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Pope John Planned to Have Vatican Extend Recognition to Israel

January 11, 1973
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A plan by Pope John XXIII to have the Vatican extend formal diplomatic recognition to Israel was cut short by the Pontiff’s death, it was stated in the Jan. 5 issue of the National Catholic Reporter, a lay-edited periodical. This information, according to Jim Castelli, associate editor of the Reporter, was given by Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, director of interreligious-affairs of the American Jewish Committee.

According to Castelli, Rabbi Tanenbaum in a telephone interview with the magazine related that he and the late Rabbi Abraham Heschel “were told of the Pope’s intentions by the late Cardinal Augustin Bea while he was in the United States in March 1963.” Pope John wanted diplomatic recognition “to coincide with the publication of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,” Castelli stated in his article based on the interview with Rabbi Tanenbaum.

The rabbi also told the Reporter that Pope John was moving carefully “because of opposition to recognition by Arab Catholics and conservative officials in the Vatican curia,” Castelli wrote. “Pope Paul also favors recognition, but has been more cautious than Pope John, Tanenbaum said.” Continuing, Castelli wrote: “The Vatican and Israel have established close informal ties, described by Tanenbaum as ‘de facto diplomatic relations.’ But the religious symbolism an official diplomatic recognition would bring has not come about.”


According to Castelli Rabbi Tanenbaum related that Cardinal Bea, a prime mover behind the declaration on relations with non-Christians and the head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Christian Unity in 1963, came to the U.S. to get support for the declaration, “and to make certain that what was said about the Jews in the declaration was acceptable to Jews themselves.” A meeting between Cardinal Bea and Rabbis Heschel and Tanenbaum was arranged by the late Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston, and was held in Cardinal Cushing’s chancery, Castelli stated.

Rabbi Tanenbaum reportedly told the Reporter that the Vatican Council’s declaration marked a break with past church teachings on the Jews and that Pope John saw diplomatic recognition of Israel as a dramatic expression of that break. The section on Jews in the declaration stressed close ties between Catholics and Jews and stated that the crucifixion of Christ “cannot be charged against all Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today,”

According to Castell, Rabbi Tanenbaum said he and Rabbi Heschel had promised Cardinal Bea they would keep the information about Pope John’s planned recognition of Israel confidential. But, Castelli wrote, Rabbi Tanenbaum said he felt enough time had passed that he could discuss the matter.

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