Catholic-jewish Ties Endure, Despite the Jolts of 1987
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Catholic-jewish Ties Endure, Despite the Jolts of 1987

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The ongoing dialogue between Catholics and Jews has proven strong enough to withstand several severe shocks that jolted relations between the two faiths during the past year, a leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States said here Monday.

“While 1987 was a turbulent year in Catholic-Jewish relations, nevertheless, the delicate fabric of the new relationship that Catholics and Jews have been weaving in patient dialogue for the past 20 years, in this country and throughout the world, remained intact,” according to Dr. Eugene Fisher, executive secretary of the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Fisher, speaking before the American Jewish Committee’s Interreligious Affairs Commission, mentioned among other events, the audience Pope John Paul II granted Austrian President Kurt Waldheim last June.

The meeting aroused Jewish ire because of Waldheim’s alleged involvement in the deportation of Greek Jews and link to other atrocities during his service as a German army officer in the Balkans during World War II.

The Catholic leader also referred to “the recent controversy” touched off by remarks attributed to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, in an interview published Oct. 24 in the Italian weekly magazine II Sabato.

The cardinal was quoted as saying that while the basis of Catholic dialogue with Judaism is respect between the two religions, Catholics must also pursue the “theological direction” that “the faith of Abraham… finds its fulfillment” in the reality of Jesus Christ.


The interview outraged Jewish leaders and prompted the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith to demand a clarification from the Vatican last month.

In a telegram to Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, head of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, the ADL’s national president, Abraham Foxman, and Rabbi Leon Klenicki, director of its interreligious affairs department, protested that Ratzinger’s “expressions take the dialogue (between Catholics and Jews) back to the Middle Ages and appear contrary to the spirit of Vatican II and Pope John Paul II’s statements on Judaism.”

A statement released shortly afterward by Willebrands’ office said the intention of Rat-zinger’s remark was to expound the view that Christians should acknowledge their Old Testament heritage and that the Catholic Church respects Jews and their “own faith and expectations.”

Fisher told the AJCommittee commission Monday that “the real story of the events surrounding Cardinal Ratzinger’s interview” is that “a clarification was needed. A clarification was asked for, and within days, a clarification was given.”


Fisher maintained that “The recent months of controversy have deepened the entire Catholic-Jewish encounter, and, indeed, ironically, have strengthened the entire endeavor.”

Rabbi A. James Rudin, national interreligious affairs director of AJCommittee, said that a number of “shocks, jolts and surprises have severely tested Catholic-Jewish relations.”

“But I have been enormously heartened by the positive strength of Catholic-Jewish relations in the United States, and I have been gratified by the important leadership role that the American Catholic bishops have played throughout this year of crisis,” he said.

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