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The Catholic Church

Under the Roman Empire

While a Catholic (i.e., "universal") Church came into being only at the Council of Nicaea in 325, a unified interpretation of the new religion of Christianity had begun to emerge during the three preceding centuries, and concomitantly the foundations of a Church attitude toward the Jews. The early Church Fathers , eager to complete the break with the synagogue, urged the substitution of Sunday for the Jewish Sabbath and the abandonment of Passover, commemorative of the Exodus, for Easter, commemorative of the crucifixion. Retaining the Bible while denying the people that was its subject, the Church declared itself the New Israel. It claimed the patriarchs and prophets for itself and later pronounced Judaism an aberration from the Divine Will. All warnings and rebukes contained in the Jewish scriptures were applied to the Jewish people, while all praise and promise were applied to the Church. At the Council of Nicaea, Christianity was unified under the Roman emperor, whose favorite theologian at any given time set the standard for orthodoxy. Others were declared heretics and suffered worse persecution than did the Jews. Church, and therefore imperial, policy to eliminate Judaism as a rival remained unchanged, except during the twoand-a-half years under Julian the Apostate (361–63). Under Church influence, the emperors forbade the conversion of pagans to Judaism. Slave ownership by Jews was made difficult and was completely outlawed if the slave were a Christian. Despite pronouncements of official protection, synagogues were frequently attacked and destroyed. On the other hand, the emperors pursued the traditional Roman policy of protecting Jewish life and the undisturbed practice of Judaism.

The attitudes expressed in the theological literature of the time were ultimately even more important. Eusebius of Caesarea took every opportunity to stress God's "rejection" of the Jewish people. John Chrysostom hurled bitter invective at the Jews and denounced Christians who associated with them and visited synagogues. Jerome delighted in emphasizing the faults, real or imagined, of ancient and contemporary Jews. Most important was Augustine , bishop of Hippo in North Africa. He put forward the theory, which long remained part of Christian theology, that it was the will of God to keep a remnant of the Jews alive in a degraded state as living witnesses of the Christian truth.

The Early Middle Ages

In the western part of the Empire, the number of Jews was then comparatively small. Moreover, the Goths, now the real masters of the West, were Arian Christians and therefore not under the influence of the Roman Church. Theodoric the Great (c. 520), while expressing the usual Christian view that Judaism was a deviation from the truth, granted that faith could not be forced. Pope Gregory I (590–604) applied the same policy. In theory this remained the basic papal policy for many centuries, although in practice it was often flagrantly violated. In a series of Church councils, meeting in Toledo throughout the seventh century, the Visigothic kingdom of Spain, which had by this time become Catholic, passed a series of increasingly stringent laws to compel the Jews to join the Church or leave the country (see anusim ). Only the Muslim conquest (711) made it possible for the Jews to return to their homes and their faith. In the Eastern Empire, Church and state continued to be closely bound together. Under the emperors Heraclius (632) and Leo III (721), Jews were forced into baptism. It may have been the examples of Spain and the Eastern Empire that led King Dagobert of the Franks to expel the Jews from his kingdom (633), but the order was enforced only briefly. Before long, the kings and nobles, especially Charlemagne and his sons, found the Jews very useful, although several Church councils in France and Italy continued to object to friendly relations between Christians and Jews and some important churchmen, like Bishops Agobard and Amulo of Lyons, agitated against them. The weakening of Pope Gregory I's policy was exemplified when Pope Leo VII (937) advised the archbishop of Mainz to expel the Jews from his diocese if they continued to refuse baptism. On the other hand, in 1063, Pope Alexander II commended the French and the Spanish clergy for protecting the Jews against physical attack. His successor, Pope Gregory VII (1081), however, objected to the employment of Jews in public office in the rising Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. One may conclude that, as the Church in the West grew stronger, its policy grew more hostile; but the economic position of the Jews continued to work in their favor.

