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The Vatican and Israel
When Guidelines was launched in November 1992 the Vatican had not yet recognised the State of Israel or established diplomatic relations with it after 44 years of independence. At the time the issue was regarded by the Jewish communities throughout the world as a matter of central importance in their relationship with the Church, and this was reflected in the comments of ECAJ president, Leslie Caplan, at the launch.
There were those who believed that the attitude of the Church in failing to recognise the State had doctrinal implications. The early ‘Church Fathers' had prophesied continuing exile as a punishment both for 'unbelief' and for the ‘murder of God', and the concept of exile as a just punishment has long been a central Christian doctrine. Some examples of these attitudes include:
Tertullian, in An Answer to the Jews written in 198 or 208 CE106 wrote:
Chapter XIII.-Argument from the Destruction of Jerusalem and Desolation of Judea.
But we perceive that now none of the race of Israel has remained in Bethlehem; and (so it has been) ever since the interdict was issued forbidding any one of the Jews to linger in the confines of the very district, in order that this prophetic utterance also should be perfectly fulfilled: "Your land is desert, your cities burnt up by fire," – that is, (he is foretelling) what will have happened to them in time of war "your region strangers shall eat up in your sight, and it shall be desert and subverted by alien peoples.107
Again, Origen of Alexandria in the third century CE wrote that:
On account of their unbelief and other insults which they heaped upon Jesus, the Jews will not only suffer more than others in the judgment which is believed to impend over the world, but have even already endured such "sufferings. For what nation is in exile from their own metropolis, and from the place sacred to the worship of their fathers, save the Jews alone? And the calamities they have suffered because they were a most wicked nation, which although guilty of many other sins, yet has been punished severely for none as for those that were committed against our Jesus.108
However, most influentially, Saint Augustine in The City of God, wrote the following in the fourth century:
Book XVIII, Chapter 46—’Of the Birth of Our Saviour, Whereby the Word Was Made Flesh; And of the Dispersion of the Jews Among All Nations, as Had Been Prophesied'.
But it was not enough that he should say, ‘Slay them not, lest they should at last forget Thy law,' unless he had also added, ‘Disperse them'; because if they had only been in their owl., land with that testimony of the Scriptures, and not every where, certainly the Church which is everywhere could not have had them as witnesses among all nations to the prophecies which were sent before concerning Christ.109
In the introductory section, Guidelines disposed of any such interpretation of the Vatican's refusal to recognise the State of Israel which still continued at that time. It clearly acknowledged both the religious attachment of the Jews to the land of their ancestors and the establishment of Israel ‘according to international law'.110
The effect of this straightforward statement was marred a little in General Principle 9, in which Catholics are urged to ‘make an honest effort' to understand the link between the land and the people. While this unfortunate phrase also appears in the US precedent, Guidelines differs by omitting the more positive American references to the ‘rebirth of the Jewish State in the Land of Israel' and the Jewish ‘longing for the homeland, holy Zion'. There was, in addition, the problem at the launch of the introductory address of Bishop Heather referring to ‘that mythology which is attached to the State of Israel in the Jewish mind'.111
Unknown to the participants at the launch, however, the Vatican and the State of Israel were at that time actually engaged in the negotiation of the document which would be known as the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel, and signed on 30 December 1993.112 According to both Cardinal Cassidy and Rabbi David Rosen, the chief Israeli negotiator, the delay until some three months after the Oslo Accord had neither political nor doctrinal implications. Both diplomatically insisted that it resulted rather from technical matters relating to the status of the Church in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem, which were eventually resolved by creative ambiguity.113 Rabbi Rosen nevertheless noted the wider implications:
As the Preamble of the Agreement indicates, the accord took place within the wider context of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation on which it undoubtedly had a profoundly positive impact in turn. Indeed, for many Jews especially in Israel, the diplomatic normalization served as testimony and proof of the genuineness of the transformation in theological attitudes and teaching that had taken place over the previous thirty years.114
