Dealing With Dialogue Crisis

Dealing With Dialogue Crisis

What will be the future of Catholic-Jewish dialogue if the international Jewish interfaith coalition known as IJCIC is officially disbanded?

That’s the question facing Jewish interfaith leaders this week, following the surprising announcement by the Vatican’s top Jewish liaison, Edward Cardinal Cassidy, that he considered the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation "no longer in existence " as a dialogue partner for the Vatican.

Several top Jewish interfaith leaders seemed to agree with Cassidy, president of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, following the report in last week’s Jewish Week, and the scramble is on concerning the next step.

Leon Feldman, secretary of IJCIC, says the Jewish community must show unity at this time and support the beleaguered coalition, which he said is chaired by Edgar Bronfman Sr., the billionaire CEO of Seagrams, and president of the World Jewish Congress.

Observers note that it is this tie between the WJC and IJCIC that has infuriated Catholic Church leaders here and in Rome because the WJC has been issuing reports for several months criticizing Vatican policies regarding the Holocaust.

The ADL’s interfaith director, Rabbi Leon Klenicki, noted that most IJCIC meetings are held at WJC headquarters, and Feldman is on loan from WJC.

WJC executive director Elan Steinberg refuted the contention that the congress controls IJCIC.

Feldman told The Jewish Week he is consulting with IJCIC members around the world, including acting chairman Geoffrey Wigoder in Israel and Gerhard Riegner, who is the WJC’s bureau head in Geneva, about how to respond to the situation.

But the effort may be in vain, as key IJCIC members, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, say they no longer see the need for the coalition.

ADL national director Abraham Foxman pointed out that IJCIC was created at the request of the Vatican 30 years ago so it could dialogue with one Jewish group instead of a dozen independents: similar to the U.S. government’s request of American Jewish groups 50 years ago that led to the creation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

"[The Vatican] has come to the conclusion it’s not working, so be it," said Foxman.

AJCommittee’s interreligious director, Rabbi James Rudin, says he plans to step up interfaith activities through his own organization.

In fact, in recent months Jewish groups, including IJCIC, the ADL, the WJC and the AJC, have criticized the Vatican and Cassidy’s commission for: resisting opening its World War II archives; issuing a long-delayed document on the Holocaust that defends wartime Pope Pius XII and absolves the church for complicity during the Holocaust; and for canonizing Edith Stein, the Jewish-born nun who died in Auschwitz.

But Rabbi Rudin, saying he is concerned about Cassidy’s complaints, has called for an April 15 "universal" summit with a host of other Jewish interfaith leaders, including non-IJCIC members.

"I want to survey the situation," Rabbi Rudin said. He stressed this was not an attempt to form a new interfaith coalition.

He said one of the topics will be the future of IJCIC and whether to broaden its membership to include other interfaith groups.

Vatican Commission Secretary Remi Hoeckman told The Jewish Week that the Church is not advocating a position on how Jews should proceed with the dialogue.

"It is not our responsibility to organize a potential Jewish partner," the Flemish father stated. "But we will gladly work together with Jewish partners who are religious partners and with whom we can share the agenda."

But Hoeckman also ruled out the possibility of working with IJCIC on Cassidy’s proposal of 14 months ago, which suggested forming a Jewish-Catholic team to study already-published Vatican war documents.

"It can obviously not come from IJCIC anymore," he wrote.

As of last week, the reason for the delay in implementing the joint venture was not clear, with Catholic and Jewish leaders pointing fingers at each other, and themselves.

But Hoeckman seemed to put the ball in the Jewish court.

"Whenever there would be a proposal that we can accept, we will do our part," he said.

Rabbi Rudin, meanwhile, said there are a series of other serious Jewish-Catholic issues on the table, including the crosses at Auschwitz, the millennium and potential Christian backlash against Jews, and the Vatican’s position on the future of holy places in Jerusalem.

But the Church may not take kindly to hearing any more criticism, as evidenced by Cassidy’s speech, which charged the WJC with a campaign to denigrate the Church, and accused Jewish groups of too much negative criticism of the Vatican.

"Recent Jewish attempts to influence decisions concerning the internal life of the Catholic Church are strongly resented," Cassidy said. "Persons very dear to the Catholic faithful are condemned without proof, but simply because they are not personae gratae with the Jewish community."

Said Foxman: "I think there’s something still missing in the dialogue if we cannot in good faith and with respect express our pain and anguish over certain decisions they are making."

Meanwhile, there are still more changes in store for the Vatican-Jewish dialogue with Pope John Paul II announcing the retirement of 76-year-old Bishop Pierre Duprey as vice president of the Vatican’s Jewish commission. Duprey, a French native, has served since 1983.

The pope has appointed German Bishop Walter Kasper of Rottenburg-Stuttgart to take on Duprey’s varied responsibilities, presumably including his role on the Jewish relations commission.

Kasper, 66, is a theologian and a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church body in charge of interpreting Catholic law.

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