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Catholic Bishops Backtrack on Jewish Conversion

(RNS) U.S. Catholic bishops have tried to reassure Jewish leaders that interfaith dialogue will never be used as a means of proselytism or a “disguised invitation to baptism,” after months of interfaith tension.
The overture from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops comes more than three months after the bishops angered Jewish leaders by seeming to imply that Jews would be targets of evangelism and conversion.
In two letters sent Friday (Oct. 2) and released Tuesday, the bishops said an attempt to clear up an “insufficiently precise and potentially misleading” statement from 2002 had actually created more problems.
“We remain deeply committed to dialogue and friendship with the Jewish people, who are, in the words of Pope John Paul II, ‘our elder brothers and sisters in the faith,'” Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, the president of the bishops conference, wrote in a letter signed by four other bishops.
George, whose letter was signed by the chairmen of his interfaith relations and doctrine committees, said the “gift” of faith in Jesus Christ is one that “can never be coerced.”
“Jewish-Catholic dialogue… has never been, and will never be, used by the Catholic Church as a means of proselytism, nor is it intended as a disguised invitation to baptism.”
The letter to the Jewish groups is the latest wrinkle in several months of back-and-forth exchanges that had left both sides uncomfortable. It was also an uncommon about-face for the bishops who rarely, if ever, backtrack on previous statements or positions.
The bishops said they had deleted two troublesome sentences from a statement they issued in June that said, in part, that Catholic partners in interfaith dialogue are “always giving witness to the following of Christ, to which all are invited.”
George also issued a six-point “statement of principles” on Jewish-Catholic dialogue that apologized for the “misunderstandings and feelings of hurt” that had resulted from their June statement.
“Because we are dialogue partners, this hurt is ours as well,” the statement said.
Jewish leaders say they are satisfied with the bishops’ actions, but say the incident is a stark reminder that words carry enormous weight in the difficult discussions between faiths.
“They need to understand that in the language they choose there may be understandings, or misunderstandings, and people need to be careful about what they say and also how they say it,” said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, who oversees U.S. interfaith relations for the American Jewish Committee.
Rabbi Eric Greenberg, who oversees interfaith talks for the Anti-Defamation League, said the Jewish groups will issue a collective response, but thanked the bishops for taking their concerns seriously.
“We were really concerned, and showed that, and they really heard our concerns,” Greenberg said. “That’s a sincere response, and they’re doing the best they can in a very complicated situation.”
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

  • Heretic_for_Christ

    I am cautiously optimistic that the Catholic statement was extended in good faith and will be accepted in good faith by the Jewish groups. If so, an ancient rift and source of injustice may finally be healed.

  • jestrfyl

    Now they just have to explain all this to their international counterparts. I hope the message seeps through the cracks in the Vatican, too.

  • pagansister

    Amen, Brothers jestrfyl and H4C!

  • William

    Did Jesus attempt to convert Jews?

  • Angie


  • Saltgrain

    What’s the point of interfaith relations if you give away your pearl of great price! If the christian is not interested in spreading the “good news” with those outside the faith, he is wasting precious time. Yes a sense of the common ground of human existence is important but that is part of the lifelog journey each person goes through over their lifespan. Bishops of the Catholic Church are supposed to be safeguarding the faithful and feeding their flock not appeasing nonbelievers to the unbelievable point of denying Christ’s mandate to “go out baptizing all…” It seems we now have a Cathoic Church without Christ!

  • John

    Judas must be pleased with with the USCCB ongoing sellout by the ou-so politically correct US Bishops sucking on the fetid milk of the New World Order Modernist “ecumenical” heritical breast.
    The unconverted Jews are indeed the same men whose father’s fathers cried: “And the whole people answering, said: His blood be upon us and upon our children.” (Matthew 27:25)
    The Jews claim Matthew, Luke and John are liars. Do the US bishops join them in this lie?

  • nnmns

    It sounds like Saltgrain and John actually take the Bible seriously, or at least their favorite parts of it. Guys, think. The Bible was written over centuries by lots of different men with their own agendas, then copied by other men, some with their own agendas and others just a bit sloppy, then parts were picked out by men with political agendas and on and on. And the Bible has errors and disagrees with itself.
    You are taking this all way too seriously!

  • Heretic_for_Christ

    Saltgrain and John…
    One who understands nothing about the Great Commission, and the other who peddles tiresome and disgusting anti-Semitism.

  • cknuck

    The dialog between some Jews and some Christians are indeed difficult from the days that Jesus walked until now. Jews think that Christianity is a affront to their religion and we should not exist some Christians believe that the Jews will not see the kingdom because they do not accept Jesus. We should not fight but Catholics should not have to apologize and Christians should not be ashamed of the gospel. The Great Commission and the greatest commandment goes hand and hand.

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