The Later Middle Ages

During the crusading era, the situation of the Jews underwent radical changes. When the first Crusaders, unorganized peasants and city rabble, reached the Rhineland, they were already convinced that killing a Jew nearby was as meritorious as killing a Muslim in distant Palestine – and much less dangerous. Here and there a local bishop tried to protect the Jews, but with little effect. Pope Urban II, who had started the crusading movement, did not rebuke the rioters; Clement III, an antipope, protested the return to Judaism of those who had yielded to baptism when in danger of their lives. The experience proved to the Jews that their position in Christian society was a precarious one. They asked for and received a promise of protection from the Holy Roman emperor (1103), and they also sought a statement from the pope. The bull Sicut Judaeis, first issued by Pope Calixtus II (c. 1120), was evidently meant as an answer to this appeal. The effect of this bull of protection is naturally hard to evaluate. It did not stop threats to various Jewish communities in central Europe when the Second Crusade got under way in 1144. The worst effects of the Third Crusade were felt in England (1190).

Driven out of commerce during the 12th century by the rise of a middle class in the towns, the Jews turned to moneylending, especially since the Church prohibited the taking of interest by Christians. Churchmen, high and low, now joined the popular outcry against the Jews as extortioners ruining the Christian population. The hostility thus engendered resulted in the invention of charges which plagued the Jews for many centuries. The blood libel first appeared in the 12th century, and that of the desecration of the Host in the 13th. A number of popes, then and later, denied these accusations, but they continued to crop up in various localities and resulted in the torture and killing of many Jews, since the local clergy were rarely restrained by the expressions of papal doubt. Contact between Christians and Jews being considered dangerous, Pope Innocent III (1215) imposed upon all Jews the obligation of wearing distinguishable garments, and this soon developed into the Jewish badge . That the unregulated presence of Jews endangered Christianity was accepted by the theologian Thomas Aquinas , though his approach to the problem of Jews in Christian society was precise, logical, and relatively tolerant.

Until the 13th century, though the conversion of Jews was actively sought, the Church's primary aim was the defense of Christianity against the possible attractions of Judaism. From the 13th century, the Church went over to the offensive; the primary aim now became the total conversion of the Jews. In theory, the use of force for this purpose was still prohibited; but once baptized, under whatever circumstances, a person could not revert without laying himself open to the charge of heresy, entailing relentless pursuit by the newly established Inquisition . A conscious effort was now made to weaken Judaism and degrade it among its own adherents. One target was the Talmud and other rabbinic works. The charge was raised, not only that the Talmud contained blasphemies against Christianity, but that its contents were ridiculous and aimed to mislead the Jews. Each of the three important public disputations (Paris, 1240; Barcelona, 1263; Tortosa, 1413–14) resulted in the condemnation of the Talmud, repeated on several other occasions. An attempt to make listening to conversionist sermons compulsory was made briefly in Aragon after the Barcelona disputation. The ecumenical council of Vienne (1311–12) introduced the study of Hebrew and Arabic into the universities so as to prepare for more effective disputation with Jews and Muslims. Hostile preaching led to anti-Jewish riots on more than one occasion, but especially in Castile and Aragon in 1391. A number of Jewish communities were destroyed and the foundations laid for marranism in Spain (see Marranos ).

This historical period came to an end with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1496/97. In their desire to unify their state, the Catholic monarchs (Ferdinand and Isabella) made religion the supreme test of political loyalty. Their goal was frankly conversionary and the reorganized Inquisition was closely allied to royal power. In Castile and Aragon a choice was offered between baptism and exile. In Portugal conversion was achieved by naked compulsion.

