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Jewish groups to hold summit as Vatican questions dialogue

ROME, March 23 (JTA) — American Jewish groups involved in interfaith dialogue will hold a “summit” next month, following criticism by a leading Vatican official that “aggressive” anti-church attitudes by some Jewish organizations are threatening Jewish-Catholic relations. The summit was called after Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, said in a speech at a Feb. 17-18 conference in Baltimore that an “uncertain atmosphere” in Jewish- Catholic interfaith efforts is “beginning to cloud over our present relationship.” “Jewish responses to what we seek to do to improve our relationship are often so negative that some now hesitate to do anything at all for fear of making the situation worse,” Cassidy said in the speech. He added that the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation — the main institutional Jewish partner in formal dialogue with the Vatican — was essentially “no longer in existence.” The April 15 meeting of Jewish interfaith groups is being convened in New York by Rabbi A. James Rudin, interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, in direct response to Cassidy’s speech. He said that although IJCIC has indeed been “very moribund” for years, many individual groups had taken up the slack, engaging in their own bilateral contacts with Cassidy and other Vatican officials. “I have invited everyone in the Jewish community who is actively involved in interfaith work to the April 15 meeting,” Rudin told JTA. “The idea is to make an inventory of what we are doing. We need to take stock,” he said. “We’re looking for coordination.” Rudin said he considered Cassidy’s criticism a matter of “concerns rather than crisis.” But, he added, “Dialogue means you take the other side’s concerns seriously. I take it very seriously when our chief partner in dialogue raises such concerns.” Cassidy’s remarks last month were unusually blunt. In his speech — which was read out for him because illness had prevented Cassidy from attended the conference — he praised the overall development of Catholic-Jewish relations in the past 35 years. But, he said, “I must sound a signal of alarm. “I am becoming concerned that some of the good work that has been done is under threat. “The reaction within the Catholic community to recent aggressive attitudes manifested in our regard by certain Jewish agencies is the cause of this concern,” he said. He complained that “recent Jewish attempts to influence decisions concerning the internal life of the Catholic church are strongly resented. People very dear to the Catholic faithful are concerned without proof but simply because they are not personae gratae with the Jewish community.” Not naming names, he accused a major Jewish group of being “involved in a systematic campaign to denigrate the Catholic Church.” Cassidy’s office did not specify which groups he was referring to. But a spokesman for the National Council of Bishops in the United States let it be known that he was referring to the World Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The WJC has been vocal in calling for the Vatican to open its World War II-era archives, and the Wiesenthal Center was particularly outspoken last year in condemning the Vatican’s beatification of Croatian Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac and its canonization of Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who died at Auschwitz. The WJC’s executive director, Elan Steinberg, denied Cassidy’s charges in a recent interview with The New York Jewish Week, calling them a “provocation.”