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The plague of anti-Semitism
A speech by Card. Kurt Koch on the past 50 years of Christian-Jewish dialogue since the Second Vatican Council
“The scourge of anti-Semitism seems to be ineradicable in today’s world”. So, “in view of such developments the Catholic Church is obliged to denounce anti-Judaism and Marcionism as a betrayal of its own Christian faith, and to call to mind that the spiritual fraternity between Jews and Christians has its firm and eternal foundation in Holy Scripture”. This was said by card. Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the Unity of Christians and the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with Hebraism, who spoke Wednesday 16th may, in Rome, in the Aula Minor of the Papal University San Tommaso d’Aquino, for the yearly “Berrie Lecture” promoted by Centro Giovanni Paolo II for inter-religious dialogue. In his long, far-ranging speech, the cardinal stated that, even today, “the age-old Marcionism and anti-Judaism re-emerge with a vengeance again and again, and in fact not only on the part of the traditionalists but even within the liberal strands of current theology”. Because of this, “the demand by the Second Vatican Council to foster mutual understanding and respect between Jews and Christians must continue to be accorded due attention. That is the indispensable prerequisite for guaranteeing that there will be no recurrence of the dangerous estrangement between Christians and Jews, but that they remain aware of their spiritual kinship”.
Council’s Declaration Nostra Aetate. Cardinal Koch’s speech was about the Council’s Declaration Nostra Aetate, which is the “fundamental document” and the "Magna Charta" of dialogue between the Catholic Church and Hebraism. The cardinal pointed out that the Council’s document has not developed “in a vacuum”, “since on the Christian side there had already been approaches to Judaism both within and outside the Catholic Church before the Council. “But - the cardinal added - after the unprecedented crime of the Shoah above all, an effort was made in the post-War period towards a theologically reflected re-definition of the relationship with Judaism”. Koch went on: “Following the mass murder of the European Jews planned and executed by the National Socialists with industrial perfection, a profound examination of conscience was initiated about how such a barbaric scenario was possible in the Christian-oriented West”. Then the cardinal asked a number of questions to the assembly in Rome: “Must we assume that anti-Jewish tendencies present within Christianity for centuries were complicit in the anti-Semitism of the Nazis”?. And then: “Among Christians too there were both perpetrators and victims; but the broad masses surely consisted of passive spectators who kept their eyes closed in the face of this brutal reality”. “Why did Christian resistance against the boundless brutality of the Nazi crimes not demonstrate that measure and that clarity which one should rightfully have expected”.
The dialogue and the Popes. The Shoah - the cardinal said - “is certainly one of the major motivations leading to the drafting of “Nostra aetate”. Koch reiterated that “the declaration remains the crucial compass of all endeavours towards Jewish-Catholic dialogue, and after 47 years we can claim with gratitude that this theological re-definition of the relationship with Judaism has directly brought forth rich fruits”. Over the last few decades, card. Koch went on, Nostra Aetate “made it possible for groups who initially confronted one another with scepticism to step by step become reliable partners and even good friends, capable of coping with crises together and overcoming conflicts positively”. Then in describing the progress made in dialogue, the cardinal spoke of the contribution John Paul II’s papacy gave to Jewish-Catholic dialogue. And he added: “Against the background of these theological convictions it cannot surprise us that Pope Benedict XVI carries on and progresses the conciliatory work of his predecessor”. But, “while Pope John Paul II had a refined sense for grand gestures and strong images, Benedict XVI relies above all on the power of the word and humble encounter”.
Negationism. On May 16, the ordinary session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith met in Rome. During the meeting participants addressed the question of the Society of Saint Pius X. Card. Koch took part in the session and in his reply to a question on negationist Lefebvrian bishop Richard Williamson, remarked that “The Holy Father clearly expressed his position”. “Negationism – he pointed out – is not admissible in the Catholic Church, and it isn’t a sincere and honest historical vision”.
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