While Islamic anti-Judaism increases, a bit of positive interfaith news emerged this week from American Catholic leaders.
U.S. Catholic bishops declared Monday that campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity "are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church."
This conclusion is contained in a 12-page joint Catholic-Jewish statement called "Reflections on Covenant and Mission" issued with the National Council of Synagogues, representing the Conservative and Reform Jewish streams.
Interfaith observers called it perhaps the clearest statement yet by Catholic religious officials about the painful issue of converting Jews, which was Church policy for centuries until the Second Vatican Council revisited the issue in 1964.
And the declaration puts U.S. Catholics at loggerheads with the Southern Baptist Convention (the nation’s largest Protestant group) and Evangelical Christians, who continue to believe it is their sacred mission to convert Jews to accept Jesus.
The statement declares that Catholics participating in interreligious dialogue are "devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism" even as they are "witnessing to their own faith in the kingdom of God embodied in Christ.
"This is a form of evangelization," it said.
Yet, there is still some difficult language. In one sentence the Church … "acknowledges that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God." But the very next sentence states: "The Catholic Church must always evangelize and will always witness to its faith … to Jews and to all other people."
"I’m concerned that this shouldn’t be misunderstood," said Rabbi Leon Klenicki, the first scholar-at-large at the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, explaining that "evangelization is not the same as proselytizing in Catholic thought."
The Jewish portion of the statement describes a three-part "mission of the Jews" in perfecting the world.
"The joint mission statement has articulated a new goal, namely healing a sick world and the imperative to repair the damage we humans have caused to God’s creations," said synagogue council director Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal.