Archbishop, in Lecture, Addresses Catholic-Jewish Relations


The relationship between Catholics and Jews has grown stronger and has begun to put more focus on issues of shared concern, and the Church is firmly committed to continuing that growth, Archbishop Dolan said last week.

The archbishop presented a lecture, “The State of Catholic-Jewish Relations in the United States,” at Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan April 12. Following his talk, he and the seminary’s chancellor, Arnold Eisen, engaged in an informal dialogue and answered questions from the audience.

The archbishop called on Catholics and Jews to work more closely with each other on matters that affect all believers, and to build closer ties based on what they have in common. He also spoke about issues that are, or were, contentious, including questions about the actions of Pope Pius XII during World War II and the prayer for the conversion of the Jewish people that formerly was used in the Good Friday liturgy.

An audience of 300 Jews and Catholics gave him a warm and spirited welcome. The mood, like the archbishop’s tone, was serious and reflective, but at the same time congenial and brightened with humor.

The archbishop and the chancellor, in their dialogue, agreed that it was important for Jews and Catholics “in the pews”—and not only their religious leaders—to meet, talk and get to know one another.

‘We have a providential opportunity to do that in New York,” Archbishop Dolan said. “New York is a reflection of the dialogue of getting along.”

He remarked in his lecture that the Jewish community in New York “has extended the hand of friendship” to him since his arrival here, and he thanked the Jews of New York for their “outreach” to him and to the Catholic community. He said that he wants to “broaden the friendship” between Jews and Catholics that his predecessors worked to establish.

The archbishop remarked that he was co-chairman of the Jewish-Catholic dialogue sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, but had to resign that post when he was elected president of the conference. But he stressed his commitment to Catholic-Jewish relations in the archdiocese, and he cited several developments.

Catholics and Jews have moved from “a dialogue of grievances” to “a dialogue of mutuality,” focusing more intently in issues of concern to both groups. Steps have been taken to identify those issues, he said; they include interreligious marriage, the handing on of faith to children, and “stopping the leakage of faithful,” a problem for both faiths, he said.

The two groups are “only at the beginning of appreciating each other’s concept of memory,” which he defined as “collective awareness of God’s saving actions and revelation, and a respect for a shared identity.” That appreciation is fundamental to continuing dialogue, he said, and it relates both to mindfulness of past wrongs and to current work on issues of importance.

Archbishop Dolan cited another bond between the two faith groups: their “mutual admiration for the life and work of Pope John Paul II,” for whom Jews and Catholics were “no longer strangers to each other, but brothers and sisters.”

“I’ve been moved by how many of you have expressed your desire to join with us Catholics in thanking God for the gift of John Paul’s leadership…I continue to be inspired by the passion of your love for John Paul II,” he said.

John Paul’s “greatest political initiative,” he continued, was to establish diplomatic relations with the state of Israel, in 1993. He noted that the pope’s beatification will take place May 1.

Discussing Pope Pius XII, Archbishop Dolan said that the first question usually asked about the pope’s actions during World War II is “Was Pius XII guilty of failing to save Jewish lives in the Holocaust?” But that question “already carries a negative judgment” about the pope, he said; instead, the first question should be, “What does the historical record tell us?”

Archbishop Dolan, who holds a doctorate in American Church history from The Catholic University of America, said it is “commendable” that the Vatican has provided scholars with access to its records, but added that there is “frustration” at the pace of opening archives.

“As a trained historian, I very much look forward to the opening of the Vatican archives at the earliest possible date,” he said. “The Catholic Church cannot fear the truth.” But he added, “I do resist the circular argument being advanced by many that says the purpose for opening the Vatican archives is to prove the guilt of Pius XII. We must remember that it is impossible to judge moral responsibility when the facts themselves have not yet been clearly established.”

He mentioned that April 13 marked the 25th anniversary of the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Great Synagogue of Rome, which furthered Jewish-Catholic dialogue “built on the admission of past wrongs and the resolve to build a friendship that would prevent these from happening again.”

The Church has gained “a positive insight into her own identity” through that dialogue, he added. Quoting John Paul II, he said that Catholics have a relationship with Judaism that they do not have with any other religion, and that Jews are “the dearly beloved brothers and sisters” of Catholics.

Pope Benedict XVI visited the Great Synagogue Jan. 17, 2010, and Archbishop Dolan said that the pope “reaffirmed” three important points.

First, he said, papal visits and other formal visits between Jews and Catholics show that both groups are committed to improving their relationship “as a religious duty” and not merely “an act of kindness” or an obligation. Second, these visits are signs of friendship as envisioned in the Vatican II document “Nostra Aetate,” on the Church’s relationship with the Jewish people, and are “a blueprint for the future.”

Third, he said, “the tradition of invitation and mutual visitation” is intended by the popes as a sign that the Church’s renewal of its relationship with the Jews is “authentic” and “irreversible.”

One issue raised in the question-and-answer session later in the program was the former Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews. At Archbishop Dolan’s request, his adviser Father Dennis McManus spoke briefly about the issue. Jews had objected to that prayer for centuries, he said, but it was Benedict XVI who “agreed to change the Roman liturgy because of dialogue with Jews who wrote to him” about the prayer.

“No pope has truly listened and acted. This pope did,” Father McManus said. The rewritten prayer says, “We pray for our brothers and sisters, first to hear the word of God, that they may grow in the fulfillment of the promise God has given.”

“For Benedict to have taken these steps is, I think, an enormous tribute to the power of dialogue, and to the seriousness with which he takes the Jewish voice, even as it comments on the Roman liturgy,” Father McManus said.

During the informal dialogue between the archbishop and the chancellor, Eisen asked, rhetorically, what lesson should be drawn from Easter and Passover, and Archbishop Dolan answered, “The towering necessity of hope” symbolized by Israel’s escape from bondage in Egypt and Christ’s resurrection from the dead and promise of eternal life.

Eisen said that what had meant the most to him in Archbishop Dolan’s address was that “in our day, interreligious dialogue is no longer a kindness, it is a duty.”

“It’s a commandment,” Eisen said. “We owe it to God, we owe it to each other, we owe it to the world.”


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