Indeed the Agreement itself begins with an affirmation by the Holy See of its respect for other religions and their followers as stated in the Nostra Aetate declaration, as well as a specific condemnation of antisemitism.115
Unfortunately, since the breakdown of the Oslo peace process after Camp David II in 2000, the situation has also deteriorated dramatically at the personal level. There is an increasing perception by many of those who describe themselves as ‘progressives' within the Church that the Palestinians are the ‘underdogs' oppressed by a ruthless Israel. It is a tribute to the skill of the anti-Israel public relations machine that the conflict between Israel and an Arab-Islamic world determined to destroy it has been replaced in the minds of many Christians with an image of an oppressive Israel denying a Palestinian ‘right of self-determination'. Jeremy Jones sees the issue in terms of Catholic ‘liberation theology':
One of the issues within Catholicism that concerns the Jewish community is what's called the liberation theology. It is very strong within South America and liberation theology sees oppressors and victims. Most people I know who were exponents of liberation theology whom I've met a number of times at international conferences on social justice – they are rabidly anti-Israel and as far as they are concerned it is legitimate for them to use antiSemitism to defeat the tyrant Israel. Now they are important within international Catholicism, they're not that important in Australia, although they have people who would pay a lot of attention to their works, so this stuff is part of a debate even within the Catholic Church. Whether you see Jews as the people who went through the Shoah, and therefore victims, or you see Jews as part of the oppressive militarily alliance between America, Israel, colonialism, whatever… we ignore that at our peril and it's very difficult to deal with.116
Marianne Dacy has identified anti-Israel sentiment in more serious terms. Although anti-Israel bias is not specifically a Catholic phenomenon, she sees it as a problem which specifically affects Jewish-Christian relationships. As she described the situation:
People will not come to our events… they will not come to the Holocaust events that we run because of their political views about Israel… It has nothing to do with the Holocaust and yet they will equate it with it, and that really I find disturbing.117
In her opinion anti-Israeli sentiment is ‘the new kind of antisemitism.'118 As she puts it, ‘people need to blame somebody and you'll find it's all out of proportion and there's still that undercurrent there.'119 She considers it to be a ‘significant problem, certainly in Australia.'120
The Reconciliation Process on Practice
Guidelines envisages two distinct ways of implementing the reconciliation process. Firstly there is the change in the teachings of the Catholic Church as a consequence of the ideological re-assessment which has been developed and refined following Nostra Aetate, and which is reflected in the theological content of Guidelines. This in turn has required a fundamental change in the content of Catholic education and ‘preaching' about Jews and Judaism, and this is, of course, the central element in the implementation of Christian reconciliation in the actual practice of the Church. Obviously the scope and extent of such a re-orientation of Church teaching actually taking place in the school system and in the churches can be determined only by extensive research that is beyond the scope of this article. The one Australian Catholic syllabus in Religious Education which the writer has been able to find121 barely mentions the issue of Jews and Judaism in Christian teaching. For Year Six there is a reference to the Jewish Scriptures, as follows:
Distinguish different styles of writing in the Scriptures and connect the scriptural message with everyday life.
- The Jewish and Christian Scriptures contain different types of writing.
- The Christian Scriptures teach us about Jesus and the early Christian communities.
- The Jewish Scriptures tell the story of the people of Israel's covenant relationship with God.
- The Gospel of God's saving love challenges us to live Christian lives.
- The four Gospels are central to the Church's prayer and teaching.
There is no other reference to Judaism whatsoever in the syllabus, except by implication under 'Religion and society’ in Year 'Twelve:
Understanding and respecting the role of diverse religious traditions, particularly In the Austral/an context:
By the end of Year Twelve students should be able to:
Express an understanding and appreciation of belief systems and spirituality and how religious experience, traditions and communities serve to engage and support people and their search for meaning.
