Dialogue, Doctrine and Diplomacy (I):A Consideration of the Guidelines for Catholic-Jewish RelationsMay 1992


By Rebecca Lacey Ehrlich BA MA LL.. B

In a dramatic ceremony held in the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney on 2 November 1992 Bishop Bede Heather, the Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, formally launched the Australian Guidelines for Catholic Jewish Relations.1 In their speeches at the launch, Bishop Heather and Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) President Leslie Caplan acknowledged the historic significance of the Catholic Jewish reconciliation process which began with the Declaration known as Nostra Aetate (‘In our Times’) initiated by Pope John XXIII and approved by the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
At the same time the speakers could not avoid mention of some of the contentious doctrinal and political issues. Bishop Heather spoke of ‘the mountain of Jesus of Nazareth’ as the greatest of all barriers between Judaism and Christianity,2 and concluded ‘This mountain will not be readily moved before the faith of us all is transformed by God’s merciful grace’.3 In this context he acknowledged the ‘delicate path to be walked by the Catholic here, making known to all, including Jewish people, the gospel of Jesus Christ,’4 while at the same time conducting open dialogue in an atmosphere of mutual respect.5 In another section of his speech he noted that ‘the Guidelines ask the Catholic people to try to understand some of that mythology which is attached to the State of Israel in the Jewish mind.’6

Leslie Caplan responded on the issue of’’the mountain of Jesus of Nazareth’:

Dialogue can only be possible on the assurance that it is aimed at building bridges of understanding, love and respect for each other, and that it is not aimed at finding some path to unity. The mountain of Jesus of Nazareth must never be an issue between us. We respect your faith, but it is a condition precedent that you must not only understand our belief, but accept that we are not involved in any process of unification.7

On the ‘mythology’ of the Land, he emphasised the ‘covenant bind­ing the people of Israel to the land of Israel’ as ‘the touchstone of the future relationship between the Jewish people and the Church.’8

These issues represent but some of the areas of difficulty that necessarily arise out of any process of reconciliation between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church. While it will be seen the rec­onciliation process which is represented by the Australian Catholic Guidelines (referred to in this article as Guidelines) has resulted in the building of positive personal relationships in the Australian environment, there is no doubt that the ideological chasms which remain, and the need to take account of bitter Jewish memories of centuries of Christian persecution culminating in the Holocaust, will still require careful diplomacy.

The issue of Jewish-Christian relations in general and Jewish-Catholic relations in particular has been the subject of a vast litera­ture. However, to date, there has not been any academic research into the ‘Reconciliation Statements’ issued by a number of the Christian Churches in Australia during the 1990s.9 This article will specifically consider Guidelines, which was the first and most com­prehensive of those statements and which has been associated with an active programme of education and communication. It will outline the general background and the Australian experience of the Catholic-Jewish reconciliation process and it will take the form of an analysis of the principal features of the Guidelines, and their implementation and effect on Catholic-Jewish relations.

Much of the information about Catholic-Jewish relations in Australia in this article has its source in the recollections and obser­vations of the active participants in the reconciliation process who kindly assisted me in personal discussion. Those who spoke with me included the interviewees listed in the Appendix. Where possible oral history has been checked against and integrated with the written, archival sources.

Introduction and Background

At the core of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people lie the historical origins of Christianity in the land of Israel and the unifying context of the Jewish idea of ethical monotheism, the concept of a divinely ordained moral law. Added to this is the adoption by Christianity of elements of the Jewish national culture represented by the body of Jewish literature comprised in the Hebrew Bible and the features of the Jewish liturgy which have been incorporated into Christian practice.

Historically, however, these elements of shared culture have been overshadowed by destructive processes. The charge of Deicide and an inability to accept Jewish rejection of the Christian mes­sianic proclamation still linger at the heart of the Christian con­sciousness; and both have been essential elements in the long histo­ry of religious hatred and physical persecution directed against the Jewish outsider in the mono-cultural societies of Christian Europe.10 It was in this context that the Catholic Church eventually wrestled with the implications of the Nazi Holocaust, and determined to re-examine its relationship with the Jewish people.