Renaissance and Counter-Reformation

Pope Paul IV

In the rest of Europe, for about a century (c. 1420–c. 1550) when the spirit of the Renaissance prevailed in Italy and among intellectuals elsewhere, the Church attitude toward the Jews was rather mild. The lower clergy continued to be hostile, but most of the popes in Rome and a number of cardinals extended favor and protection. Marranos, fleeing Spain and Portugal, were hardly molested. In the controversy over the Talmud, which broke out early in the 16th century, Pope Leo X sympathized with the opponents of repression. But soon the rapid spread of the Lutheran and other heresies frightened the Church. The ecumenical council of Trent marked the turning point. In 1553, Cardinal Caraffa, head of the Inquisition in Rome, had all copies of the Talmud within his reach burned as well as much other Hebrew literature, and the pope tried to influence other rulers in Europe – especially in Italy – to do the same. The Jews labored hard to keep the council from prohibiting talmudic study entirely; they succeeded only after agreeing to a rigorous censorship of all suspected passages. When, in 1555, Cardinal Caraffa became Pope Paul IV , he began a systematic persecution of Marranos who had fled from Spain to Italy, and imposed a harsh restrictive policy in his bull Cum nimis absurdum. Pius V, in 1569, expelled the Jews from the Papal States excepting Ancona, a business center, and Rome, where a strictly supervised ghetto had been established. Synagogues had to admit conversionist sermons. Though some of the extreme measures were temporarily modified by succeeding popes and the preaching was eventually transferred to a neighboring church, most of the regulations remained in force down to the 19th century, some of them as late as 1870.

The 16th to 18th centuries were the most sorrowful and degrading period in the history of the Jews in Catholic Europe. The introduction of ghettos and "Jews-streets," in the sense of compulsory places of residence for Jews only, spread rapidly in the 16th century. The Jewish badge was enforced everywhere, and Jewish socioeconomic activity was strictly regulated. Blood libels were frequent, especially in Poland, despite the stand taken against them by several popes. Conversion was pursued vigorously. One of the last instances of a forced conversion was that of the Mortara child, in 1858 in Bologna, which aroused protests among Christians, too, the world over.

Modern Times

Following the French Revolution, the spirit of nationalism, rationalism, and political liberalism led to the separation of Church and state, in practice if not always in theory, and the consequent granting of political equality and economic opportunity to Jews in Central and Western Europe and in the Americas. Many in the Church hierarchy were affected by the general currents, but the Church continued to side with the conservative elements. Antisemitism in the 19th and early 20th centuries as a social and historical phenomenon has to be seen in the context of the profound economic changes, social dislocations, and national movements that characterized the period (see Antisemitism ). The population shift from the country to the growing cities, industrialization, the rise of capitalism on the one hand and of a class-conscious proletariat on the other, the influx of Jews into the professions and types of activity that were open to them, the frustrations and fears which these developments generated in the middle and lower classes – all these lent themselves easily to interpretation in terms of antisemitic propaganda that appealed to traditional prejudices. While the underlying developments were economic and social rather than specifically religious, their antisemitic interpretation and exploitation found a ready echo in Christian circles. Few Catholic political leaders or church dignitaries spoke up for the Jews, and where they did it was often in a social and political context in which Catholics found themselves a minority in a non-Catholic society. Cardinal Manning was exceptional in being sympathetic to the Jews – in spite of his otherwise anti-liberal attitudes – and in 1882 even took part in a protest meeting against the oppression of the Jews in Russia. In Germany, Bismarck's struggle against the Catholic Church (the Kulturkampf) created a situation in which an occasional rapprochement between Jewish and Catholic interests could occur. But by and large the growing antisemitism of the period permeated all Catholic circles and penetrated political Catholic parties. The writings of influential Bible scholars such as August Rohling , professor of Catholic theology at the University of Prague, helped to foster antisemitism among the Catholic masses in Germany, Austria, and in France. Rohling held the Jews responsible for the ideology of liberal economy current in his time, accused them of preventing the coming of the messianic millennium of Jesus, and of practicing ritual murder. During the Tiszaeszlar blood libel trial, he declared himself ready to testify on oath to the practice of ritual murder among Jews. Challenged by Rabbi Joseph Samuel Bloch , who in the press accused him of perjury, Rohling sued him but withdrew the charge during the last stages of the trial at which well-known Protestant scholars, such as Hermann L. Strack and Franz Delitzsch , exposed Rohling's spurious scholarship. Rohling's works, however, were not discredited among the masses nor was the ritual murder libel discarded by antisemitic agitators. The French journal La Croix attacked the Talmud on the authority of Rohling's writings; Joseph Deckert , a Viennese clergyman, published an account of a ritual murder which allegedly had taken place in 1875 (Bloch took legal action against him and Deckert was found guilty of slander); and the semiofficial Italian Jesuit bimonthly La Civiltà Cattolica published excerpts from the trial of the Jews of Trent (in 1475) accused of the murder of Simon, the son of a tanner. On the other hand, there were a few Catholics who publicly rejected ritual murder libel, e.g., the clergyman F. Frank in his Der Ritualmord vor den Gerichtshoefen der Wahrheit und Gerechtigkeit (19012, supplement 1902).

