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Catholic Bishop, Jewish Leader Agree on Success of Ecumenical Relations

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“Harmony among Catholics and Jews is the really great project and theme of the 21st century,” a prominent Catholic bishop and a Jewish leader agreed here.

Participating in a discussion of Jewish-Catholic relations at an ecumenical symposium held at Synagogue Emanu-El last month, Rabbi Mare Tanenbaum, American Jewish Committee’s director of international relations, joined Bishop Ernst Unterkoefler, head of Charleston’s Diocese, in a review of fundamental theological differences as well as central similarities between their two faiths.

The two religious leaders voiced confidence that Jews and Catholics could present a common front against racism, persecution, and social injustice. They also advocated that Catholics and Jews study each others’ beliefs and get to know each other socially to a much greater degree.

In a warm approach to the Jews in the audience, Unterkoefler said: “Catholics are spiritually Semites. We really should say we are Jews or Hebrews.” Stating that Catholics draw some of their theology from the Old Testament, he added, “I feel the rhythm of Jewish-Catholic relations being renewed in your hearts.”

Unterkoefler, who has been prominent in ecumenical relations during the past two decades, said that “one of the Vatican Council’s great accomplishments was that while it was once common for Catholics to consider the Jewish people responsible for Jesus’ death, it is sinful to teach that today.”

‘A REVOLUTION IN MUTUAL ESTEEM’

Tanenbaum noted: “We have reached a moment today when not a single Catholic school has a single hostile or negative reference to Jews.”

Tanenbaum, who represented the American Jewish Committee in Rome 20 years ago at the time of Vatican Council II, the historic ecumenical council, said that a new era of understanding had begun at that time, and the old Catholic-Jewish hatreds had been replaced by “a revolution in mutual esteem.”

“The Gospel of hatred of Jews is no more,” the AJC spokesman said, “and today we are united in our recognition of obligations to the poor and hungry, a respect for human life, and visions, with different perspectives, of a Messianic kingdom.”

In a question-and-answer period, Tanenbaum was asked to comment on the lack of formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican and Israel. “Israel does not depend on relations with the Vatican in order to exist,” he said, “but it would like such ties for moral, symbolic and political reasons.”

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