Arguably the critical event was the election of Pope John XXIII after the death of Pius XII in 1958. In January 1959 John announced the convocation of a Second Vatican Council for the renewal of the Church.11 In that same year he also announced a crit­ical change in the Good Friday prayers. Before John XXIII the prayer read as follows:

Let us pray also for the perfidious Jews: that our God and Lord may remove the veil from their hearts; that they also may acknowledge Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Since 1959, after a number of further changes, the prayer now reads:

Let us pray for God’s ancient people, the Jews, the first to hear his word: for greater understanding between Christian and Jew; for the removal of our blindness and bitterness of heart.12

This decision has produced a major change in the Catholic liturgy and was naturally implemented in Australia.In 1965, the historic declaration known as Nostra Aetate became one of the numerous important achievements of the Second Vatican Council. Robert A. Graham has described the process of the drafting and adoption of the Declaration as follows:The history of the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions begins with Pope John XXIII. He wanted the Council to make a statement on the Jews, and he asked Cardinal Bea to see to it. Between that beginning and the outcome there is perhaps the most dramat­ic story of the Council.13

After lengthy and vigorous debate following the presentation of a first draft in 1963 and a number of critical revisions of the text, the Declaration was finally approved by the Council in October 1965 during the papacy of Paul VI, as the final session of the Council was drawing to a close.

The Nostra Aetate Declaration does not resile from reciting the Jewish non-acceptance of the Christian messianic message: ‘Jerusalem did not recognise the time of her visitation’. However, it seeks to overcome this Jewish rejection of the essence of Christianity as a source of anti-Jewish feeling by proclaiming a con­tinuing validity for the Jewish Covenant. ‘The Jews still remain most dear to God because of their fathers, because he does not repent of the gifts he makes.’14 Interestingly, a reference to ‘conver­sion’ of the Jews in an earlier draft was dropped ‘because many Council Fathers felt it was not appropriate in a document striving to establish common goals.’15

Most importantly, on the charge of Deicide the Declaration states, ‘True, authorities of the Jews and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His pas­sion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today.’16 This paragraph originally included the words ‘or guilty of deicide’, and much controversy sur­rounds the circumstances in which this was deleted, with both pos­itive and negative connotations!17 The third significant element in the Declaration was a forthright condemnation of antisemitism as a sin.18

In 1966 Pope Paul VI approved the setting up of a special office for Catholic-Jewish relations, curiously situated within the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. Cardinal Cassidy explains that it was not considered appropriate to place the office within the Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions, in the light of the special psychological historical and theological relationship between Jews and Christians.19 He also explains that the emphasis at the beginning was on education of the Christian public.20 In 1970 a Catholic Jewish Liaison Committee was set up, but it was not until 1974 that a dedicated Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews was formally brought into existence.

Meanwhile, an early step in the implementation of the Declaration had come in the United States. In 1967, the United States National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the first Guidelines on Catholic Jewish Relations.21

It was not until 1975, a decade after Nostra Aetate was finalised, that the new Vatican Commission issued Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate (n.4), which are expressed in non-specific general terms.

In the 1980s the reconciliation movement received new impetus with a series of statements by Pope John Paul II promoting the con­cept of a ‘common heritage’ between Jews and Christians. In one such statement, made on 6 March 1982, the Pope promoted the idea of common spiritual purpose:
Through different but finally convergent ways we will be able to reach, with the help of the Lord who has never ceased lov­ing his people (cf Rom 11.1) this true brotherhood in recon­ciliation and respect, and to continue to a full implementation of God’s plan in history.22

Such statements stimulated further activity in the Catholic move­ment for reconciliation, even if they did reflect Christian rather than Jewish world views.23 In 1985, the US Bishops issued a fully updated and revised version of the 1967 Guidelines, prepared by Dr Eugene Fisher,23 setting out principles to be applied in dialogue, liturgy and joint social action.

