Celebrating Catholic-Jewish Relations


A half-century after the Second Vatican Council, which absolved Jews of responsibility for the death of Jesus and strongly condemned anti-Semitism, Catholic-Jewish relations are at a high point. As proof, an Orthodox rabbi received an honor from the pope this week, and a cardinal will dialogue and dine at the Jewish Theological Seminary next week.

Pope Francis, highly respected for his welcoming ways, awarded Papal Knighthood this week to Rabbi Arthur Schneier, citing the spiritual leader of Park East Synagogue’s longtime efforts “to promote peace and mutual understanding” for all. (See photo on page 18.)Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan and other religious leaders took part in the local ceremony held at the official residence of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations on the Upper East Side.

Rabbi Schneier, who recently turned 85, is founder and president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. He is one of a handful of American Jews to have received the papal honor.

Several Jewish leaders active in interfaith programs noted that Rabbi Schneier has traveled the world tirelessly for many years, establishing personal relationships with religious leaders whom he views as his brothers. It was his synagogue, Park East, marking its 125th anniversary this year, that Pope Benedict chose to visit seven years ago.

Cardinal Dolan will visit JTS on May 6 to speak about the current state of Jewish-Catholic dialogue. Marking the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), the event is further proof of the excellent relations between the two faith communities. After centuries in which it promoted or allowed anti-Semitic acts, the Church has made great strides in recognizing and censuring such actions. Further, it has introduced mandatory courses in seminaries that emphasize the Jewish roots of Christianity and the dramatic, positive changes in the relationship.

There are ongoing unresolved issues between the two communities, such as access to Vatican archives and the role of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust. But Rabbi Burton Visotzky, a professor of interreligious studies at JTS, says, “this is a signal moment” in Catholic-Jewish relations. He agreed with Cardinal Dolan’s observation that Jews and Catholics have reached the stage where they can move past “a dialogue of grievance,” able to work together on social issues for all people, fighting poverty and fostering friendship.

It’s important to recognize and appreciate how far the Church has come in its attitude toward and dealings with the Jewish community.