Vatican urges new respect for ewish heritage
by Peter Stanford IN A major policy statement, hailed as a significant step forward in Catholic-Jewish relations, the Vatican has outlined the common heritage of the two faiths and called for greater "objectivity, toleran..e and understanding" of Judaism.
"Jesus was and always remained a Jew, his ministry was deliberately limited to the lost sheep of the house of Israel", the document, The Common Bond, states in highlighting the Jewish roots of Christianity. Those roots must be taken into account in the preaching and teaching of the Catholic Church.
The Common Bond, released in Rome on Monday by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, headed by Cardinal Willebrands, comes 20 years after the Vatican II document, Nostra aetate, which dealt with Jewish-Catholic relations, and develops the themes of that historic document.
Jews and Judaism "should not occupy an occasional and marginal place in catechesis: their presence there is essential and should be organically integrated", the document states. Quoting Pope John Paul's 1982 plea to a conference on Judao-Catholic relations for a "Catholic teaching that presents Jews and Judaism not only in an honest and objective manner, free from prejudices and without any offences, but also with full awareness of the heritage common to Jews and Christians", The Common Bond urgently urges "precise, objective and rigourously accurate teaching" about the Jewish faith, and warns that it is a lack of knowledge which opens the way to "the danger of antisemitism which is always ready to reappear under different guises". Developing the theme of a common heritage, the document pays special attention to the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments, and cautions that "'old' does not mean 'out of date' or 'outworn'." Rather, in teaching and preaching the Bible, it should be emphasised that the Old Testament should be read as "preparation and, in some aspects, outline and foreshadowing of the New". In this way, the common basis of dialogue and mutual understanding of each other's faith would be built up between Christian and Jews and would enable the principles of Nostra aetate and in 1973 Guidelines on the same subject, to be followed and implemented more thoroughly.
Turning to the New Testament, The Common Bond stresses Christ's respect for and obedience to the Jewish law, and his links with the Pharisees and their teaching.
Looking at some of the more unfavourable references in the New Testament to Jews, the Vatican text points out that some of these "have their historical context in conflicts between the nascent Church and the Jewish community". This fact is of particular importance when preparing Lenten and Holy Week homilies, The Common Bond notes.
For the first time in a Vatican
document, Cardinal Willebrands and his commission have made detailed reference to the "State of Israel" and its "permanence". The Vatican does not have diplomatic links with the State of Israel.
Response to the document in this country emerged slowly this week. Cardinal Hume has sent a copy of the text to the Chief Rabbi, Sir Immanuel Jacobovits. The Chief Rabbi has yet to respond.
However the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, which includes leading Jewish organisations, said the document reflected a "regressive spirit" and "little recognition of how Jews conceive themselves."
The group also said that the Vatican statement included only a "vague, passing and almost gratuitous \ reference" to the Nazi crimes against the Jews and dealt inadequately with the religious significance of the state of Israel.
Mr Harry Siegman, the executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said that some elements of the statement "will serve to advance the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish Community." But other aspects of it, he went on, were "problematic."
see analysis, page three and leading article, page four