The Reconciliation Movement in Sydney

According to Rabbi Apple ‘somewhere in the 1970s there was a first attempt to create a climate of understanding between the Catholic and Jewish communities in Australia.’25 He describes the evolution of the Guidelines:

Like everything else they had a pre-history… Probably the most important outcome of that was a meeting which took place at the home of Dr Joachim Schneeweiss who was then the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. In the course of that meeting the Catholic representatives made the statement that Catholic attitudes to Jews and Judaism had irreversibly changed, particularly since the Second World War, in respect especially of the issue of Christian proselytising of Jews. It was made perfectly clear that the major change in atti­tude was that the Catholic Church worldwide but certainly in Australia, no longer believed that it had an obligation to target Jews for conversion to Christianity and the results of that was firstly that it cleared the air, bearing in mind that there had been long term Jewish resentment of Christian prose­lytising attempts including by the Catholic Church, but it also made it possible for a series of explorations to begin in terms of the right relationship between the Jewish community and the Catholic Church. Now amongst the things which transpired was that a number of key officials within the Catholic Church were deputed to try to put into writing some of the possible ways in which the two communities could speak to each other, understand each other and work together.26

Another key element in the reconciliation movement was the estab­lishment in 1980 of a community of the Sisters of Sion in Sydney under the guidance of Sister Lenore Sharry, with a specific programme of ‘commitment to the Jewish people and to reconciliation between Church and Synagogue’.27 The Order, known officially as the Religieuses de Notre Dame de Sion, had established a branch in Australia in 1890, when they had been invited by the Bishop of Sale in Victoria to work in the diocese, and had established a school. Founded by a Jewish convert, Fr Theodore Ratisbonne in 1843 in Rome, their original programme was a desire for the conversion of the Jews to Christianity. Since the Second World War and ‘ratified by the teaching of Vatican II in Nostra Aetate,’28 the idea of conver­sion was replaced by ‘the Church’s recognition that God is always faithful to the people whom he chose as his own.’29 As the Order’s website puts it:

Israel’s resurrection as a nation after the Holocaust strengthens faith in God’s promises to his people and hence to all humanity, because Abraham, the father of all Jews received God’s assurance. ‘In you shall all the nations of the earth be blessed’, so our faith is ‘established in Sion’.30

In 1979, Sister Lenore Sharry made an exploratory visit to Sydney with the aim of developing a plan of action for the Order’s work in promoting Catholic-Jewish relations.31 She identified the Eastern Suburbs as her ‘area of research’ which was ‘an almost unknown area in Christian circles’. She noted the existence of the ‘Jewish-Christian Study group’ which was meeting bi-monthly at the Great Synagogue, a ‘Jewish Christian Study Group’ which met in Bondi with Rabbi Alony of the Central Synagogue, and a ‘Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee’ overseen by Professor Alan Crown, of the Department of Semitic Studies at Sydney University.

Sister Lenore’s observation was that ‘on the whole’ the reaction to Jewish-Christian discussion was ‘very cautious’ and that ‘the sit­uation is a very delicate one and much discretion is needed’. As she put it: ‘a clear plan is required to get a hearing’. The ‘Challenges’ she identified were as follows:

  1. We enter at our request therefore we have to make our own way.
  2. Interest in Ecumenism and interfaith work is almost non-exis­tent among clergy and bishops not educated to it;
  3. Many priests “threatened” by changes and involvement of laity etc.
  4. Quite a large Lebanese population including recent arrivals.
  5. Jewish community not interested in contact with the Church – want to be left alone. (Large number of Hungarian Jews who have suffered). Anything that is done has to be done very qui­etly at first. The Jewish community is like one big family!
  6. To know how to get in touch with informed people on the Christian side.32

By 1982, after two years in Sydney, she made the following obser­vations:

Jewish Christian Relations in Sydney developed very slowly and received three of the greatest challenges since the Second Vatican Council with reactions to 1) developments of the war in Lebanon; 2) the Papal audience with Yasser Arafat and 3) the canonisation of Maximilian Kolbe.33 These added to the ever-present need to educate Christians in a true understand­ing of Judaism and of its significance for deeper appreciation of Scripture, Jesus and his message.

