International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee
16th Meeting - Vatican City - March 23-26, 1998
Following the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church and international groups representing the Jewish people both in Israel and in the Diaspora determined to establish together a mechanism to follow through on the extraordinary moment in history represented by the Council's Declaration, Nostra Aetate ("In Our Time"). After nearly two millennia of polemical relations, a window was opened (aggiornamento) to allow dialogue to replace the disputations of the past. The result was the establishment of the International Liaison Committee (ILC) between the Holy See and the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC).1 The 15th meeting was held in Jerusalem in 1994, celebrating the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel. The 16th meeting is the first to be held within the Vatican City State itself.
After the joint prayer of a psalm read by Professor Jean Halperin of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva, opening statements were presented by the two Co-chairs of the meeting, Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, President of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and Dr. Gerhard Riegner, Honorary Vice-President of the World Jewish Congress. The two statements represented the differing, but the ILC believes, not incompatible concerns of the world religious communities for which the two spoke.
The Cardinal expressed his appreciation for the cooperation of the Jewish partners in the dialogue to find solutions for such difficult issues as the Carmelite Convent adjacent to Auschwitz and the long process involved in establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel. Regarding the Holy See Commission's statement "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah", the Cardinal noted that Catholics still have much to learn. But he also pointed out that the Jewish community as well needs to understand better how the Catholic Church views itself.
In the longer range, the Cardinal urged the attention of the Committee on the need for practical ways of educating about each other and of pursuing common goals so that we may stand together for the common good of society. He noted especially the model of the Agreement of Rochester, New York, in which the departments of the diocese and their counterparts in the Jewish community worked out institutionally binding agreements in the areas of education, social action, health and welfare, and interreligious relations. We must not, the Cardinal concluded citing Rabbi Jack Bemporad of New Jersey, become "entrenched in past pain." Christians must be allowed to be Christians, and Jews to be Jews.
Dr. Riegner commented that the meeting was taking place only "a few days" following the release of the Commission's document, "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," and so opened a "frank discussion" of the text. First, he, as a personal witness to that tragic history, stated that the Jewish community had been "deeply impressed" by the "very strong passages" in the statement, citing in particular the acknowledgment of the need for "repentance (teshuva)" on the part of the universal Church for the Shoah, the statement's "binding commitment" to ensure that such evil does not happen again, and the willingness to review the painful history of past "anti-Judaism" in the Church.
He nevertheless expressed serious disappointment that in his opinion the document "avoids taking a clear position on the direct relationship between the teaching of the contempt and the political and cultural climate that made the Shoah possible." He furthermore expressed strong reservation concerning the document's presentation of some of the facts of the historical record. Accordingly he emphasized the words of the Cardinal in presenting the document as not "a conclusion" but rather "another step for further development."
Mrs. Tullia Zevi, President of the Hebrew Communities in Italy, welcomed the ILC delegates in the name of the oldest Jewish community in Europe, nothing that Jews and Catholics in Rome have been "neighbors" for two millennia. She believes that the statements of Cardinal Cassidy and Dr. Riegner, taken together, "provide a good basis for dialogue." She had just come from a meeting of the European Council of Jewish Communities, which urged such an ongoing encounter with history pursuant to the spirit of the Vatican Statement.
In the course of the discussion, Cardinal Cassidy sought to clarify misunderstandings regarding the terminology of the document. While the term "the Church" refers to the inerrant mystical bride of Jesus Christ, the term "sons and daughters of the Church" does not exclude members of the Church at any level. In addition he added that while the document had to use language and terms that would be heard throughout the Catholic world, even where there was no historical memory and experience of anti-Semitism, the document - as a clear Vatican acknowledgment of the Shoah in all its tragic dimensions - serves as a bulwark against Holocaust denial.
In discussion on the Vatican's record during the Shoah and the Jewish demand for impartial access to the relevant archival material, Cardinal Cassidy suggested that a joint team of Jewish and Catholic scholars review the relevant material in the volumes produced by Catholic scholars - covering the historical period concerned, and if questions still remained, they should seek further clarification.
The Committee's discussion took up four major themes: "Education" What and How Do We and Ought We Teach About Each Other;" a Joint Statement on Ecology; an exchange of information on statements made by Bishops' Conferences and that of the Holy See's Commission, "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah;" and considerations of the possibilities and challenges of the coming celebration of the Jubilee Year 2000.
