A year after he became head of New York City’s Roman Catholic community, Archbishop Timothy Dolan visited a prominent Manhattan synagogue last Thursday, praising the state of Jewish-Catholic relations and calling for increased dialogue between Jews and Catholics.
“A millennia ago, a century ago, even 50 years ago, this visit would be unthinkable,” the leader of the city’s Catholic Diocese told some 200 members of the local Jewish and Catholic communities at Park East Synagogue on the Upper East Side, referring to earlier enmity between the groups.
The religions have “overcome the sad history of mistrust,” Archbishop Dolan said, speaking in general terms. However, there was much he did not talk about.
Stressing the improvement in relations fostered by the Vatican II guidelines more than four decades ago, he did not mention specific historical offenses against Jews committed in the name of the Church, such as the Inquisition or the Crusades. He did not discuss accusations that the Vatican, and the wartime pontiff, Pius XII, turned a blind eye to Nazi persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. He did not speak about actions by Pope Benedict XVI that some Jewish observers say have soured interfaith relations, like the fast-tracking of canonization for Pius XII, the reinstitution of a prayer that calls for the conversion of Jews, or the lifting of a Vatican ban against a bishop who had denied the Holocaust.
Archbishop Dolan, who serves as the main liaison with the Jewish community of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, also did not offer specific suggestions for sustaining “the deepening friendship” between Jews and Catholics.
Interfaith relations, he said, have grown from “limited cooperation” based on mutual “tolerance,” to common experiences of combating discrimination in lands where Jews and Catholics were “often considered the ‘Other,’” to “true friendship.”
“Our dialogue must never be reduced to an exchange of grievances,” he said, urging the members of the clergy and lay leaders in the audience to work together on such common issues as a rising divorce rate, the needs of the poor and a rising alienation among young people in both faiths.
He also cited protection of children’s interests, an allusion to the problem of molestation committed by clergy members of both religions.
“Surely we can learn both with and from each other,” he said, urging the listeners to “engage each other actively … build up the relationship.”
The archbishop’s visit to the 120-year-old Orthodox congregation came on the second anniversary of a visit by Pope Benedict XVI, the first time a pope set foot in an American synagogue. Before his speech, Archbishop Dolan and Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Park East’s spiritual leader since 1962, unveiled a plaque outside the synagogue’s entrance commemorating the papal visit.
Visits by the current pope and his predecessor, John Paul II, to Jewish houses of worship, are “something of a blueprint for our future,” Archbishop Dolan said, adding that he has had meetings with some 40 Jewish leaders and delegations during the year since he came here from Milwaukee.
“Catholics and Jews worked together to build this city,” Rabbi Schneier said. “We’ve come a long way. We have a long way to go.”
Exhibiting his well-known sense of humor, the archbishop, who as a Catholic priest is not permitted to marry, said he told Rabbi Schneier an advantage he holds over the rabbi: “I can kiss your wife. You can’t kiss mine.”
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