At this stage of their history Jewish-Christian Relations are primarily concerned with sensitizing Christians to the situa­tion of their Jewish brothers and sisters. Contacts with the Jewish community are minimal. Christians have still a very long way to go before we can effectively relate. The Australian Jewish community in general, sees little advantage in contact with Christians, and are mistrustful of them. The very name for so many – victims of the Holocaust- is synonymous with persecution. There is a great deal of anger which surfaces when either Israel or other Jewish concerns appear jeopar­dized or are criticised.34

In 1984 the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies hosted a conference on ‘Jewish Christian Dialogue Towards the Year 2000′, a full day sem­inar which was organised with the assistance of Sister Lenore Sharry of the Sisters of Sion. According to Jeremy Jones, at the time Public Affairs Director of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, dis­cussions at that conference included one on the prospect of a proper formal reconciliation statement being produced in Australia.35

In 1987, at the instigation of Sister Lenore, a Catholic-Jewish Relations Committee was established as a committee attached to the Archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenism, Sydney. Its members were from the Catholic community, nominated and approved by the Archbishop.36 Father Richard Dixon, director of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was the Chairman and Sister Lenore was the secretary.

In 1988 the Sisters of Sion played an active role in the revival of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), which had existed in Sydney briefly from 1943-48, the move initiated by the late Rabbi Dr Israel Porush, senior minister of The Great Synagogue from 1940 until 1972.37 In 1974, his successor, Rabbi Raymond Apple and sev­eral Church leaders attempted to re-establish the CCJ, but after resistance from some of the churches an inter-faith Luncheon Club was established instead. In 1988, when Sr. Shirley Sedawie of the Melbourne branch of the Order returned from Rome, Sister Lenore and Rev. Bern Stevens of the Uniting Church worked with Rabbi Apple to renew the CCJ.

The Development and Adoption of the Australian Guidelines

When Pope John Paul II visited Australia in 1986, he had a formal meeting with the leadership of the Jewish community. Jeremy Jones recalls a great deal of planning went into the visit, in partic­ular in the drafting of Leslie Caplan’s statement which he would present as president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.38 The statement presented the Jewish community’s concerns regard­ing Israel, antisemitism and other relevant Jewish-Catholic issues. Protocol dictated that an advance copy was to be sent to the Vatican’s foreign office. As Jones put it: ‘They commented on it, they tried to change it, we didn’t agree to changes, although if they had some stylistic things or there was a sound argument we would work it out.’39 According to Jones this process created a good deal of contact between the Jewish community and the Catholic Church overseas and within Australia. There was that ‘build up’.40

In 1990, Dr Eugene Fisher visited Australia for the centenary of the Sisters of Sion in Australia, and according to Bishop Bede Heather he encouraged the Sisters to work towards the preparation of Australian Guidelines, presumably on the model of his 1985 American document.41 Bishop Heather also praised the Sisters for ‘preparing material for the consideration of the bishops’.42

The minutes of the Catholic-Jewish Relations Committee in 1990 include a perceptive and detailed analysis of the US Guidelines by its chairman, Rev. Richard Dixon,43 who is described by Bishop Heather as one of the people involved in the original draft.44 Dixon’s paper notes that:

Jews see themselves as a people. They are not a Church and there are no exact parallels in this self-understanding… Proselytism is not merely a religious issue for Jews but a cut­ting of oneself off from the people. Those who practise prose­lytism are little better than Hitler in their attempt to destroy the Jewish people.

Unfortunately, neither the Minutes nor the notes of Sister Lenore make any mention of the concrete proposal to issue Australian Guidelines, or any comment on the drafting process, and Richard Dixon has resigned from the priesthood. This writer has, therefore, not been able to trace the reasoning process behind the Australian variations from the American model.

