Is this once again another defection of the faith-Thanks to Cardinal Kasper and Vatican II?
Catholics reject evangelization of Jews
By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 8/13/2002
The Catholic Church, which spent hundreds of years trying forcibly to convert Jews to Christianity, has come to the conclusion that it is theologically unacceptable to target Jews for evangelization, according to a statement issued yesterday by organizations representing US Catholic bishops and rabbis from the country’s two largest Jewish denominations.
Citing teachings dating back to the Second Vatican Council, and statements by Pope John Paul II throughout his papacy, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declared unequivocally that the biblical covenant between Jews and God is valid and therefore Jews do not need to be saved through faith in Jesus.
The declaration, which was negotiated by the bishops and an organization representing Conservative and Reform rabbis, demonstrates the dramatic changes in Catholic thinking about Jews and Judaism in the wake of the Holocaust. In the decades since Hitler’s attempt to exterminate Jews during World War II, **the church has rejected its longtime position that Christianity superseded Judaism and instead has embraced Judaism as a legitimate faith both before and after the life of Jesus. **
Jesus and his early followers were Jewish, but those who embraced Christianity began to turn on those who did not more than a millennium ago. Violence by Christians against Jews began with the Crusades and anti-Semitism intensified during the Middle Ages and informed the Nazi effort during the Holocaust.
Catholic teaching began to shift dramatically in the early 1960s, when the Second Vatican Council declared that ‘‘the Jews must not be presented as rejected by God.’’ Since then, Catholics have abandoned efforts to convert Jews and have emphasized in religious teachings that Jesus was Jewish.
Catholic and Jewish officials said the statement was the sharpest definition to date of the evolving relationship between Catholics and Jews. Cardinal William Keeler, the archbishop of Baltimore and the bishops’ liaison for Christian-Jewish relations, called yesterday’s declaration ‘‘a significant step forward in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community in this country.’’
However, the declaration puts the Catholic Church at odds with evangelical Protestants, particularly the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country. In a 1996 resolution, the Southern Baptists declared, ‘‘whereas Jesus commanded that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem … we direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people.’’
At the time, the Southern Baptists decried ‘‘an organized effort on the part of some either to deny that Jewish people need to come to their Messiah, Jesus, to be saved; or to claim, for whatever reason, that Christians have neither right nor obligation to proclaim the gospel to the Jewish people … we are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.’’
The Southern Baptists’ stance has not changed since, according to spokesman John Revell. ‘‘The drive behind not just the Southern Baptists but all evangelical Christians is the conviction that Jesus Christ is the only way to have eternal life with God the Father, and anybody who seeks eternal life through any other means will fail,’’ Revell said. ‘‘There is a misconception that Southern Baptists have targeted Jews. We haven’t targeted Jews. Our focus is to get the good news of Jesus Christ to all people, including Jews.’’
Eugene J. Fisher, the director of Catholic-Jewish Relations for the bishops’ conference, said the document issued yesterday acknowledges the divide between Catholics and evangelical Protestants on the issue.
‘‘This is a free country and that principle of freedom of faith means I can’t complain about their freedom, but here there might be a theological difference as well as a pastoral difference in understanding the relation of Christ’s church to the Jewish people,’’ he said.
Fisher said Catholic efforts to convert Jews ‘‘dried up’’ after the Second Vatican Council. He cited as an example the Sisters of Zion, a religious order that once focused on trying to convert Jews, but after World War II decided on interfaith dialogue instead.
This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 8/13/2002.