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The Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations

Dear Mr Dangoor

I thought the enclosed article which the Centre for Jewish Christian Relations has sent out might be interesting for your magazine. I am Chairman of the Board of Trustees and we have done a great deal of work for improving Christian Jewish understanding at an academic level in Cambridge. The Centre is very successful. We have today over 100 students studying Jewish Christian text and working together in a most harmonious manner.


Clemens N Nathan

Recent developments in the Roman Catholic Church are sending out the wrong signals, and friends of the Church are concerned.

Of particular worry is the doctrine of the Faith’s declaration, Dominus lesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus and the Church. The outward purpose of this declaration is to offer a firm riposte to theologians who relativize the Christian faith and the Roman Catholic Church. However, it has been criticised by many involved in intra-faith as well as inter-faith dialogue, because the tone of the document is so grudging and because it represents a step in a concerted attempt to overturn the dialogue of recent decades.

The tone of Dominus lesus fails to reflect the deeper understanding that has been achieved through dialogue over the last 30 years.

No wonder an alliance of Protestant churches criticised it as ecumenically insensitive. It required the personal intervention of Pope John Paul who emphasised the Catholic Church’s commitment to improving ecumenical relations at a meeting with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (which claim a total membership of 75 million Christians in 106 countries). The commitments of the Catholic Church to ecumenical dialogue is irrevocable, he said in a welcome clarification.

This declaration has appeared immediately after a series of events which have depressed friends of the Roman Catholic Church. Attempts to canonise Pius XII and the linking of beautification of Pius IX with John XXIII have caused grave concern about what is going on in the Vatican. The pairing of these two Popes is clearly a balancing act between liberals and conservatives. For many of us, Pius IX is remembered primarily for holding out against modernity as well as acquiescing in the kidnapping and forcible conversion of a Jewish child. Another worrying development is the recent outburst by the Cardinal Biffi, Archbishop of Bologna, about a Muslim "invasion" of Europe.

I fear that these events, whilst separate, represent a concerted attempt to reverse the advances that emerged from Vatican II. If such attitudes prevail, they will cause untold harm not just to relations between the Roman Catholic Church and other churches but also with Judaism and, more worryingly, to relations with other major religions, sharpening the anti-Christian fervour of some of their fundamentalists.

For example, there has always been a tension between Christianity and Islam because of the latter’s missionary emphasis and Muslims are now more likely to take up a position of conflict. Anti-Christian violence has in recent years broken out in parts of Africa and Asia. This is not limited to Muslim countries: even India (a country with history of tolerance towards Jews and Christians) has seen outbreaks of anti-Christian feeling. This was previously almost unheard of, and the call for active missionary activity and evangelising the religions of the world will surely increase the risk of a recurrence of such explosions of feeling.

Although Dominus lesus does not discuss the Catholic-Jewish relations, it clearly has important implications. Judaism is obviously non-Christian, yet it is not a subset of "non-Christian religions" either. It is in its own category but I wonder how followers of other religions view this document? How can Catholics involved in dialogue assert with integrity that their dialogue partners are in a gravely deficient situation?

This declaration is not, as some have suggested, a helpful line drawn in the sand. It may be that we are just witnessing conservative figures in the Church battling for the Pope’s ear during the twilight of this papacy; but some liberal Catholic theologians fear that something far more sinister is afoot: nothing less than a conspiracy to overturn Vatican II.

Over the last 40 years we have watched and welcomed the more ecumenical approach adopted by the Church: the current Pope, though a conservative, has taken massive strides to heal the historic rift between Catholicism and Judaism. We have grown used to a Catholic Church which spoke of its "deep and mutual respect" for its brothers and sisters in other Christian churches, let alone its Jewish "elder brothers".

From the liberal end of the Catholic spectrum there is a deafening silence. It would be interesting to know what Cardinal Cassidy thinks about all this. The Pope’s recent journey to Israel and the Palestinian Territories has demonstrated his personal commitment to religious tolerance and understanding. Can the same be said about the Curia?

The dialogue between Catholics and Jews has deepened in recent years and the relationship has matured. The desire to create a sustained, positive relationship between us, the willingness to engage in authentic dialogue from our long and complex history, and the ability to give (and receive) criticism is part of an ongoing process (and should not simply be dismissed because it is a view which one partner does not like).


Dear Clemens

Thank you for your letter and enclosure which will be considered for the next issue of The Scribe.

The Vatican’s declaration is a retrograde step. As a matter of fact I believe the trend should be in the opposite direction. Judaism has been regarded as the mother religion of Christianity and Islam, but I now believe that it is more correct to call all three religions as sister religions. There are elements both in Christianity and Islam that go far beyond the beginnings of our rabbinical religion and are all together on equal basis regarding our relationship.


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