New Jewish-Catholic dialogue announced

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A group of U.S. Jewish and Catholic leaders announced the formation of a new dialogue program between the two communities.

The dialogue, to be headquartered at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., will differ from other current dialogues in a number of ways, said Dennis McManus, assistant director of the center’s Intercultural Forum.

The 28-member group will include not just clergy and professionals, but also laypeople, professors and other "varied representatives" of the two religious groups, he said. In addition, he said, instead of one side hosting the other — such as the Vatican does in its dialogue with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate or the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations in its talks with Catholic leaders — the two religions would "build the dialogue together."

The announcement, made at a news conference Thursday afternoon, followed a memorial service for Rabbi Leon Klenicki, who was considered a pioneer in Jewish-Catholic relations. The announcement also came on the heels of a meeting of top U.S. Jewish and Catholic leaders, including Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman, American Jewish Committee senior interreligious adviser Rabbi James Rudin, Archbishop of Boston Sean Patrick Cardinal O’Malley and Baltimore Archbishop Emeritus William Cardinal Keeler.

The group discussed current issues, in particular the Catholic Church’s recent reinstatement from excommunication of Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson.

Foxman said he was still "not satisfied" by the Vatican’s condemnation of Holocaust denial. "Some of us feel that every day" a bishop who espouses such ideas "is a sad day for the church and for the dialogue," he said.

But he also said that there was a consensus during the talks that the Williamson reinstatement and other recent actions by the church — such as the return of a Latin Mass prayer that calls for the conversion of the Jews — "were not conscious slights to try to hurt" the Jewish community, but that there were other reasons for the moves that had "unintended consequences."

"With that understanding that it was not directed at us, it was much easier to come together to find ways to repair it and look back and learn and find ways not to repeat it," Foxman said.

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