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Latin Mass Row Clouding Pope’s N.Y. Visit

Latin Mass Row Clouding Pope’s N.Y. Visit

Following weeks of international Jewish-Catholic disputes over a controversial Good Friday prayer, Jewish and Catholic leaders in this country are looking for a good Friday, preceded by a good Thursday — days when Pope Benedict XVI has scheduled meetings with the Jewish community — to restore the improving tenor of interfaith dialogue.
During the upcoming six-day trip of Benedict XVI to the United States on his first papal mission here, he will briefly visit Park East Synagogue on the Upper East Side on the afternoon of Friday, April 18, and will meet 50 Jewish leaders in Washington the previous day after a meeting with 150 representatives of several faiths.
The high-visibility Jewish appearances, say spokesmen in the Jewish and Catholic communities, are designed to allay Jewish fears over the pope’s reintroduction of pro-conversion language in the Latin Mass, and to serve as a symbolic sign of the Vatican’s concern over Jewish feelings.
Benedict XVI, who succeeded John Paul II three years ago, will visit the U.S. under the cloud of the Latin Mass controversy, a controversy that is unlikely to deter the overall improvement in Jewish-Catholic relations since the Vatican II advances in the early 1960s, according to several veterans of interfaith dialogue.
“The good news is that this pope wasn’t John Paul II’s right-hand man for nothing,” said Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s Jerusalem-based international director of interreligious affairs. “He’s deeply committed to the Catholic-Jewish relationship.
“Overall,” Rabbi Rosen said in a telephone interview, “relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people have never been better. There is a solid foundation. No particular issue is going to set back the advancements of the last 45 years.”
Rabbi Rosen said a statement issued by the Vatican this week about the changes in the Latin Mass — the Vatican claims that the new text does not indicate a renewed Catholic interest in conversion of Jews — is “an important clarification,” but is not totally satisfactory. “It is implicit in the statement that ‘esteem and solidarity’ imply that proselytism is inappropriate but I would have been happier if this had been said explicitly.”
Rabbi Rosen saw a preliminary draft of the statement that was sent to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.
Benedict XVI’s revision of the Latin Mass deletes an original reference to the “blindness” of the Jewish people, but asks God “to enlighten their hearts so that they recognize Jesus Christ.”
The Vatican’s clarifying statement, issued in advance of the pope’s U.S. visit, reaffirms the principles of the 1962 Second Vatican Council, which repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus, and says the re-introduction of the 1962 edition of the Good Friday Latin Mass “in no way intends to indicate a change in the Catholic Church’s regard for the Jews.”
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called the Vatican statement “a welcome step,” but said it “does not go far enough.”
While it “shows sensitivity,” he said, “It is troubling that the statement still does not specifically say that the Catholic Church is opposed to proselytizing Jews.
“On this issue,” Foxman said, “the Vatican has taken two steps forward and three steps backward.”
Other issues that have colored the ties between the Vatican and the Jewish community in recent decades, such as the release of World War II archives or the pending beatification of Pius XII, have played a smaller role in the relationship in the last three years, the Jewish spokesmen said. As a pontiff generally seen as a caretaker leader of the church following John Paul II’s quarter-century of charismatic leadership, Benedict XVI has moved slowly on several interfaith matters, neither proposing any innovations nor reversing the work of his predecessor, the spokesmen said.
The pope’s visit here will give observers in the Jewish — and the wider — community a rare opportunity to judge Benedict and to hear his explanations, if any, of the changes in the Latin Mass.
“Everyone is watching — he’s still new,” said Rabbi A. James Rudin, the AJCommittee’s senior interreligious adviser. “The jury is still out. American Jews want to know, is the Catholic Church going to weaken the advances that have been made over the last 40 years?”
Rabbi Rudin, as part of the Jewish delegation that will meet the pope in Washington, said the long-term resolution of the Latin Mass controversy will likely take place in private discussions between Vatican officials and smaller Jewish delegation (“This is best brought up one-on-one in Rome”), but he expects Benedict XVI to discuss the topic next week. “We are looking for more than ceremonial [gestures], for more than Passover greetings.
“It needs clarification,” the rabbi said. “It’s going to be a time for American Jews to get a better picture of him. We know where his head is on many issues. But where is his heart? He needs more than the intellectual speeches.”
“After the Good Friday prayer, Jews should not be running to kiss the hem of the Vatican,” said Rabbi Gerald Meister, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s adviser on Jewish-Christian relations. “It’s a matter of Jewish honor. The Vatican owes the Jewish people an explanation of why it did what it did, which puts into question entirely [Vatican II advances] and the understanding of covenant theology.”
Leaders of German and Italian Jewry announced in recent weeks that they are prepared to suspend dialogue activities with the Catholic Church until the Vatican issues a proper explanation of or apology for the Latin Mass change.
“American Jews are not ready to do that,” Rabbi Rudin said.
The pope’s decision to visit a synagogue is a tacit signal that the Catholic Church recognizes the viability of Jewish theology, said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, spiritual leader of Park East Synagogue. “You don’t come into someone’s home unless you wish them well.”
“The gesture of the synagogue [visit] takes on added significance because of the Latin Mass,” Abraham Foxman said. “It’s part of the repair that the Vatican feels in necessary. A visit to a synagogue says that the Jewish faith has viability today. You don’t come and visit if it has no value.”

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