Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican Congregation forthe Doctrine of the Faith, made the statement in an unusual "meditation"printed on the front page of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.
In the article, "The Inheritance From Abraham, the Gift ofChristmas," the German-born prelate strongly condemned anti-Semitism,which he blamed for the failure of some Christians to help Jews duringthe "atrocity" of the Holocaust.
But, he said, it may be due to the Holocaust that "a new vision ofrelations between the church and Israel was born, a sincere will toovercome every type of anti-Judaism and to open a constructive dialogueof reciprocal knowledge and reconciliation."
"To be fruitful, such a dialogue must start with a prayer to our Godthat he gives first of all to us Christians a greater esteem and lovetoward this people, the Israelites," he said. "We pray equally that hegives also to the children of Israel a greater knowledge of Jesus ofNazareth, their son and gift that they have made to us."
Ratzinger's warm tone and repeated emphasis on Christianity's rootsin Judaism appeared aimed at easing severe strains caused by thecontroversial document on salvation that his congregation issued inSeptember. The "Declaration Dominus Iesus" asserted the primacy ofCatholicism and said followers of other religions are in a "gravelydeficient situation" regarding salvation.
"The entire story of salvation," Ratzinger said in his newstatement, "had Israel as its initial protagonist. For this reason, thevoices of Moses and the prophets have resonated in the liturgy of thechurch from the beginning until today; Israel's Book of Psalms is alsothe church's great book of prayer."
"Even if the ultimate, execrable experience of the Shoah (Holocaust)was perpetrated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology that sought tostrike the Christian faith at its roots in the people of Israel, itcannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance by Christians tothis atrocity is explained by the anti-Judaism present in the soul ofmore than a few Christians," he said.
Ratzinger's acknowledgment of the failures of Christians to come tothe aid of Jews echoed a statement on the Holocaust issued by theVatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews in 1998.
Many Jewish leaders criticized the statement on the grounds that thechurch did not itself accept guilt for Catholics' complicity in theHolocaust and offer a full apology.
The declaration on salvation, issued Sept. 5, and Pope John PaulII's beatification two days earlier of Pius IX, the 19th century popewho severely restricted the civil and religious rights of Jews living inthe papal states, caused renewed anger. In protest, two rabbis droppedout of a scheduled symposium on dialogue between Christians and Jews,forcing the Vatican to cancel the Holy Year event.
Although the pope strongly endorsed "Dominus Iesus," he has been atpains to reassert the Vatican's commitment to ecumenical and interfaithdialogue. He told his general audience on Dec. 6 that the gospel teachesthat "those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes will enter God'sKingdom."
In his meditation, Ratzinger said that because of their joint beliefin the Old Testament, dialogue between Christians and Jews "is placed ona different plane with respect to those with other religions." He saidthat although Islam also is descended from Abraham, "it has taken adifferent road that requires other parameters of dialogue."