Papal Adviser’s Comments Jolt Catholic-jewish Relations
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Papal Adviser’s Comments Jolt Catholic-jewish Relations

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The state of Catholic-Jewish relations was rocked this week with the disclosure that a major Vatican official said that Judaism “finds its fulfillment” in “the reality of Jesus Christ.”

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, a papal adviser and head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was quoted as saying this, and more, in the Oct. 24 Italian weekly magazine II Sabato.

On Tuesday, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), meeting at its annual conference in Washington, released Ratzinger’s remarks in German, as well as copies of the Italian magazine interview. A major ruckus ensued, prompting rebuttals and analyses by Jewish leaders, Catholic leaders and the press.

At issue is Ratzinger’s assertion that “The Pope has offered respect, but also a theological line. This always implies our union with the faith of Abraham, but also the reality of Jesus Christ, in which the faith of Abraham finds its fulfillment.”


Jewish participants in Vatican relations are interpreting Ratzinger’s statements as saying that Judaism can find purpose only in Christ, thus overturning all progress since Vatican Council II more than 20 years ago and especially since this summer’s meetings between Jewish representatives and high Vatican officials and Pope John Paul II.

Eugene Fisher, executive secretary for Catholic-Jewish relations for NCCB, contended Tuesday that Ratzinger’s remarks had been misrepresented because they were taken out of context and translated without a feeling for the “nuance” of the language.

On Wednesday, Ratzinger’s Vatican office released what it said was a “clarification” of Ratzinger’s remarks in response to a request from Jewish organizations. The response contained four points reported to represent Ratzinger’s understanding of Catholic-Jewish dialogue. They are:

A Christian should acknowledge his Old Testament heritage and know that according to the Christian faith the Old Testament was fulfilled in Christ.

When Jews convert to Christianity, they should not forget their Jewish heritage.

Christians should acknowledge and respect the Jews in “their own faith and expectations.”

Christians should aspire thorough dialogue to overcome misunderstandings and the “teaching of contempt” of Jews in order to “develop true knowledge, respect and love.”

But the International Jewish Committee on Interfaith Consultations (IJCIC) decided Tuesday to postpone a meeting with Catholic representatives, scheduled for December.

The major factors, according to Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, were Ratzinger’s statements and widespread concern in the Jewish community that the Vatican was approaching this meeting without an honest assessment of its own actions during the Holocaust.

In September, Vatican officials had indicated the Pope would prepare a statement expressing remorse for the Shoah and addressing the Vatican’s role during that time.

Steinberg explained that “now there is widening concern by the Jewish community that such a statement would be another whitewash of the role of the church in the period immediately thereafter.”

Details of Ratzinger’s interview are unclear. It is not yet known whether Ratzinger gave the interview in German or Italian, although Fisher said it was in German.


This is important because of minor discrepancies between the German and Italian versions of Ratzinger’s remarks. Although Fisher and Johannes Cardinal Willebrands, president of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, highlighted these differences as significant, Jewish observers do not seem to be convinced.

For example, in the German text, Ratzinger is quoted as saying “for us” — referring to Catholics — preceding the quotation about “the faith of Abraham finds its fulfillment” in Christianity. These words do not appear in the Italian version. The English versions that were quoted in the American Catholic press did not include the words “for us.”

Alan Mittleman, program associate in the interreligious affairs department of the American Jewish Committee, believes that with these translations “a case is attempted to be built on the fact that the original was in German, that Ratzinger is somewhat relativizing it, saying that ‘We Catholics believe this is true, but we are not trying to impose this on Jews.'”

“But Ratzinger is not a pluralist,” said Mittleman. “For us, the words ‘for us’ hardly solves our problem.” Mittleman said that Ratzinger’s comments “really invade our faith” and “are caught in a contradiction.”

Responding to reports of the explanation, Rabbi A. James Rudin, national interreligious affairs director of the AJCommittee, told JTA Thursday “that really the explanation is insufficient. This is so important that the Cardinal’s remarks and explanations deserve much more than hanging on the two words ‘for us.'”

Rudin explained why the issue so concerned him. “If the Cardinal’s words that are read in fact truly represent retrogressive steps in Jewish-Catholic relations, it’s very serious,” he said.

Rudin said that Ratzinger’s statements are significant because of his high Vatican office and his reputed strong influence on the Pope.

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