- The human search for meaning and fulfilment is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
- The mystery of God is manifest in world religions.
- Aboriginal spirituality, beliefs and practices are important in understanding the spirituality of Australians as a whole.
The relationship between Church and state raises a number of issues including religious pluralism and tolerance; ethical codes of different world religions and social justice issues.
If the Canberra-Goulburn syllabus is typical, then it might be regarded an advance in that it makes no negative references. or it might be considered a disappointment in asking children to read the Gospels literally. Certainly, it does not ask teachers to wrestle with Nostra Aetate or Guidelines. Indeed. Marianne Dacy notes that Guidelines has not been publicised much at all within the Australian Church. In her opinion:
mostly any activities that come about in parishes have not been because of this document: it's been because of official statements, you might say, coming from the Vatican. I think that that has had a greater influence than this document which I'd say many people are not aware of.122
The second element of the implementation process envisaged by Guidelines is an engagement in 'dialogue' between Catholic and Jewish representatives. As noted above, such an engagement is traditionally viewed with the utmost suspicion by Jewish protagonists. Nevertheless, with ground rules based on an implied renunciation of any mission to the Jews as acknowledged by Cardinal Cassidy in our discussion,123 the problematical ambiguity arising from the reference to 'witness' in Guidelines has been overcome without difficulty in practice.
Jeremy Jones explained that the Jewish community has just completed its seventh annual 'Conversation' with the Catholic Bishops Committee. At these Conversations participants discuss a particular theme. And he explains:
We meet alternatively in a Catholic venue or a Jewish venue. We have a serious topic. For instance we’ve discussed the impact of globalisation, medical ethics with concentration on stem cell research, racism and immigration. This year we decided we wanted to talk about two topics, Zionism and evangelism.124
According to Jones 'it was a very serious conversation, and our team consisted of, I think, it was four Rabbis plus three lay people. Their group consisted of six priests and one lay person.125 Jeremy described the 'Conversations' as follows:
A paper was given by one of the delegates. which discussed the attitude of the Catholic Church to conversion of Jews to Catholicism, and what the different views are. It was a very honest paper. It didn't say there was one view, it said where the debate is, what is the weight of the various voices within the Catholic Church. It was a fantastic way to learn about where the Catholic Church is on this issue. At other times though we also have a part of the Conversation, what we might call a practical session, so this year the practical session was on Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ.126
In addition to these Conversations, Jones stated that ‘it wouldn't be rare for us every month or two, either one of the members of that group or one of the members of our group to pick up the phone and speak to somebody else, to follow it up on a more practical level'.
According to Rabbi Apple, the ECAJ and the Australian Catholic Bishops have had an ongoing relationship since the Guidelines were issued and this has led ‘once or twice a year'127 to a meeting between ECAJ representatives and representatives of the Catholic Bishops. Rabbi Apple described these meetings as ones ‘at which good old friends reacquaint themselves with each other. We know each other so well by now that we're almost members of the same family.'128
Rabbi Apple also stated that it is very rare that there are any major issues that affect the harmony between the Jewish and Catholic communities in Australia. If problems do arise then ‘we'd be able to handle them behind the scenes on a happy personal level without anyone perhaps even knowing that there was a fire, so it's as if the fire is put out before it began to burn'.129 This is what Rabbi Apple referred to as ‘behind the scenes diplomacy'. As he explained:
I entirely disagree with those who feel that every problem has to be ventilated and shouted about. For my part, if for example there ever arose a serious problem between the Jewish and the Catholic communities in Australia, I would be one of those who would be able to get on the phone without any fuss, phone direct to one of the Catholic Bishops, maybe even speak on first name terms and say look I've got something on my mind, do you think we can have a cup of coffee together and have a chat.'130
Rabbi Apple gave the following example:
Over the course of recent decades there have been a number of times when Jews including myself, felt that the Pope, the Vatican and the Catholic community could have been much more open and unequivocal when comments were made on matters involving Jews. For example, there was a problem some years ago about the convent at Auschwitz and the feeling which I shared was that while Auschwitz cannot, God forbid, be called holy ground – it's not, it's cursed ground – I felt that the best thing to do on the site of Auschwitz is to leave it desolate and as wasteland and I feel it was a major error of judgement on the part of some in the Catholic Church to feel it was an appropriate place to create a Christian institution. Well this is an example of a time when perhaps there could have been internationally a clearer statement. However our experience in Australia has been that on the rare occasions when there was a problem such as this, the Catholic leader with whom we discussed such things shared our disappointment with the Vatican, so they did not automatically feel that whatever the Vatican said or did was necessarily the right approach, and I had no qualms about being critical. So this is in itself one of the great by-products of the Guidelines and of the new climate.131
