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In Annual Easter Sermon, Pope Slams Christian Teaching

April 14, 1998
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Pope John Paul II’s Easter message criticized the Christian teaching that Jews bear responsibility for the death of Jesus.

But the pope also criticized the Israeli policy of building Jewish settlements in eastern Jerusalem, saying peace is being threatened by “dangerous political decisions.”

The self-criticism came during the traditional Way of the Cross procession and service in Rome’s ancient Colosseum, which were led by the pope. The events were broadcast live on international television last Friday, when Catholics around the world marked Good Friday.

A prayer read out by a speaker said it was not the Jews who were responsible for the crucifixion, but “all of us and each of us,” and it decried the fact that Jews had been “crucified by us for so long” because of this false accusation.

The prayer said all people, too, were responsible for more recent horrors, including “the ashes of Auschwitz, the ice of the Gulags,” mass slaughter in Asia and massacres in central Africa.

The Vatican’s 1965 Nostra Aetate — Latin for In Our Times — officially repudiated the idea that Jews were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus.

But this Good Friday message was believed to mark the first time that this was expressed in a service commemorating the crucifixion and attended by the pope.

In a related development, the Roman Catholic Church presented Italian Jewish leaders with a formal letter strongly condemning anti-Semitism and apologizing for the church’s past mistreatment of Jews.

“It is an exceptionally open expression,” Tullia Zevi, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said in an interview. “We have asked that this letter be made a formal document of the Italian Bishops Conference.”

The letter, written by the Bishops Conference’s Secretariat for Ecumenism and Dialogue and addressed personally to Zevi and to Rome Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff, was dated March 16 — the day that the Vatican released a controversial document on the Holocaust that disappointed many Jewish leaders.

That document said individual Catholics were guilty of failing to save Jews persecuted by the Nazis, but it absolved the church itself from responsibility.

The letter from the Italian Bishops was presented by a delegation of senior Italian church officials at a meeting in Toaff’s office at the beginning of this month, but was not made public until shortly before Passover.

It went somewhat further than the Vatican document.

The letter noted that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the imposition of anti-Semitic racial laws by the fascist regime of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Although individual Catholic religious and lay people stepped in to help Jews, the letter said, “We recall with discomfort, but with profound and conscious teshuvah, these events, in order to say that we do not and cannot forget them.”

It said that passing time asks us “to recognize the truth of facts and responsibilities, even if they are painful. And the Catholic church in Italy, too, demonstrates very clearly that it does not intend to shy away from this duty, despite delays or some rash voice still lingering in prejudice.”

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