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Vatican Document on Jews Reported Not Final; Changes in Wording Said to Be Ahead

The Synagogue Council of America reported today that the new Vatican document on Catholic-Jewish relations, which was widely hailed by Jewish organizations last week as a milestone, was not the final text. The Council said it would not issue any statement on the document for that reason. The decision was taken unanimously by its commission on inter-religious affairs after a meeting to study the document, according to Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, commission chairman.

The Synagogue Council is the representative organization of the lay and rabbinic branches of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism. Informed sources intimated that there were changes in the final text, some of them “very significant.”

The Vatican document, which proposed what were described as “unprecedented steps” to improve Catholic-Jewish relations, was revealed Dec. 10 by Lawrence Gardinal Shehan, Archbishop of Baltimore, at a Loyola College seminar on the image of the Jew in contemporary culture. The seminar was sponsored by the B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation League and various Christian institutions.

An ADL spokesman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today that Cardinal Shehan had made it clear that the document he released was a “working paper” of the Vatican Secretariat on Christian Unity and not the final version. However, he said, the final text is “very likely” to contain no significant changes. The spokesman said that Benjamin R. Epstein, national director of the ADL and Father Edward H. Flannery, a member of the Secretariat on Christian Unity, would discuss the Vatican document on the nationally televised “Today Show” of the National Broadcasting Co. on Dec. 24.

Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum, director of the American Jewish Committee’s inter-religious affairs department, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he has been in touch with members of the National Conference of Bishops who were in Rome when the final text was drafted. He said that, according to his informants, the final text adheres closely to the working paper except for some modifications of language which were not significant enough to cause concern. Rabbi Tannenbaum said however that he “shared the hesitation” of the Synagogue Council until the final language was available.

The Synagogue Council stated after Cardinal Shehan’s announcement in Baltimore that a document of such “far-reaching consequences…should not elicit a quick and easy response” but promised to give it “the most careful and respectful study.”

According to Rabbi Tannenbau, the final text will be released shortly by the Vatican. He said that the Church originally intended to release it some time in January but an earlier release date was set in order to forestall pressure for changes from the more conservative members of the Catholic Curia and from Arab bishops who object to the document’s injunction to Catholics to understand Jewish ties to Israel.

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