On the other hand, Rabbi Apple does not regard dialogue as anything but ‘an end in itself.' According to Rabbi Apple:
…if there is an aim, the aim is that because we share this planet we should know each other. For me as a Jew the aim is not, let's have a nice conversation because we need somebody's vote in the United Nations when Israel is on the agenda – it's not about this. If the result of the dialogue is that somewhere along the line, people have a more positive attitude to Israel or anything else that particularly concerns Jewish people, well and good, but I still say that the discussion is worthwhile in and for itself.'132
For Cardinal Cassidy the purpose of dialogue with the Jewish people for Catholics is to ‘overcome the strange… enmity and the persecution, the oppression that had happened between Christians and Jews. In other words, to get rid of all those myths and prejudices that were there for nearly 2000 years.' He pointed out that such enmity arose not always but very often out of ‘official teaching'. He stressed that there arose a responsibility on the part of the church particularly after the Holocaust ‘to look at this question and to try in our dialogue to come to a greater understanding of the Jewish religion and a greater, we would hope a greater understanding also by the Jewish people of our religion because very often both were quite wrong in the way in which they thought the other one acted or believed'.133
Cardinal Cassidy's view is that what should then arise is the building up of ‘a relationship, not a unity, not like Christian unity where you're looking for the Churches to come together but coming together on the basis of partnership.'134 He pointed out that our moral values, commandments, our way of looking at life are so similar, and that we can work together in promoting these values. As he stated:
I believe that little by little we've been able to achieve something of that but still it's a slow process because you've got to get rid of all the suspicion that's naturally there – what are you up to, what are you trying to do… are you trying to find a back door in, you couldn't get in the front door… trust, you've got to build a trust and then if you can build trust I believe we can do a lot together.135
Jeremy Jones sees the purpose of dialogue for the Jewish community in quite a different light. As he explained:
First of all the Catholic Bishops Committee publicised [the conversations] and we publicise it in the Jewish News. In the Jewish News, Jews see that it's taking place and that indicates that there is an engagement taking place, and I think that's important, particularly for a community that feels it doesn't have anybody listening to what it has to say on any subject which I think is a real concern in the Jewish world… 136
In 2000, Jusie Lacey was one of the five representatives from ECAJ to attend the Jubilee Catholic Bishops Conference. At the conference representatives of a number of religious traditions were invited to join in the Catholic celebration of the Christian Jubilee year. For her this represented another side of the ‘dialogue' process, with Catholic-Jewish engagement as part of a general progress in inter-religious communication in a multi-cultural society. Following a remark made by a Muslim participant at the Bishops Conference, Josie took the initiative of approaching Sister Trish Madigan, whom she knew through her involvement with the World Conference of Religions for Peace and who was at that time liaison officer for the Archdiocesan Commission of Ecumenism. She proposed that the women at the conference should form the nucleus of a new group, which became the Women's Interfaith Network, known as ‘WIN'. WIN created a new form of dialogue, in which women from nine different religious traditions meet regularly and share their personal experiences of living within their own traditions. Sometimes the participants listen to particular personal experiences, and sometimes topics such as the ‘death and dying' or ‘the description of God' are discussed in a comparison of different traditions. The result is a non-judgmental sharing, which has resulted in an increase of knowledge and understanding, and the development of bonds of personal friendship. WIN is hoping to broaden the availability of the experience by creating a network of such Networks.137
It will be seen that dialogue has different meanings and purposes for the various participants, and that all of the various perceptions have their value in promoting inter-religious harmony. Traditional Jewish reservations have been respected; the Catholic Church has seen an opportunity to ‘overcome a strange enmity'; Jewish leaders see an opportunity for a diplomatic contact with the Church which can assist in resolving problems which are expected to arise; others see the publicity attached to contact as a positive force in promoting harmony, and all see the process as a valuable human enterprise for its own sake.
