Australian Catholic Bishops Call for Examination of Anti-semitism

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued a strong statement this week urging clergy and laity alike to examine the phenomenon of anti-Semitism by confronting it frankly and honestly in the Church’s “history books, courses and seminary curricula.”

The statement, by the policy-making body of Australia’s largest single denomination, put the Catholic Church in the forefront of Christian-Jewish dialogue here. It stressed the need for Catholics to “foster mutual understanding” with Jews.

Addressed to Catholic teachers, preachers and church members, it was considered necessary, the Bishops Conference said, because of the high level of anti-Semitic incidents in Australia, the advent of Holocaust denial, the “relativizing of (that) event and impatience with Jewish sensitivity.”

Other contributing factors, the bishops said, were the upsurge of fundamentalism, “especially in Scripture interpretation; the ever-increasing multicultural and multifaith nature of our society” and the recognition that Christianity has its roots in Judaism.

The statement was swiftly hailed by Jewish spokesmen. “A landmark in interreligious history,” said Rabbi Raymond Apple, chairman of the New South Wales Council of Christians and Jews.

“All who believe in interreligious harmony will welcome this statement,” he said.

The Bishops Conference condemned proselytizing, “which does not respect human freedom.” It urged Christians to understand the way Jews “define themselves” and noted that “topics such as the Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jews and the rebirth of the State of Israel will obviously come up for discussion.

“Catholics should make an honest effort to understand the link between the land and the people,” the statement said.

That drew expressions of approval from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. The recognition of the centrality of Israel in Jewish life and opposition to proselytizing are major advances and particularly welcome, council President Leslie Caplan told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Australian Jewry’s relationships with other Christian denominations are relatively less advanced. The Anglican Church is developing policy relevant to dialogue with Jews more slowly. The Uniting Church, the third-largest Christian denomination in Australia, has suggested a formal series of “discussions” with Jewish representatives prior to the development of specific policies.

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