Noting that in the Middle Ages the rabbi of Rome presented a tribute to the chief of the city councilors each year, and in return got a ceremonial kick in the behind, literally and metaphorically, John L. Allen Jr., Associate Editor of Crux (Covering all things Catholic), says he understands why the Jews of Rome, more than the Jews in any other place of Jewish suffering, couldn’t have too many conciliatory Papal visit to their synagogue.
However, Allen wrote on Saturday that although most experts say Catholic-Jewish relations have become “a friendship nothing can derail,” there are still uncomfortable flash points between the two faith communities, and so, as Pope Francis is visiting Rome’s Great Synagogue Sunday, Allen offers a run-down of a few problem issues in Catholic-Jewish relations.
The first and most important issue, despite all statements to the contrary, is the Jews’ denial of Jesus. “Given how Jewish ‘refusal’ to accept Christ long has been a staple of anti-Semitic propaganda, one priority for Jews in dialogue with Catholicism has been an acknowledgement that their covenant with God is still valid, so they shouldn’t be asked to convert,” writes Allen, but points out in the same breath: “Yet Christianity is a missionary religion, convinced that Christ came for all. How to square that belief with restraint toward Jews remains a bit of a theological conundrum.”
Only if one were to disregard, even disobey the most current teachings of the Church. Not being able to try to convert Jews is only a conundrum if one has not taken to heart the December 2015 Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews’ solemn renunciation: “The Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.” There are no shades of gray in that statement — but Allen is betraying the fact that deep in every Catholic priest’s heart burns a rejection of the Pope’s teaching.
The other thing Jews could do to make matters easy with the Church, writes Allen, is to understand the Vatican’s position on the two-state solution. “Theologically, some Jews would like Catholicism to formally endorse Judaism’s claim to the land of Israel,” he writes. However, “The sociological reality is that the vast majority of Christians in Israel and Palestine are Palestinians, and most of the bishops are Arabs, meaning the strongest influence on any pope in thinking about the conflict will never be pro-Israeli.”
The rest of the theological conundrums are simpler in comparison. The Vatican wants special tax and legal rights for its property in Israel, about which the Israeli government is dragging its feet. They should know it’s nothing personal, the Israeli government is dragging its feet about almost everything. And the Vatican is eager to beatify Pope Pius XII, which currently faces universal objection from the Jewish community.
So, in general, what Jews could do to cement our love affair with the Church is indulge the occasional attempt to convert us to Christianity and, most important, say Yes to a Palestinian state. They’re not saying it’s mandatory, they’re just suggesting it could make things easier for everyone.
Which is why anyone will tell you that when it comes to interfaith relations you have to keep your sense of humor.