When Constantine made the fateful decision to strengthen the centralised power of the Roman Empire by granting imperial legitimacy to a universal Christian Church, one by-product was the importation of a deadly psychological disease into the very civilisation which Rome had established in the West.138 Dr Leo Pinsker, arguably the true founder of modern political Zionism, made the diagnosis in his booklet Auto-emancipation, written in Odessa in 1881, some time before the pagan racist antisemitism of Nazi Germany appeared on the scene:
Judeophobia is a psychic aberration. As a psychic aberration it is hereditary, and as a disease transmitted for two thousand years, it is incurable.139
Dr Pinsker was describing a condition which was the almost inevitable consequence of the creation of a crusading faith which proclaimed a ‘Truth' which was both based upon, and claimed to supersede, the national religion of the Jews. The Jewish people, largely dispersed as cultural outsiders in a Christian Europe, were confronted with a hatred based on particular interpretations of the scriptural text of the New Testament, expressed in waves of persecution in almost every generation.The culmination of that persecution in the Nazi inferno prompted a fundamental re-assessment of the character of human civilisation in general and Christian civilisation in particular. It took the accession to the papal throne of one man of vision in John XXIII to set the Church on the new path in the 1960s which culminated with the proclamation of Nostra Aetate after his death. The result has been a continuing and evolving process as the Church has sought to disentangle itself from the sources of Jew-hatred.
The readers of this article will see that the process of re-interpreting the sacred texts of Christianity has not been straightforward. Despite the most strenuous efforts by people of the utmost goodwill, it has simply not been feasible for the Church to find convincing theological solutions which can fully overcome the problem of the denigration of Jews and Judaism which is implicit in the central doctrines and texts of Christianity. Nevertheless much has been achieved, and there is no doubt as to the sincerity of the effort that has been made.
Significantly it has been in the New World, in the ‘melting pot' of the United States, and then in the environment of a multicultural Australia, that the Catholic Church has made the most important progress in this task of self-purification. Guidelines itself, based as it is on the theological efforts of the US bishops, is a demonstration of the depth of goodwill extended to the Jewish community by the Catholic Church in Australia and the United States.
Indeed, the reality in Australia reported by all those who have assisted this writer with personal interviews is that the achievement of reconciliation is coming only partly in the area of doctrinal re-assessment. Just as important has been the development of positive human relationships as the process of religious interchange has moved forward. Jews and Catholics in Australia are seeing a genuine change in attitudes which appears to have permanently transformed the religious landscape. The whole tenor of Catholic education and preaching has shifted and it seems that the process has become irreversible.