Economic factors also became an important element of antisemitic propaganda. While the top echelon of the Austrian clergy opposed antisemitism, individual bishops approved of the exploitation of economic motives, e.g., Paul Wilhelm von Keppler, bishop of Rottenburg, and the pioneer of Christian socialism Ottokár Prohászka, appointed bishop of Stuhlweissenburg in 1905. Two prominent Catholic journals which were antisemitic were the organ of the German Center Catholic party and the French Catholic La Croix. In France violent anti-Jewish agitation incited mainly by conservative-monarchist Catholics, the opponents of liberalism and freemasonry, and the leaders of the Ralliement movement who sought the support of the masses through social reforms, culminated in the *Dreyfus case, where the majority of the Catholics supported Dreyfus' opponents. Antisemitic exploitation of economic motives remained characteristic of many Catholics also in the 20th century.

Efforts to arrive at a better understanding of Judaism met with little response. The Amici Israel association, founded in Rome on June 6, 1926, was one of the few Catholic organizations which, though missionary in its ideology, tried to foster such an understanding. Within a short time it gained a membership of 2,000 priests, among them numerous cardinals and bishops. While its first publications called upon its readership and members to support missionary institutions and conversion, in Pax super Israel (1927) members were asked to refrain from using any expression which might be offensive to the Jews. Emphasis was also laid on the fact that Israel continued to be the Chosen People. The Holy Office in Rome, however, considered the association contrary to the sensus ecclesiae ("the spirit of the Church") and on March 21, 1928, proscribed it. In the same decree the Church also proscribed antisemitism.

In pre-Hitler Germany open antisemitism as the voice of the Catholic masses was limited and even after 1933 those Catholics who rallied to it were marginal. But while only occasionally such publications as Katholizismus und Judenfrage (1923) appeared in which the author, J. Roth, a chaplain, vindicated antisemitism though with reservations, few attempts were made to reach a deeper understanding of Judaism. Among those who firmly opposed antisemitism in public there was Franz Roedel (1891–1969), director of the Catholic Judaica Institute (founded in 1958), and a contributor to the Mitteilungen aus dem Verein zur Abwehr des Anti-semitismus.

In Nazi Germany the archbishop of Munich and Freising, Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber (1869–1952) combated antisemitism; his Advent sermons Judentum, Christentum. Germanentum delivered in Munich in 1933, while not directly referring to the faith and ethics of post-biblical Judaism, were interpreted by the National Socialists as a defense of the Jews in general. He played a considerable role in the preparations of the encyclical of Pope Pius XI Mit brennender Sorge ("With Burning Anxiety," 1937), in which the pope vigorously denounced racism. While it became difficult to publish opinions favorable to the Jews in Nazi Germany, Catholics contributed to journals appearing in other countries. Msgr. John Oesterreicher's Pauluswerk, originally intended as a missionary organization for the Jews, and his periodical Erfuellung became militant instruments against antisemitism in Germany and Austria while providing at the same time factual information on Judaism and on Zionist aspirations. In 1938 Msgr. Oesterreicher escaped to the United States where he founded the Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University.

Help was extended to the persecuted in Germany, and in Austria after the Anschluss in 1938, by the St. Raphael Society until its suspension by the National Socialists. It aided "non-Aryans," though mostly converted Jews, to emigrate. (It was reestablished in 1945.) Until her arrest and imprisonment in a concentration camp, Gertrud Luckner was among those who worked indefatigably to help the persecuted. In 1948, together with Karl Thieme, she founded the Freiburger Rundbrief, which aimed at changing the attitude of the Church toward the Jews.

