“Dialogue in Distress” by J.J. Goldberg

Reference: Jewish Journal

April 8, 1999

There’s good news and bad news in Catholic-Jewish relations. The good news is, relations between Catholics and Jews have never been better. The bad news is, relations between the Vatican and world Jewry have gotten so bad that the Vatican has severed its formal diplomatic link to the Jewish people.

What’s worse, most Jews don’t even know there is a formal diplomatic link between the Vatican and the Jewish people. That’s one reason the Vatican is so upset.

To see how far we’ve come, consider ABC News’ “Nightline” from last Dec. 25. The subject was Steven Dubner, the Catholic-born author whose book “Turbulent Souls” chronicles his spiritual quest for his parents’ Jewish roots.

The program’s most arresting moment came when New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor described Dubner coming to him for guidance in his quest. O’Connor recalled counseling Dubner to follow his instincts and embrace Judaism.

Coming from a prince of the church, this is a bombshell. It wasn’t that long ago that the Catholic Church was burning Jews alive for that very offense: returning to their Jewish roots. They called it the Inquisition.

Now we’ve got cardinals acting like Santa Claus in “Miracle on 34th Street,” advising restless parishioners to try Judaism. The pope encourages this. He reversed 2,000 years of church teaching by formally declaring in 1986 that Judaism was a legitimate pathway to heaven.

The change is part of an ongoing Catholic process of looking inward and reaching out, begun at the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

Right now, it’s in trouble. Last February, the Vatican’s chief liaison to the Jewish community declared that worldwide Catholic-Jewish relations were in a state of emergency, verging on rupture.

“I am becoming concerned that some of the good work that has been done is under threat,” said the cleric, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.

The problem is that Catholics are fed up. For all the progress in Catholic attitudes, Jewish attitudes toward Catholicism remain hostile and suspicious. “Jewish responses to what we seek to do to improve our relationship are often so negative that some now hesitate to do anything at all for fear of making the situation worse,” Cassidy said.

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