As always, however, Jews continue to ‘live in interesting times'. The Vatican has embarked on an intense diplomatic programme to promote friendly relations with the Islamic world, and this has been reflected in an active promotion of Catholic-Muslim contact in Australia. One example which Josie Lacey reports has been the dedication of the Columban Institute in Sydney to the improvement of Catholic-Islamic relations.140 Not surprisingly, this involves many of the same people in the Church who are at the forefront of inter-religious dialogue with the Jewish community. Indeed the ECAJ is regularly engaged in three-way conversations with both Muslims and Christians, as well as two-way conversations with Muslim representatives.141
The problems that exist beneath the surface are generally not articulated for self-evident diplomatic reasons. The Arab-Israel conflict is inevitably a central issue for Muslims, and it would be expected that their views are made known to their Catholic counterparts at all levels from the Vatican to the local. There is also the problem that the Catholic participants in dialogue who describe themselves as ‘progressive' often have an antipathy towards Israel which appears to be impervious to both historical and religious perspectives, and that this may have been reflected in some of the guarded language of both Guidelines and its US precedent.142 Jeremy Jones described the problem:
More often than not the people whom I'm discussing it with – we're talking specifically Catholics because there is variation – are the people who have made an effort to understand where we're coming from. They would say ‘Oh this person doesn't have a problem with Jews in Israel, it's just they see Palestinians as the underdog and they'll always support an underdog'. Or ‘This person you have to understand, they've got a lot of people from the Middle Eastern area, therefore they're doing it', so it's explained away a lot.
In Australia they're more likely to be young people, they're not even necessarily going to have influence at all within the Church, but they are motivated by their Catholicism. They would look at something like this and say, ‘Let's dialogue with the Jews because we can work with the Jews against the Zionists because obviously these are real believing Jews. They wouldn't be evil'.
The unspoken views of such participants in dialogue have, therefore, become a current obstacle to more open and cordial relationships. On the other hand, the intensity of Jewish commitment to Israel was clearly recognised in the 1975 statement of the United States Bishops, and the centrality of the present difficulties is such that it is worth citing at length:
In dialogue with Christians, Jews have explained that they do not consider themselves as a church, a sect, or a denomination, as is the case among Christian communities, but rather as a peoplehood that is not solely racial, ethnic or religious, but in a sense a composite of all these. It is for such reasons that an overwhelming majority of Jews see themselves bound in one way or another to the land of Israel. Most Jews see this tie to the land as essential to their Jewishness. Whatever difficulties Christians may experience in sharing this view they should strive to understand this link between land and people which Jews have expressed in their writings and worship throughout two millennia as a longing for the homeland, holy Zion. Appreciation of this link is not to give assent to any particular religious interpretation of this bond. Nor is this affirmation meant to deny the legitimate rights of other parties in the region, or to adopt any political stance in the controversies over the Middle East, which lie beyond the purview of this statement.143
It is a statement which indirectly highlights the asymmetry between a powerful religious entity, with multi-millions of followers joined by teaching and belief, and the small ethno-religious group which was the source of its basic doctrines, stubbornly surviving in a hostile world. It can only be hoped that an improvement in mutual understanding will permeate the continuing process of dialogue, and that the period since Nostra Aetate will usher in a new era of friendship and mutual respect between the Jewish people and the Christian world.
- Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, The Faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever, 30 November 1992.
- Bishop Bede Heather, Transcript of speech at St Mary's Cathedral Crypt Sydney, 2 November 1992, p. 4.
- Ibid., p.5.
- Ibid., p.7.
- Ibid., p.6.
- Leslie Caplan AM, Transcript of speech at St Mary's Cathedral Crypt Sydney, 2 November 1992, p.3.
- Ibid., p.4.
- Statements were issued by the Uniting Church in Australia and by the Lutheran Church of Australia. The Anglican Church prepared a draft modelled on the Catholic Guidelines, which has not yet been issued.
- See H.H Ben-Sasson, ed. A History of the Jewish People, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1976;
Robert M. Seltzer, Jewish people, Jewish thought: the Jewish experience in History, New York: Macmillan; London: Collier Macmillan, 1980 and Robert S. Wistrich, Anti-Semitism: the Longest Hatred, New York: Schoken Books, 1994.
- The First Vatican Council was convened in 1869-1870 by Pius IX, who is remembered by Jewish communities for his adamant refusal to return a kidnapped and converted Jewish child to his