Jeremy Jones recalls that when the Guidelines were being devel­oped ‘There were [sic] a lot of discussions with the people who were working on that paper from the Catholic side. I know for instance Bede Heather, he would contact various people in the Jewish com­munity for fine tuning.’45 According to Jones such contact was not formal in the sense that approval was sought from the Jewish com­munity. Rather the writers of the document wanted the drafting to be sensitive to Jewish concerns. The process was ‘in good spirit – it wasn’t as if we were negotiating a contract.’46

As to his involvement in the drafting process, Rabbi Apple remembered that he was asked to look at a draft and his comments were invited. ‘More or less’ everything that he had suggested was incorporated. He believed that ‘in a few instances it needed the nuance which an outsider was not always able to arrive at in rela­tion to Jews and Judaism.’47

Josie Lacey also recalled a personal discussion with Sister Lenore on the question of Jewish sensitivity to Christian portrayal of the Passover celebration (the ‘Seder’).48 This is the subject of a special appendix to Guidelines which insists that the ‘rites of the Haggadah should be respected in all their integrity’.

Eventually Guidelines was adopted by the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and formally launched on 2 November 1992. The document followed the basic outline of the 1985 revision of the US Guidelines, with changes clearly designed to suit Australian conditions, and some small but significant differences in language which will be noted later in their context. The Australian document was the first set of Guidelines adopted by any national Catholic Church after the United States.

The current doctrinal source referred to in Guidelines is a doc­ument that was issued by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews at the Vatican in June 1985. The document is entitled Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis of the Roman Catholic Church,49 referred to as ‘Notes‘ both here and in the text of Guidelines. An interesting feature of Notes is a repeated emphasis on a need for precision and accuracy in presentation, implying a need for authoritative guid­ance on a subject which is regarded as difficult and sensitive. The document was signed by Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, then President of the Commission, who was succeeded in that office by the Australian Cardinal Edward Cassidy in 1990, two years before the issue of the Australian Guidelines.Guidelines comprises two operative elements. Firstly, the document affirms and re-states the newly developing Church doc­trines concerning the Jewish people which have emanated from Nostra Aetate. The second element of Guidelines suggests practical steps to be taken for the purpose of implementing the new approach. This article will consider both the theological statements and the proposals for action, as well as the effect of the policies in practice as perceived by leading Jewish and Catholic protagonists.

Theological Issues Emerging from the Guidelines

The Teaching of Contempt

Guidelines begins by affirming the central proclamation of Nostra Aetate: ‘Jews should not be presented as repudiated or cursed by God, as if such views followed from the Holy Scriptures.’50 The state­ment represents a formal end to ‘teaching of contempt’, a teaching which Cardinal William Keeler records as ‘going back to the earliest Fathers of the Church.51 In this context it is significant that while the former anti-Jewish teachings of Christianity had their essential origins in the New Testament texts, the elaboration of Jew-hatred as a central doctrine had another early source in the violent outpour­ings of the ‘Church Fathers’ of the second, third and fourth cen­turies CE. It is worth recording a few typical examples from an extensive literature of hatred:The Passover sermon of Melito of Sardis (second century):You were celebrating,

He was starving;
You were drinking wine and eating bread,
He vinegar and gall;
You were bright of face,
He was oppressed;
You were singing, he was being judged…
God is murdered.
The King of Israel is killed by an Israelite right hand.52

Professor Mark Chancey of the Southern Methodist University53 cites Gregory of Nyssa (fourth century):

Slayers of the Lord, murderers of the prophets, adversaries of God, men who show contempt for the law, foes of grace, ene­mies of their fathers’ faith, advocates of the Devil, broods of vipers, slanderers, scoffers, men whose minds are in darkness, leaven of the Pharisees, assembly of demons, sinners, wicked men, stoners and haters of righteousness.54

Chancey also records that

Saint John Chrysostom (4th century), author of one of the most used liturgies in Christendom, described Jews as drunken gluttons who hire prostitutes and who worship idols; peo­ple of darkness, not of the light; and ‘Christ killers’. Jews, who had murdered their master, were no better than dogs. They were, in fact, ‘wild animals suited only for slaughter’.55

The categorical renunciation of such teaching thus represents the very essence of the reconciliation process. It encompasses all of the theological issues which go to the heart of Christian-Jewish discord, as well as the problem of re-assessing the relevant New Testament texts. In this context this article will consider some of the historic anti-Jewish doctrines of the Church, the specific responses made in Guidelines, and the current developments in Catholic-Jewish rela­tions in Australia, which have followed.

