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Conversion Issue Raised at International Christian-jewish Parley

August 10, 1966
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

One of Britain’s outstanding lay Catholics, who is a leader in the efforts to improve relations between Jews and Christians, declared at Cambridge University today that the “crux” of the recent Ecumenical Council declaration regarding Jews was the aim of converting Jews to Catholicism. However, he insisted, “the notion that there was a campaign on to convert Jews is quite fantastic.”

The statement was made by Christopher Hollis, a well-known British author, who is head of the Catholic Church Council in this country, charged with implementing a new approach toward friendship between Catholics and Jews in Britain.

Mr. Hollis was one of the speakers at today’s session of the International Conference on Christian-Jewish Relations, convened yesterday at Newnham College, at Cambridge. Ninety scholars and religious leaders of various faiths from a number of European countries as well as from the United States are attending the conference. The chairman of the conclave is Sir Seymour Edward Karminski, judge of Britain’s High Court of Justice.

Among Americans attending the conference are Rabbi Marc H. Tannenbaum, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee; Dr. Jacob B. Agus, rabbi of Congregation Beth El, Baltimore; the Rev. Dr. Robert Dodds, director of ecumenical affairs of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States; and the Rev. Edward Flannery, a Jesuit priest who is a member of the United States Bishops Subcommission on Catholic-Jewish Relations.

“We,” said Mr. Hollis, speaking of the Catholics, “hope for conversions. We frankly admit we pray for conversions. But our prime business is not with conversions but with edification of Catholics. Conversion is something that must be left for God to look after.”


A number of Jewish participants in the conference objected to Mr. Hollis’ formulations regarding conversion. The Rev. Dr. I. Levy, attending the conference as a representative of the World Jewish Congress, led the counter-attack against Mr. Hollis. He said: “The mere use of that word ‘conversion’ has been a warning light for Jews. It has undermined the undoubtedly good intentions of the Vatican Council.”

Justice Karminski told the conference, as chairman, that neo-Nazism remains a great threat to Christian-Jewish relations. “A cause of neo-Nazism,” he declared, “comes from non-thinkers and psychopaths. We must try to reach those dull and unhappy people who are the most vulnerable to anti-Semitism.”

“The young Germans,” continued the high court judge, “realize what the Nazis did, and they are showing a tremendous determination that it must never happen again. We must remember that most of the students were not yet born by 1945, so they could not have known about the atrocities. Their response now, which is a strong one, is a sign for hope. There are differences in fundamentals. But we are a people with common historical backgrounds. No religious belief can exist in a watertight container. I don’t believe we can remain in a vacuum forever.”

Rabbi Tannenbaum, in addressing the conference, urged Christian leaders not to “go it alone” in the area of inter-religious cooperation. “The striving for internal Christian unity,” he said, “might lead to a pan-Christian exclusivism that could ignore the authentic pluralism of the global human family.” He warned that such an approach “could create a problem for all non-Christian religious groups.

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