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13.8.02

Catholics Reject Evangelization of Jews

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.

''A deepening Catholic appreciation of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, together with a recognition of a divinely-given mission to Jews to witness to God's faithful love, lead to the conclusion that campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church,'' declares the document, ''Reflections on Covenant and Mission.''


On the one hand, hooray for the Catholic Church becoming more tolerant and all that. But on the other hand, I don't quite understand the theology behind it. Granted, I'm not a Catholic, and I can't find the document itself (so I've only got the reporter's summary of their reasoning to go on). But it seems to conflict with the mainstream Christian understanding of Jesus' mission. Jesus presented himself not just as a person coming in with a new religious perspective, but specifically as the messiah promised to the Jews -- that's where he derives his authority from in mainstream Christianity. So I don't quite understand how the bishops can now say that the Jews were never meant to become Christians, and that it's God's plan for them to continue being Jewish.

Now, I can understand why the bishops would want to make a statement like this. They've taken an awful lot of (justified) criticism for centuries of persecution against Jews, up through complicity in the Holocaust. And the sex abuse scandal certainly isn't discouraging them from trying to clean up their image. But it strikes me as odd because it illustrates the loss of the middle ground between "kill the infidel" and "every religion in just as valid as every other." The bishops seem to be indicating that they can't find a way to be part of a pluralistic society without losing the proposition of being the "one true faith." While I don't believe there is one true faith (and if there is I doubt it's Roman Catholicism), I don't think it's impossible to maintain that you have the truth and that other people should convert, without targeting specific groups for conversion, or using invasive and coercive means to get converts, or treating people like they're beneath you in some way. It simply requires a commitment to the idea that the search for religious truth is a matter of personal conscience, and to respect others' right to search even if you're convinced they're looking in the wrong place.

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