Catholic Clerics and Lay Leaders Discuss Their Views on Israel and Jewish People

Some 100 area Jews participated in an “Understand Catholicism,” workshop this week at which Catholic clergy and lay leaders described the attitudes of the church on a variety of matters including Israel and the Jewish people. The workshop, held at the St. Louis Priory, was sponsored jointly by the American Jewish Committee and the Archdiocesan Council of the Laity with the collaboration of the Archdiocesan Commission on Ecumenism, The Rt. Rev, Joseph W. Baker, vice chairman of the Commission on Ecumenism, conceded that prior to the June, 1967 war most Catholics were not aware “that Israel is so bound up in Christian-Jewish relations.” According to Rev. Baker, the pre-1967 Vatican Council II “was more concerned with relations with Jews as a religion, and the fact that all Jews at the time Jesus lived or presently should not be held responsible for the Crucifixion. But the Six-Day War made it apparent that we did not take into account the very strong feeling of the Jewish people for Israel which is bound up in Jewish culture as well as in religious understanding.”

Referring to American Catholics, Rev. Baker said, “While we hold for the need for justice and the right of Israel to exist, many of us do not know what else is expected of us.” In a question period that followed, members of the audience suggested that more prominent Catholics should issue statements supporting Israel’s right to exist and the need for direct Israel-Arab peace negotiations. They also suggested that leading Catholics urge the Vatican to establish diplomatic relations with Israel such as it has with numerous Arab and Moslem states. The St. Louis Review, weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, commented in an editorial later that “These do not seem to be unreasonable or excessive demands on the part of our Jewish brethren.” The editorial pointed out that “Apart from traditional religious significance Israel serves to assure Jews throughout the world that there is at least one place on earth which can be their homeland and in which they can always find welcome. After centuries of persecution and the experience of the holocaust of immediate memory, the importance of this value in the State of Israel can scarcely be over-emphasized.”

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