Catholics should not try to convert Jews, should fight against anti-Semitism – Vatican

Pope Francis (C) meets Israel's Rabies David Lau (L) and Yitzhak Yosef (R) in Jerusalem May 26, 2014. © Andrew Medichini
Catholics shouldn't try to convert Jews, but should work with them to fight anti-Semitism, the Vatican said on Thursday. It comes on the 50th anniversary of a document which echoed the same sentiments and rejected Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion.

The statement from the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with Jews noted that Christianity and Judaism are intertwined, and stressed that God never annulled his covenant with the Jewish people.

"The Church is therefore obliged to view evangelization to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views," the document said. It added that Catholics should "bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews," but in "a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God's word…”

"In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews," said the document, adding that there is a "principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission.”

It went on to state that Catholics should be particularly sensitive to the significance of the Holocaust to Jews, and pledged “to do all that is possible with our Jewish friends to repel anti-Semitic tendencies.”

"A Christian can never be an anti-Semite, especially because of the Jewish roots of Christianity," it said.

The Thursday document coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Decretum de Iudaeis, a revolutionary Vatican statement which rejected the concept of collective Jewish guilt for Jesus' death, decried anti-Semitism, and emphasized the shared heritage of the two faiths. That statement was rejected by traditionalists at the time.

A senior Vatican official explained on Thursday that such traditionalists believe there should be a so-called “Jewish mission” to convert Jews because they did not accept Jesus as Messiah, adding that the same people are bound to be displeased by the new official stance on conversion, Reuters reported.

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Until about 1960, prayers at Catholic masses on Good Friday – the day commemorating the death of Jesus – labelled Jews “faithless” and called for their conversion. That prayer was removed from general use after the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council introduced a new prayer book to be used at masses.

However, a prayer for the Jews was later allowed to remain in the old-style Latin Mass, used by traditionalists who reject the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Changes to that prayer were made in 2008 by then-Pope Benedict, when he removed language found offensive by Jewish groups, such as “the blindness of that people.”