Pope Pius XI openly denounced Nazism and in a speech in 1938 stated: "Spiritually we are Semites." His successor, Pope Pius XII , incurred wide criticism for having failed openly to condemn the Nazi effort to wipe out the Jews of Europe, though his personal abhorrence of their actions was generally recognized (see Holocaust and the Churches). Since World War II Christian catechism has come under criticism. The writings of the French historian Jules Isaac , Jésus et Israël (1948, 19592) and L'Enseignement du Mépris (1962; The Teaching of Contempt, 1969) in which the author holds the Church responsible for the teaching of contempt, which has fostered antisemitism, had its impact on the Church. Religious textbooks, catechisms, and manuals are, to an increasing extent, being examined and discriminatory passages are being eliminated. During the pontificate of Pope Pius XII the offensive term perfidi, in the prayer for the Jews on Good Friday, was no longer interpreted as meaning "faithless," but "unbelieving." Pope John XXIII expunged it altogether as well as the offensive passages in the "Consecration to the Sacred Heart."

A reform in the Catholic liturgy has thus been initiated which is not yet completed; Catholic scholars are also seriously examining the problem whether, and to what extent, antisemitic remarks appear in the New Testament, and whether these can be interpreted as the personal opinions of the evangelists or have to be accepted as authoritative expressions of Christian theology. The cult of Simon of Trent, whose origin is plainly an antisemitic libel, was suspended by the Congregation of Rites in 1965. From 1945 active attempts at Jewish conversion were rejected. In order to foster a better and genuinely dialogic understanding of Judaism, the Vatican established an Office for Catholic-Jewish Relations. The order of Notre-Dame de Sion, founded by the brothers Ratisbonne for conversionist purposes in 1843, has replaced its aim with a willingness to enter into a dialogue with the Jews as equals. Many Catholics are also participating in various organizations for Christian-Jewish cooperation. Original fears that such cooperation with other Christian denominations would prove detrimental to the status of the Catholic Church have been overcome in the present, more ecumenical climate. The fact that the National Socialists attacked Christianity because it originated in Judaism has also contributed to a more profound Catholic reflection of the values of Judaism. It is acknowledged that the Jews continue to be the Chosen People, thus revising traditional theology; many theologians strive to regard relations between Christians and Jews as ecumenic, and there is an increasing readiness to learn about Judaism from Jews themselves. Reactionary forces clinging to traditional antisemitism are not lacking however – characteristic of this attitude is Complotto contro la Chiesa (1962) by Maurice Pinay, distributed at the II Vatican Council (see Church Councils – also for the Vatican Council document on Catholic-Jewish relations).

[Willehad Paul Eckert]

In the U.S.

Both Roman Catholicism and Judaism have always been viewed as minority faiths in American life. Catholics, however, have always vastly outnumbered Jews by a ratio which has held steady at 7:1 for nearly 200 years, but which has changed significantly in the last decades of the 20th century with the dramatic increase of Hispanic-Roman Catholic–immigration to the United States and with the diminishing population of Jews both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the American population. Despite this numerical preponderance, and in part because of it, Catholics have experienced a more intensive form of prejudice than have American Jews.

During the Colonial period only Rhode Island granted Catholics a respectable measure of civil and religious freedom. Unlike the situation among the few colonial Jews, no Catholic achieved prominence in public life. Even with the adoption of the Federal Constitution and the Bill of Rights, Catholics continued to suffer disabilities, both on the state and local level, more frequently than Jews.

