Catholic group fires back at ADL

The Catholic World News ran a piece this week responding to the ADL’s criticism of a recent statement by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The ADL was upset about the statement, which appeared to reaffirm the church’s desire to convert Jews, which the ADL determined to be "unnacceptable." The ADL sought reaffirmation that interfaith dialogue with Jews "is devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism."

The CWN article is somewhat confusing. On the one hand they make this entirely reasonable point:

The clarification, as the new document explained, was necessary to clear up some false impressions about the nature of Catholic teaching. In other words the US bishops, through their committee on doctrine, were doing what Catholic bishops are morally obligated to do: providing clear guidance about the authentic teachings of the Church.

In a sense it goes without saying that some Catholic teachings will be "unacceptable" to Jews. After all, if a Jew accepts all of the teachings of the Church, he becomes a convert to Catholicism. And conversion is precisely the question on which the latest tensions arise.

Regarding the call for upholding the earlier statement, which appeared to renounce efforts to convert Jews, the article had this to say:

The US bishops cannot possibly provide the reassurance that the ADL wants; to do so would be to renounce the mission entrusted to the Church by Christ Himself: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

But later in the statement, it says this:

Jewish participants may want assurances that the dialogue is not merely a pretext for an attempt at conversion; Catholics are quite ready to give that assurance.

So which is it? Can the bishops assure the ADL that interfaith dialogue is not a pretext or conversion, or would that be to negate Christian teachings? The answer would appear to lie in the space between dialogue as a "pretext" for conversion, and whether it is "devoid of any intention" to do so, but it’s not entirely clear.

For its part, the ADL might be confusing things too. It wants assurance that dialogue partners won’t be invited to convert, but honestly, does that ever happen? The church’s Jewish interlocutors are learned rabbis and scholars, and are hardly the most likely candidates to be lured into accepting Christianity because they talk theology with some Catholic leaders over lox and bagels every now and again.

The real concern would seem to be the church embarking on an evangelizing mission targeting the Jewish rank and file. But as the article points out, asking Catholics to swear off that is tantamount to seeking the renunciation of an article of faith — and at Jewish insistence, no less.

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