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Cardinal's Remarks May Upset Delicate Exercise : Jewish-Catholic Dialogue Hits New Snag

November 21, 1987|JOHN DART | Times Religion Writer

The international Jewish-Catholic dialogue, a delicate exercise that apparently was strengthened in September, is experiencing a new disturbance from remarks attributed to the Vatican's top doctrinal authority.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Vatican's Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, was quoted in an Italian weekly magazine to the effect that Judaism finds its fulfillment in Christianity and that that theological direction should be pursued in dialogues with Jews.

Such a statement, both Catholic and Jewish participants in the dialogue said, would contradict church and papal statements of the last 20 years that Jews have a valid, continuing covenant with God and that conversion should not be the hidden agenda of interfaith dialogue.

Other Issues Unresolved

The meetings of Pope John Paul II with Jewish leaders in Rome and Miami in September appeared to affirm those points, even if several other issues remained unresolved.

Ratzinger's office this week sent "clarifications" to U.S. Jewish officials of what his interview remarks were, but one dialogue participant said Friday that the changes did not make a substantial difference.

"It is quite a problematical statement," said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress. "Ratzinger's comments went to the heart of the dialogue itself," he said.

The article, published Oct. 24 in Il Sabato, a conservative weekly magazine, reported that Ratzinger said the aim of dialogue was to arrive at truth rather than to exchange opinions.

'A Theological Line'

"The Pope has offered respect, but also a theological line," Ratzinger said, according to a translation used by National Catholic News Service. "This always implies our union with the faith of Abraham, but also the reality of Jesus Christ, in which the faith of Abraham finds its fulfillment."

A version supplied in English by Ratzinger's office on Wednesday, requested by U.S. Catholic officials, contained the words for us , making the phrase read, "in which, for us, the faith of Abraham finds its fulfillment." The sentence thus implies that only for Christians is Christ a fulfillment of the Jewish faith.

But Steinberg said Friday that the change was not "substantive and the passages about Edith Stein were quite troublesome."

Ratzinger referred in the interview to the case of Edith Stein, a Jew who converted to Catholicism, became a Carmelite nun and was murdered by the Nazis. Her recent beatification--the second of three steps that can lead to sainthood--by the Pope was criticized by Jews.

'Full Inheritance'

"Finding faith in Christ, she entered into the full inheritance of Abraham," Ratzinger said, according to the news service version of the Italian article. "She turned in her Jewish heritage to have a new and diverse heritage. But in entering into unity with Christ, she entered into the very heart of Judaism."

A German-language version of the interview text and four points from Ratzinger's office intended to allay Jewish concerns were sent to U.S. Jewish interfaith officials by Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, who heads the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism.

Those officials, meeting Monday night as the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, sent two telegrams to Vatican officials, according to Steinberg. One expressed dissatisfaction with Ratzinger's remarks, even as explained, and the other sought to postpone a Jewish-Catholic meeting scheduled for Dec. 14-16 in Washington.

Officials have disagreed on whether the Ratzinger article was a factor in the decision to seek postponement of the mid-December discussion, which had been scheduled during talks held last March. Steinberg said it was a factor. Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, director of international relations for the American Jewish Committee, has said instead that the postponement was requested because the intervening dialogues had necessitated new planning for the scheduled topic--the Nazi-era Holocaust and the Catholic Church's actions or inaction at the time.

A Separate Issue

Eugene Fisher, the U.S. bishops' executive secretary for Catholic-Jewish relations, also maintained Friday that the Ratzinger statement is a separate issue from the meeting's postponement.

Fisher said in an interview that the value of the sensitive Jewish-Catholic dialogue is demonstrated by the rapid series of communications that ensued once some misunderstandings arose. Fisher said that the interview with Ratzinger occurred in May when the Edith Stein beatification was being discussed and before the Vatican audience in June for Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, accused of complicity in Nazi war crimes, caused an uproar among Jews and prompted the exchange of views in September.

Some Jewish officials active in dialogues with Catholic leaders said Friday that they view the remarks by Ratzinger, 60, as an unfortunate instance of what older, conservative Catholic theologians will say.

'It Is Deplorable'

"I think it is deplorable," said Rabbi Alfred Wolf, who was the speaker for the Jewish community when Pope John Paul met with Los Angeles leaders of non-Catholic faiths Sept. 16. "We have to expect that this kind of thing will happen once in a while," but Wolf added that American prelates have shown greater consistency in adhering to the respect extended to Judaism at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Likewise, Annette Daum of New York, who chairs Reform Judaism's Department of Interreligious Affairs, said this is "not the first time Vatican officials have made statements that cry out for clarification." But she noted that the Pope, speaking to national Jewish leaders in Miami, stressed his belief in the continuing validity of Judaism.

"I frankly find that more significant than what Ratzinger may or may not have said," she said.

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