A statement from the US Council of Bishops last week has stirred up some long-standing tensions between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish community. On June 18, 2009, the Committee on Doctrine and Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued “A Note on Ambiguities Contained in Reflections on Covenant and Mission.”
The “Ambiguities” are part of a document issued in 2002 by a group of Catholic and Jewish scholars seeking common ground for dialogue and mutual understanding. The recent statement points out that “Reflections on Covenant and Mission” was never an official document of the Catholic Bishops, and clarifies several statements made in that document.
The core of the issue relates to the question of whether Christians (specifically Catholic Christians) should be seeking to convert Jews. This has been a sticky question from the earliest days of the Christian movement. What has happened to God’s original covenant with the Jews?
The present issue reinforces some of the historic affirmations of the Church- however grateful Christians may be to the Jews, they are to understand that the new revelation in Jesus Christ has fulfilled and completed the covenant. Christians are to evangelize, to “tell the good news.”
Some Jewish leaders are understandably upset by statements in this new document that seem to imply that Catholics should enter interfaith dialogue with an intent to convert Jews. The Anti Defamation League asked the Bishops to reaffirm a commitment to dialogue without proselyting.
It is a constant tension in interfaith relationships– how to hold firmly to your own convictions while appreciating the religious commitments of your dialogue partner. Rabbi Yehiel E. Poupko, Judaic Scholar at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago notes, “No faith community should turn to another and tell them what to believe.” However, it does make a difference how another community acts. In light of the tragic history of Jewish/Christian relations over the past two thousand years, a little “humility and caution” would be appropriate on both sides.
- A Note on Ambiguities Contained in Reflections on Covenant and Mission
US Conference of Catholic Bishops
- ADL Troubled By U.S. Bishops’ Statement
Anti Defamation League
- New rows deepen old ruts in Catholic-Jewish relations
National Catholic Reporter