Major Jewish groups and rabbis from the three largest branches of American Judaism said Thursday that their relationship with Roman Catholic leaders is at risk because of a recent US bishops' statement on salvation.
Jewish groups said they interpret the new document to mean that the bishops view interfaith dialogue as a chance to invite Jews to become Catholic. The Jewish leaders said they "pose no objection" to Christians sharing their faith, but said dialogue with Jews becomes "untenable" if the goal is to persuade Jews to accept Christ as their savior.
"A declaration of this sort is antithetical to the very essence of Jewish-Christian dialogue as we have understood it," Jewish leaders said in a letter to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The signers were the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and rabbis representing the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements.
'Catholic-Jewish dialogue important'
The statement fueling the tension was issued by the bishops in June to clarify a 2002 document called "Covenant and Mission." The bishops said the earlier document mistakenly played down the importance of sharing the Gospel and was therefore misleading.
"While the Catholic Church does not proselytize the Jewish people, neither does she fail to witness to them her faith in Christ, nor to welcome them to share in that same faith whenever appropriate," said Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, chairman of a bishops' committee on doctrine. He had said the revisions affirmed statements from the Holy See.
The tensions are rooted in a complex theological debate about salvation for those outside the Catholic Church. Discussion of the issue between Jews and Catholics focuses on the significance of the ancient covenant between God and the Jews.
Pope John Paul II had spoken repeatedly of a covenant "never revoked." Many Jewish groups view the bishops' statement as stepping back from the pope's position.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the US bishops, said Thursday: "Catholic-Jewish dialogue has been important to the US bishops for almost 50 years. The bishops have just received the letter and currently are studying it."