Recent moves by the Vatican have soured its relations with Jews to the point where a scheduled “Day of Jewish-Christian Dialogue” has been postponed indefinitely.
Rome’s chief rabbi, Elio Toaff, and his deputy, Rabbi Abramo Piattelli, pulled out of the scheduled Oct. 3 symposium – long scheduled as part of the Holy See’s Millennium Holy Year program.
The rabbis were responding to two developments earlier this month that deeply upset Jews.
One was the Sept. 3 beatification 3 of Pope Pius IX, the 19th century pontiff who was the last pope to keep Jews in the ghetto and who was behind the 1858 kidnapping of a young Jewish boy who had been secretly baptized as a baby.
The other was a Vatican document released Sept. 5 that rejected the idea that other faiths are equal to Catholicism.
The document, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s guardian of orthodoxy, said followers of other religions are “in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.”
Even other Christian denominations had “defects,” it said.
“There exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him,” it said.
The document sparked anger and dismay among Jewish and non-Catholic Christian leaders, and prompted concern that it could set back the course of interfaith dialogue that started with the Second Vatican Council during the 1960s.
To many observers, both the document and the beatification of Pius IX seemed out of step with the outreach to Jews and other faiths that has been a pillar of the papacy of Pope John Paul II.
The pope made self-examination and repentance for past sins – including anti- Semitism – a major theme of the 2000 Jubilee or Holy Year.
This culminated with the pope’s praying at the Western Wall during his pilgrimage last March to the Holy Land.
These new “pronouncements of the church are surprising and inconsistent with the courageous steps of John Paul II,” Leone Paserman, president of the Rome Jewish community, told reporters.
Tullia Zevi, a former president of the Italian Jewish Community, called the two developments “a cold shower after the optimism generated by the development of dialogue.”
Jews were not the only voices of protest against the Vatican document.
“The idea that Anglican and other churches are not ‘proper churches’ seems to question the considerable ecumenical gains we have made,” Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, the spiritual leader of 70 million Anglicans, said in a statement.
Some saw the developments as dramatic evidence of an inner struggle within the Vatican hierarchy as 80-year-old John Paul’s reign draws to its inevitable close.
But others saw them as consistent with Catholic theology and belief.
“It is the Roman Catholic formula of confession, extended to behavior,” said one Rome observer. “The assumption is that you apologize, ask forgiveness, and the slate is wiped clean.”