1. Teaching About Each Other
Beginning with a thorough report and analysis of textbook studies in the U.S. by Dr. Philip Cunningham of Notre Dame College in Manchester, New Hampshire, reports on the state of Catholic education vis a vis Jews and Judaism were given by Hans Herman Henrix (Germany), Bishop Stanislaw Gadecki (Poland), Rev. Maroun Lahham (Palestine), Bishop Clemente Riva (Italy), Rev. Jesús Hortal, S.J. (Brazil), and Rev. Jean Dujardin of the French Episcopal Commission for Dialogue with Jews. Great progress was noted in removing the ancient Adversus Judaeos tradition (or "teaching of contempt") from current Catholic education around the world, with much activity promoting dialogue reported. Areas needing further progress, however, were also noted. Dr. Eugene Fisher of the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, discussed misunderstandings of Christianity and Catholicism widespread in the Jewish community and steps that might be taken by Jewish educators to promote more accurate understanding.
On the Jewish side, reports were given by Rabbi A. James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee, Dr. Ronald Kronish of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, Dr. Norman Solomon of Oxford University, Rabbi Henry Sobel (Brazil), and Prof. Adolphe Steg (France) concerning efforts to promote understanding through education and dialogue between Jews and Catholics.
2. Statements of the Catholic Church on the Shoah
Understanding the Vatican document on the Shoah as a beginning and not as an ending of a process, especially on the historical issues its raises, the ILC as a whole expressed its commitment to continue the dialogue and to establish a joint working group of historians and theologians to pursue further studies on the period of the Shoah, and to seek together a "healing of memory".
Consideration and discussion were devoted as well to a remarkable series of statements offering reflection on the Shoah by Catholic Bishops' Conferences, especially in Europe: the Hungarian Bishops (26 October 1992), the German Bishops (17 January 1995), the U.S. Bishops (27 January 1995), the Polish Bishops (27 January 1995), the Dutch Bishops (October 1995), the Swiss Bishops (5 Mar 1997), and the French Bishops (30 September 1997).
3. We have learned about recent statements concerning the cross at the former Auschwitz Convent, and wish to express our deep concern and to appeal to all those involved to work together patiently in order to find an acceptable solution for the transfer of the cross to an appropriate alternative site. The ILC will follow the situation prayerfully and supportively for all concerned.
4. After discussion, the Statement on Ecology, originally proposed in Jerusalem in 1994, was passed with strong support. [Click here for Common Statement on the Environment]
5. The Millennium / Jubilee Year 2000. In discussing preparation for the coming Millennium/Jubilee Year 200, emphasis was placed on the vision proposed by Pope John Paul II that the turning of the Christian Millennium should provide Christians with the occasion for a reckoning of the soul (confession/inner conversion; heshbon hanefesh/teshuvah) not only with consideration of historical Christian anti-Jewish theology and mistreatment of Jews, but across the historical spectrum. Such a Christian reconsideration could well lay the basis for a further reconciliation between Jews and Catholics that may profoundly change for the better the course of the next millennium of our shared, too often contentious history. The ILC, needless to say, strongly encourages efforts to this end, and recommends the establishment of a mechanism to ensure bilateral consultations and planning for interreligious programming in the Holy Land and throughout the world. It is our hope that Pope John Paul II will be able to visit the Holy Land in connection with the Jubilee celebration.
Finally, it is our common hope that the coming of the Millennium will see the establishment of permanent, peaceful relations between Israel and her neighbors. We affirm the right of freedom of movement and access to the Holy Sites of the respective religious communities in the Holy Land, and we pray for their welfare and for the many pilgrims who will visit the Holy Land in the coming years.
On March 24, the ILC enjoyed a reception at the residence of the Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See, Aaron Lopez. On March 26, the ILC was granted a private audience with Pope John Paul II.
Vatican City, 26 March 1998.
1. The IJCIC is composed of the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, B'nai B'rith International, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Israel Jewish Council for Interreligious Relations, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the United Synagogue of America, and the World Jewish Congress.
[Below: members of the 16th ILC meeting with Pope John Paul II]