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JEWISH-DIALOGUE Feb-27-2009 (860 words) With photos. xxxn

Jewish, Catholic leaders launch new group to tackle religious strife

By Chaz Muth
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- U.S. Jewish and Catholic leaders Feb. 26 hashed out differences on issues ranging from the controversial sainthood cause of Pope Pius XII to Pope Benedict XVI's lifting of the excommunication of a British-born traditionalist bishop who claims the Holocaust was exaggerated.

The gathering of the religious leaders at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington was the start of what was being called a broad and permanent dialogue between the two religions.

In announcing this standing dialogue, the leaders said it will involve a broad spectrum of Jewish and Catholic representatives who will meet regularly to deal with struggles as they arise.

Though Jewish and Catholic groups have met frequently since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, this new dialogue is considered the first continuous and overarching panel between the two religions. It will be based at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, as requested by the Vatican.

The inaugural topics for the group that came together Feb. 26 included:

-- Tensions over Pope Benedict lifting the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, who has publicly denied the extent of the Holocaust.

-- The long-standing controversy over the sainthood cause of Pope Pius XII, the World War II pontiff accused by Jewish leaders of not doing enough or saying enough in defense of the Jews and other victims of the Nazis.

-- The Vatican's 2008 publication of Pope Benedict's revised prayer for the Jews for use in Tridentine-rite Good Friday liturgies, which prays that Jews will recognize Jesus, the savior, and that "all Israel may be saved."

"In the past months, these have been troubling times, especially in the Jewish community as a whole," said Rabbi Irving Greenberg, founder and president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, known as CLAL. "We did have spirited discussions today, but no one walked out or blew up, and there was more consensus than disagreement."

The nearly 30 U.S. Jewish and Catholic leaders chose Feb. 26 to meet in Washington because it marked the 30th day since the death of Rabbi Leon Klenicki, a pioneer in interfaith dialogue and a contemporary and friend of Pope John Paul II, said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Since Rabbi Klenicki had been committed to constructive Jewish-Catholic relations, the leaders decided to discuss their differences in a conference as a way of honoring the interfaith stalwart, Foxman said.

The new panel, whose participants organizers hope to have confirmed by May 1, is another way of honoring Rabbi Klenicki, said Father Dennis McManus, assistant director of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.

"There is going to be wide representation of leaders who will engage in ongoing dialogue," Father McManus told Catholic News Service following a press conference announcing the new group. "The idea is to have a standing dialogue so we can address concerns as they arise, and not be just reactive."

During the hourlong press conference -- which was delayed by an hour because the delegations' talks went on longer than expected -- Jewish representatives stressed they were still not satisfied with the handling of the Bishop Williamson situation and maintained that stronger action by Pope Benedict would be appropriate.

Catholic leaders also expressed their embarrassment over Bishop Williamson's remarks aired on Swedish television stating that the Holocaust was exaggerated and that no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers.

The Catholics leaders also said they needed to disassociate themselves from clergy who don't embrace the teachings of the Catholic Church, which recognizes the Holocaust as a great tragedy in history.

Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley explained that Pope Benedict's lifting of the excommunication only allows Bishop Williamson to receive the sacraments of the church, but doesn't permit him to serve as a Catholic bishop, and his full union with the church will only happen if he embraces the spirit of Vatican II, which acknowledged the Holocaust.

"Vatican II affirmed the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust," said Cardinal William H. Keeler, retired archbishop of Baltimore, who is the U.S. bishops' moderator of Catholic-Jewish affairs. "It was the wish of (Pope) John XXIII that the council was to make it so Catholic teaching couldn't be used as an excuse to hit at Jewish people."

The Vatican has said Bishop Williamson would not be allowed to function as a bishop in the church unless he disavowed his remarks about the Holocaust and publicly apologized.

Since then the bishop has expressed regret for the remarks he made, but a Vatican spokesman said Feb. 27 that the bishop's statement does not meet the Vatican's demand that he publicly recant his position.

The Feb. 26 gathering in Washington was being trumpeted as the most significant gathering of Catholic and Jewish leaders since Pope Benedict's two events with Jewish audiences during his 2008 U.S. visit. Religious leaders called the formation of the new dialogue group a historic event.

"A thousand years from now we will see this as one of the great transforming accomplishments in our long-shared history," Rabbi Greenberg said. "We're investing long-term energy and commitment to the big issues that still have to be discussed."


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