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Cardinal Affirms Better Relations With Jews

November 02, 2002|From Times Wire Reports

ROME — A top Vatican cardinal has reaffirmed that the Roman Catholic Church remains committed to continued improvement in relations with Jews.

In a speech marking the anniversary of a major Second Vatican Council document on Catholic-Jewish relations, Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican official in charge of relations with Jews, told a conference of prelates and rabbis that after 2,000 years of antagonism, Catholics and Jews may still disagree -- but that they do so as brothers.

"Maybe on some issues they will let us down or we will let them down. But fraternity is precisely this contact, where one listens to the heart of the other as if it were his own heart," Kasper said.

The conference commemorated the 37th anniversary of the document Nostra Aetate, Latin for In Our Time, which was drafted during the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meeting that modernized the church.

In it, the Vatican deplored anti-Semitism in every form and repudiated the "deicide" charge that blamed Jews as a people for Christ's crucifixion. The document affirmed that Jesus, the apostles and most of his early followers were Jews, and that God has not revoked his covenant with Jews.

The anniversary was celebrated amid debate over a recent unofficial document saying it is no longer theologically acceptable for the church to target Jews for conversion.

The document was drafted by a group of American Catholic and Jewish scholars and published on the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which had appointed the group along with the National Council of Synagogues.

"In view of our conviction that Jews are in an eternal covenant with God, we renounce missionary efforts directed at converting Jews," the scholars wrote.

The document, which made headlines when it was released Aug. 12, prompted a recent rebuttal by Cardinal Avery Dulles, a top American theologian, who argued that Catholics had a God-given right and duty to convert Jews as well as anyone else.

"Once we grant that there are some persons for whom it is not important to acknowledge Christ, to be baptized and to receive the sacraments, we raise questions about our own religious life," Dulles wrote in the Oct. 21 issue of America, the Jesuit magazine.

A top Jewish scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, said at the conference that prejudices remain and that the Catholic Church is in an "almost impossible" position when it comes to dealing with the Jews.

"It's very hard to be somebody's heir when he's still alive," Steinsaltz told the audience of academics, students and Catholic and Jewish representatives.

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