U.S. bishops follow up on Jewish leaders’ inter-religious dialogue concerns

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago


Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and four other bishops have issued a "Statement of Principles" for Catholic-Jewish Dialogue, saying a recent clarifying document would be amended to remove misunderstanding about the purpose of inter-religious dialogue.

Cardinal George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), issued the October 2 statement in response to an August 18 letter from Jewish leaders. They had expressed concern about the June 18 USCCB document "A Note on Ambiguities Contained in ‘Reflections on Covenant and Mission.’"

They were specifically concerned about the note’s seventh paragraph. They believed that section had formally characterized Catholic-Jewish dialogue as an explicit or implicit invitation to Jews to abandon their faith.

In a USCCB explanatory letter dated Oct. 5, the bishops said that the note was intended as a clarification primarily for Catholics but led to "misunderstandings and feelings of hurt among members of the Jewish community." The note will be amended by the removal of two sentences that "might lead to misunderstanding about the purpose of interreligious dialogue," an October 6 USCCB statement says.

The two sentences to be removed clarify a previous USCCB document that said inter-religious dialogue is a form of evangelization that is "mutually enriching" and "devoid of any intention whatsoever" to invite a dialogue partner to baptism.

"Though Christian participation in inter-religious dialogue would not normally include an explicit invitation to baptism and entrance into the Church, the Christian dialogue partner is always giving witness to the following of Christ, to which all are implicitly invited," the controversial sentence of the note reads.

The Oct. 2 USCCB document "Statement of Principles for Catholic-Jewish Dialogue" discusses the endurance of Jewish covenantal life as "a vital witness to God’s saving will." It explains Christian faith in Jesus Christ as the "unique savior of all mankind" who fulfills God’s promises and covenants with Israel.

The statement notes Catholics’ "sacred responsibility" to witness to Christ always but emphasizes that Jewish-Catholic dialogue will never be used as a means of "proselytism" nor is it intended to be a "disguised invitation to baptism."

"In sitting at the table, we expect to encounter Jews who are faithful to the Mosaic covenant, just as we insist that only Catholics committed to the teaching of the Church encounter them in our dialogues."

The statement also notes that Catholic participants in Jewish-Catholic dialogue have the responsibility to distinguish for their Jewish partners when a statement refers to Church teaching and when it is a theological opinion of scholars.

"We remain deeply committed to dialogue and friendship with the Jewish people," the USCCB statement concludes.

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