Throughout the 19th and during the early years of the 20th century, Catholics continued to experience periodic, sometimes violent, outbreaks of Protestant animosity, a situation rarely experienced by American Jews. The Know-Nothing movement of the 1850s, the American Protective Association of the 1880s, and the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s were typical examples. However, since such outbursts of nativism were directed at aliens in general, Jews were also targets. Both Jews and Catholics increased their numbers through European immigration. Both groups congregated in American cities, were blamed for the cities' ills, and were the butt of immigration restrictionists. Unlike the immigrant Jews, the Roman Catholic Church related to the American public school system as Protestant rather than non-sectarian and established a parochial school system of their own. Only a century later did Jews establish the day school movement in significant numbers and only in response to the decline of the public school and the increased desire for an intensive Jewish education.


Although attacks on Alfred E. Smith during his presidential campaign in 1928 indicated that prejudice against Catholics was still high, displays of animosity toward them abated somewhat in the 1930s, while antisemitism was on the increase. Undoubtedly, the rise of Nazism in Germany and of pro-Nazi groups in the United States was an important factor in the growth of anti-Jewish discrimination. Thus, on the eve of World War II, antisemitism became a "classic prejudice." The fact that Jews and Catholics shared the experience of frequent and severe discrimination did not prevent the fact that antisemitism, sometimes in rabid form, existed among Catholics. In turn, a sense of caution if not fear of Catholics could be found among Jews. A Detroit priest, Father Charles E. Coughlin, was the most prominent of these antisemites. The anti-Jewish attitudes among American Catholics had one of their sources in the traditional misinterpretation of the role Jews had played in the crucifixion, most prominently in the Gospel of Matthew. The result of this erroneous inheritance was a centuries-long "teaching of contempt" (in Jules Isaac's phrase), compounded by socioeconomic myths regarding the Jews. On this latter pragmatic level, Catholic and Jewish interests often collided in 20th-century America. Both incoming groups settled largely in cities, creating political and economic competition. Above all, Jewish immigrants brought with them historic memories of European persecution which sometimes led to a misattribution of responsibility for hostile acts committed by other branches of Christianity. Despite demonstrable Protestant sources of prejudice, Jews in the United States were inclined to blame Catholics more than Protestants for antisemitic incidents. This tendency was strengthened by the widely publicized anti-Jewish bigotry of Father Coughlin in the 1930s and early 1940s, a most vulnerable time in Jewish history as European Jews under the threat of Nazism were seeking to immigrate to the United States.

For defensive reasons both Catholics and Jews were staunch supporters of the principle of pluralism in American religious life and vigilant exponents of the separation of church and state. Only on the question of public support for parochial education did Catholics part company with Jews, at least until the 1980s. Protestant tendencies in the public schools during the second half of the 19th century motivated Catholics to develop an efficient network of parochial education. Consequently, Catholics contended that government should support the secular arm of their religious program, since they were being taxed for the support of public schools. A majority of American Jews on the other hand, fearful of breaching the "wall of separation" between church and state, remained stubborn opponents of such subsidies. In some urban areas this issue strained Catholic-Jewish relations. Orthodox Jews have joined forces with Christian evangelicals and American Catholics for support of parochial school education.

The election of John F. Kennedy as the first American president who was Roman Catholic brought into the American government some very prominent Jews of East European origin, the classical sons of immigrants. Abraham Ribocoff and Arthur Goldberg both served in Kennedy's first cabinet and many Jews served on his staff. Traditional outsiders and immigrants were now part of the governing establishment.

The Nazi atrocities against the Jewish people evoked widespread sympathy also among leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States and stimulated interest in specifically Catholic-Jewish interchanges. After World War II, however, the issue of the Nazi Holocaust became a source of friction between Catholics and Jews, pinpointed in the 1960s by a German play accusing Pope Pius XII of "silence" in the face of the Jewish wartime tragedy. Jewish opinion was divided on the issue. Some emphasized Christian "indifference" to the annihilation of the Jews and others focused on the considerable assistance extended to Jewish victims of the Nazis by Catholic clerics and laymen in numerous countries. The opposition of the Holy See to Israeli control of Jerusalem and its call for the internationalization of the Holy City in 1947, as well as the Vatican's reluctance to recognize the State of Israel, did not improve relations. Although these Vatican positions have not always been endorsed by U.S. Catholics, neither have they been publicly repudiated. From the time of John Courtney Murray, the American Church has adopted the American principles of civility in interreligious discourse and has been more pluralistic, ecumenical, and open. Furthermore, the minority status of Catholics – and Jews – in the United States gave the American Church a less dominant place in American society. It too needed allies.