The Charge of Deicide

On the critical issue of Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus, Guidelines re-states the assertion in Nostra Aetate that the ‘Passion of Jesus’ cannot ‘be blamed on all Jews then living, without distinc­tion, nor upon the Jews of today.’56 It is a statement that is highly problematic from a Jewish perspective, reaffirming as it does the New Testament story of a trial by a Jewish court and the Jewish demand that a reluctant Pilate proceed with the execution. However, Guidelines does at least follow the US precedent of simply omitting the controversial phrase ‘True, authorities of the Jews and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ’, which precedes the exculpatory words in Nostra Aetate.

It is also notable that the statement from Nostra Aetate takes the courageous and essential step of directly contradicting the words in Matthew 27.25, the dramatic hand-washing scene in which the Jewish ‘crowd’ is described as responding to a reluctant Pontius Pilate by demanding the crucifixion with the critical words: ‘His blood be upon Us and on our children.’:

The imperative to contradict the word of Christian scripture in order to preserve a basic humanity was not without its conse­quences. For example the reconciliation statement was thoroughly condemned by the Arabic Christian newspaper An Nahar published in Sydney, which reported the launch of Guidelines in a two page article with the specific banner headline ‘His Blood be upon Us and on our Children’.57 The first paragraph of the An Nahar article set the tone.

Why, O Council of Churches of Australia, the publication of the document on Christian-Jewish religious reconciliation and rapprochement at this time? And why this sudden tolerance by absolving contemporary Jews from the crime of shedding the blood of Christ? That they are not responsible for this crime that their ancestors committed against the Messenger of peace and incriminated their offspring after them?58

The publication in Sydney of such a categorical criticism of the very idea of reconciliation certainly illustrates the problems faced by the Vatican both in dealing with literalist Christians opposed to any dilution of Christian scripture, and in accommodating political pressures exerted both by and upon the Churches situated within the Arab world.Nevertheless, despite the deficiencies in the formal statements and the fundamentalist opposition, the reality which Josie Lacey reports59 following personal discussions at the Catholic University in Sydney is that the teaching that ‘the Jews killed Christ’ has sim­ply disappeared from the Catholic school system, and has probably also disappeared from preaching and theological training in Australia.

The Portrayal of Judaism in the Gospels

One of the basic and repeated themes of the Gospel narrative is the portrayal of an alleged Jewish legalism, narrowness and hypocrisy. Indeed the modus operandi of the Gospel account is to denigrate the Judaism of the time in order to proclaim the virtues of Christianity by way of contrast.

The well-known parable of the Good Samaritan is just one of a multitude of typical examples. A man is left by robbers half-dead by the roadside. A Priest and a Levite pass by on the other side. The man is rescued and cared for by a passing Samaritan, one of a group regarded as heretical by mainstream Judaism. Jesus uses the parable as a means of lecturing a Jewish ‘teacher of the law’ on the mean­ing of ‘love’.60 Some 38 parables in a similar vein have been counted. One Christian website61 provides a blunt summary of the theme:

As we go through the other 38 parables of Jesus, you will see how many of them make statements that show that the nation of Israel is no longer equated with the Kingdom of Israel on earth. Jesus controverted the teaching of the Jews and said that God could and did change His plan and program for the nation of Israel because of repeated and continued rebellion and unrighteousness.62

Denigration of Jews and Judaism in the Gospels does not, of course, end with the parables. The Gospel narrative is one of unrelenting conflict with every stream of Jewish religious authority, from Pharisees to Sadducees, and from Priests to Levites and ‘teachers of the law’, from the ‘Woe unto the Pharisees’ verses in Matthew,63