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Catholic-Jewish Relations

  • Blog Post by: Steve Hunegs
  • January 13, 2012 - 10:31 AM

The chronological overlap of Hanukah and Christmas this past year is an appropriate metaphor for the overlap of Judaism and Catholicism. 

There is no better expression of it than the expression I hear from friends in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis referring to the Jewish people as their “elder brothers and sisters” in the faith.

There is also overlap historically in the canards hurled against American Catholics and American Jews. 

David Hanners of the Pioneer Press has reported in detail about a group from Wisconsin engaged in litigation in the United States Bankruptcy court which filed page after page of legal pleadings “alleg[ing] Catholic conspiracies through the ages” and scandalously labeling the Judge a “dirty, bigoted Catholic.”  This is reminiscent of the old canards dating back to the “Know Nothings” of the 1850s of Catholics being “Papists” beholden to the Vatican.

Today, the most recent Anti-Defamation League poll on American anti-Semitism found historically low rates of it (around 15%) but with 30% still believing Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States.  Sadly there are many people who see the Jews as taking their orders from Jerusalem and the Catholics from Rome.

Gladly, the commonality of Jews and Catholics runs much deeper in our time than hearing the same tropes of hatred.

The ascent of Catholic-Jewish relations began in earnest with Vatican II and the Catholic theological rejection of collective Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus.  Before 1964, in the eyes of Church, the Jews were seen to have rejected Jesus and were followers of a religion whose covenantal relationship with God was superseded by Christianity.

In the last fifty years, though, a remarkable spirit of affinity and fraternity has emerged in the aftermath of Vatican II.  Pope John Paul II, a witness to the Holocaust and a native of Poland in which the Auschwitz and Treblinka death camps operated – was a bold change agent.  During his papacy, he became the first Pope to visit a synagogue, recognize and visit Israel, and passionately condemn anti-Semitism.

This spirit and concrete action has been reflected in many ways in the Twin Cities.  Last Easter, Archbishop John Nienstedt circulated to clergy in the Archdiocese a pamphlet titled “Our Elder Brothers” which described the many large and unprecedented steps Pope John Paul II took towards reconciliation between Jews and Catholics.   In 2005, Rev. Michael O'Connell and the Basilica of St. Mary commissioned the Holocaust Memorial Oratorio: “To Be Certain of the Dawn.”

Last February, Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché gave the D'var Torah (commentary on the Torah portion) at Beth El Synagogue.  He observed about the Torah portion: “The laws are not so much about adherence to a theoretical code of ideal human behavior, as they are about protecting and advancing the relationships within the human community-creating an atmosphere of peace, trust, and security in which human life can prosper.  And unless the first relationship, our relationship with God, is in good order, all other relationships will falter and eventually crumble.”

Along the lines of the wisdom of Bishop Piché, we need to follow a social equivalent of the Hippocratic oath: “first do no harm” by not gratuitously insulting each other by parroting poisonous canards of fantastical conspiracies, after all, we are all created in the image of God.  This is the most profound overlap of Christians and Jews and of all mankind.

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