In the late 1950s a direct Catholic-Jewish dialogue got under way. The largest contributions were made by Jewish human-relations agencies. At first related to issues of the common good and to civic matters, the dialogue eventually led to exchanges concerning theology, although this aspect of scholarly investigation is opposed by Orthodox Jewry, following a well-publicized article by the dominant spiritual leader of Modern Orthodoxy Rabbi Joseph Dov Baer Soloveitchik , "Confrontations," published in the Rabbincal Council of America's Journal Tradition. The 1960s were revolutionary in Catholic-Jewish relationships in the United States. The Second Vatican Council gave great impetus to the Catholic-Jewish dialogue movement. The Council's promulgation in October 1965 of the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, containing a landmark statement on the Jews, shattered an insurmountable barrier to Catholic-Jewish rapprochement. It emphatically denies the collective responsibility of Jews in all ages for the crucifixion drama. In a deep sense Vatican II represented the acceptance by the entire Church of the thinking of Murray and the practices of the American Church. It also, for the first time in the history of conciliar declarations, expressly names and attacks antisemitism. In March 1967 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States issued "Guidelines for Catholic-Jewish Relations," elaborating on the Vatican Council's statement. Two other documents were issued subsequently by the American hierarchy, both practical instruments suggesting specific programs and activities. The statement by the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations (1968) was followed by the "Guidelines for the Advancement of Catholic-Jewish Relations" drawn up by the dioceses of New York, Brooklyn, and Rockville Center (1969). These pronunciamentos have stimulated Catholics and encouraged Jews to progress far beyond the diffident dialogues among laymen of the late 1950s and early 1960s. An array of pragmatic undertakings has been initiated and carried through with special emphasis on the major source of the transmission of antisemitic education.

One cannot compare pre–Vatican II attitudes toward the Jews with post-Vatican II practice. On a Church-wide level there have been dramatic moves. Vatican II was followed by changes in Roman Catholic liturgy on Good Friday and even in Scriptural readings. No longer were Roman Catholics to read of "perfidious Jews" or from Matthew of Jews and their children accepting responsibility for the crucifixion. The teaching of contempt has been de-emphasized and greater emphasis has been paid to Jesus as a Jew and to his disciples as Jews and to what Judaism and Christianity share in common. It has become commonplace in the United States to speak of the Judeo-Christian tradition and thus to emphasize what the two historically antagonistic traditions have in common rather than what divides them. In the United States Judaism and Jews are not the Other. Greater antagonism is directed to materialism and secularism and greater emphasis within the Roman Catholic Church on fighting abortion. The prominence of Jews invites cooperation rather than condemnation. Two popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, went out of their way to revamp Roman Catholic teachings about the Jews. Pope John Paul II visited Israel, prayed at the Western Wall, apologized for the antisemitism of Christians – not of Christianity – at Yad Vashem, and visited Israel's Chief Rabbinate. His prayer service at the Roman synagogue, the first by the Bishop of Rome, was intended as explicit recognition of post-Christian Judaism.

Judaism is taught within the Roman Catholic school system. Rabbis are invited to lecture; many Roman Catholic schools teach the Holocaust in high school. On the University level, Jewish Studies are offered at major Roman Catholic Universities and inter-religious dialogue is commonplace within communities large and small. Cooperation is the norm. Within Roman Catholic intellectual life there is a group of priest and theologians who came to prominence in the post–Vatican II era who have been part of the ecumenical movement for their entire careers and have deep friendships and understanding with Jewish counterparts. Diocese officials are assigned to work with Jewish clergy and in cities with large Jewish populations such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and elsewhere.

