congregations. Catholics were urged to pray in common with Jews wherever this was mutually acceptable.

Constant “scrutiny” of catholic texts, prayer books and other media was recommended to Catholic organizations to eliminate negative references to Jews. The document also asked that “courtesy and charity” pervade the attitudes of all priests in “the difficult situation of marriage between a Jew and a Catholic.” Many other specific steps were suggested to improve “Catholic-Jewish amity.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund