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For Third Week in Row, Pope’s Remarks Anger Jews

August 17, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

For the third consecutive Wednesday, Pope John Paul II has raised concern among Jewish religious leaders with remarks which cast in doubt the validity of the Jewish covenant with God.

“The time has come for a high-level clarification from the Catholic leadership,” said Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

Rudin and others are troubled over the remarks made by the pope at his weekly audience, which were similar to remarks he made on Aug. 2 and 9.

In his statements on the origins of Christianity, the pope discussed the “new covenant” with God that the Christians forged and also of “Israel’s infidelity to its God.”

Some Jewish leaders have interpreted these remarks as implying that the Jewish covenant with God is no longer in place.

Such a reading would conflict directly with Vatican Council II, the 1965 doctrine which modernized the Catholic Church and its attitudes toward Jews.

The new interpretation of the pope’s remarks would also contradict statements made by the pope himself in 1980, 1986 and 1987.


Speaking at the Rome synagogue in 1986, the pope called the Jewish covenant with God “irrevocable.”

Rudin, who is also the current chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, said that the recent controversial remarks can be interpreted as doubting “the validity, the authenticity and the legitimacy of Judaism.”

While discussion of the issue may appear esoteric, Rudin said that theological anti-Semitism can have serious implications.

“Theological teachings are very serious and cannot be dismissed,” Rudin said. “It affects people’s behavior toward Jews throughout the world.”

Rabbi Leon Klenicki, director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith’s Department of Interfaith Affairs and also its representative to the Vatican, said he detected a change in the pope’s remarks over the course of the three weeks.

Klenicki said that this Wednesday, the pope appeared more “careful” in his wording in his discussion of the two faiths.

In the most recent remarks, Klenicki said, “he’s talking about a double covenant, a Jewish covenant and a Christian covenant.”

Dr. Eugene Fisher, the secretary for Catholic-Jewish relations for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that Jews have misinterpreted the pope’s remarks.

The pope “is affirming positives about Christianity,” Fisher said, and has not, in this series of sermons, “even taken up the question of God’s continuing relationship with the Jewish people.”

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