There is a general consensus within the American Roman Catholic Church that a renewed dialogue of mutual esteem between "the people of the New Convenant" and the "People of the Old Covenant, which was never revoked by God," should be encouraged. In practice, this agreement frays a bit on both the political left and the political right; on the left because of opposition to Israel and on the right among those who have never come to terms with the change in Roman Catholic teaching that no longer maintains that there is no salvation outside the Church.

Several documents are important and indicate the American Church's leadership and its impact on the Vatican. By 1970 U.S. bishops had issued the first set of guidelines in the history of Church for dealing with the Jews. A Vatican-written guideline was promulgated in 1975.

Ten years after Vatican II, the American Church issued a statement that spoke of the misinterpretation of the New Testament with regard to the crucifixion. It spoke of the relationship between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel as critical to understanding the context of the emergence of the State of Israel but did not adopt any theological interpretation of its meaning, in vivid contrast to some Christian evangelical understandings of that context, which view the Jews' return to their land as essential to the return of the Christ.

In a rare move, the Vatican notes of 1985 on the correct way to present Jews and Judaism quotes the American Church's 1975 statement. Two other documents have also been significant: that of the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs Guidelines for the Presentation of the Passion, which seeks to implement the Vatican II teachings on the crucifixion, and the Bishops' Committee on Liturgy document, "God's Mercy Endures Forever," which gives guidance to pulpit preachers on how to deal with Jews and Judaism. In fact, six scholars who examined the script of Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ maintained that it violated the Bishops' Guidelines.

The 1998 Vatican pronouncement on the Shoah, "We Remember," was followed by a more forthcoming statement by the U.S. bishops calling for implementation in Catholic education of remembrance of the Holocaust. A comparison of the two documents and the dissatisfaction of some within the Jewish community with the Vatican document reveal some of the divisions within the Church with regard to the Jews.

One can also say that the fact that the film The Passion of the Christ, with its emphasis on Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion and its portrayal of first century Jews, did not lead to a measurable increase in antisemitism among Christians testifies to the success of Vatican II. Catholics and Christians in general can distinguish between purported acts of first century Jews and Jews today.

[Egal Feldman / Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]


ANTIQUITY AND MIDDLE AGES: E. Rodocanachi, Le Saint-Siège et les Juifs (1891); Juster, Juifs; J. Parkes, Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue (1934); idem, Jew in the Medieval Community (1938); J. Starr, Jews in the Byzantine Empire (1939); P. Browe, Die Judenmission in Mittelalter und die Paepste (1942); B. Blumenkranz, Juifs et chrétiens dans le monde occidental (1960); M. Hay, Europe and the Jews (1960); V.D. Lipman (ed.), Three Centuries of Anglo-Jewish History (1961); M. Simon, Verus Israel (19642); Baer, Spain; S. Grayzel, The Church and the Jews in the XIIIth Century (19662); E. Flannery, Anguish of the Jews (1967); P. Borchsenius, Two Ways to God (1968); E.A. Synan, The Popes and the Jews in the Middle Ages (1965), from the Roman Catholic viewpoint. MODERN TIMES: G. Baum, The Jews and the Gospel (1961); W.P. Eckert and E.L. Ehrlich (eds.), JudenhassSchuld der Christen?! (1964), and supplement (1966); G. Lewy, The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany (1964); A. Bea, The Church and the Jewish People (1966); P. Sorlin, 'La Croix' et les Juifs, 1880–1899 (1967); F. Heer, Gottes erste Liebe (1967). IN THE U.S.: CH Stember et al., Jews in the Mind of America (1966); L. Pfeffer, Church, State and Freedom (1953); W. Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology (1955); K.T. Hargrove (ed.), The Star and the Cross: Essays on Jewish-Christian Relations (1966); C.Y. Glock and R. Stark, Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism (1966); E.R. Clinchy, Growth of Good Will: A Sketch of American Protestant-Catholic-Jewish Relations (pamphlet, 1935?); R.A. Billington, Protestant Crusade, 1800–1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism (1938); M. Vogel, in: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 387 (Jan. 1970), 96–108.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

Photo: Pope Paul IV - British Museum, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.