Catholics shouldn’t try to convert Jews, says new Vatican document

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Pope Francis touches the stones of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City on May 26, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Andrew Medichini/Pool

Pope Francis touches the stones of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City on May 26, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Andrew Medichini/Pool

Pope Francis touches the stones of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City on May 26, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Andrew Medichini/Pool

Pope Francis touches the stones of the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 26, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Andrew Medichini/Pool *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-VATICAN-JEWS, originally transmitted on Dec. 10, 2015.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican has said that Catholics should witness to their faith but not undertake organized efforts to convert Jews, a significant step forward in the once tense relations between the two faiths.

The document released on Thursday (Dec. 10) by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews also pushed for greater efforts to fight anti-Semitism.

In its most explicit commentary on evangelization regarding Jews, the document said Catholics should take a different approach to Judaism than to other religions.

“In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews,” said the document, titled “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable.”

The Vatican commission produced the new text to mark the 50th anniversary of a groundbreaking document on Catholic-Jewish relations, “Nostra Aetate,” in which the church formally rejected the notion that Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death.


READ: The ‘Splainer: What is Nostra Aetate, and what does it have to do with Catholic-Jewish relations?


Until reforms in the 1960s, prayers at Catholic Masses on Good Friday, the day commemorating the death of Jesus, described Jews as “perfidious” and called for their conversion — singling them out in ways that many historians and theologians say contributed to historic anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews.

In the past half-century the Catholic Church has also downplayed the idea of targeting Jews for conversion and has rejected any form of proselytizing of any group.

But in response to requests from traditionalist Catholics, Francis’ predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2008 allowed some Catholics to use the old prayer.

Though Benedict tweaked the prayer slightly to refer to “the blindness of that people” — meaning the Jews — instead of using more pejorative language, many Jewish groups still found that offensive and the controversy contributed to a sense of crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations.

The latest Vatican document appears to be another step toward easing those tensions, and it comes just a week after a group of Orthodox rabbis issued a groundbreaking statement calling Christianity part of a divine plan in which God would have Jews and Christians work together to redeem the world.


READ: Orthodox rabbis’ statement calls Christianity part of God’s plan


Similarly, the new Vatican document, which follows decades of mainly positive relations between the two religions, referred to the continued importance of “joint engagement throughout the world for justice, peace, conservation of creation, and reconciliation.”

But the Catholic statement also honed in on the situation of Christians in Israel as a “litmus test” for how religious minorities are treated: “In Jewish-Christian dialogue the situation of Christian communities in the state of Israel is of great relevance, since there — as nowhere else in the world — a Christian minority faces a Jewish majority.

“Peace in the Holy Land — lacking and constantly prayed for — plays a major role in dialogue between Jews and Christian,” it said.

Rabbi David Rosen attends a news conference to present a major new document, that drew the Church further away from the strained relations of the past with Judaism, at the Vatican on December 10, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tony Gentile Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-JEWS, originally transmitted on Dec. 10, 2015.

Rabbi David Rosen attends a news conference to present a major new document, that drew the Church further away from the strained relations of the past with Judaism, at the Vatican on December 10, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tony Gentile *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-VATICAN-JEWS, originally transmitted on Dec. 10, 2015.

Vatican-Israeli ties were strained earlier this year when the Holy See signed a historic agreement recognizing the state of Palestine. “This hasty step damages the prospects for advancing a peace agreement, and harms the international effort to convince the PA (Palestinian Authority) to return to direct negotiations with Israel,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said at the time.

While the new document touched upon Christian minorities, it also called on Jews and Catholics to jointly tackle anti-Semitism.

“History teaches us where even the slightest perceptible forms of anti-Semitism can lead: the human tragedy of the Shoah in which two-thirds of European Jewry were annihilated,” the document said, adding: “Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed that a Christian can never be an anti-Semite, especially because of the Jewish roots of Christianity.”

Speaking at the Vatican presentation of the document, Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s international director of interreligious affairs, praised the text for advancing the recommendations made by Nostra Aetate.

“To appreciate and respect Jewish self-understanding; but also a deepening recognition of the place of Torah in the life of the Jewish people; and … an acknowledgment of the integrity of Jewish reading of the Bible that is different from the Christian one,” he said.

The document describes the Torah as “the instruction for a successful life in right relationship with God.”

Rosen, however, criticized the authors of the document for failing to “appreciate the centrality that the land of Israel plays in the historic and contemporary religious life of the Jewish people.”

Catholic-Jewish relations are expected to be further strengthened early next year, when Francis visits Rome’s Great Synagogue on Jan. 17.

He will be the third pontiff to visit the site, after John Paul II and Benedict XVI, in what has been described by the Vatican as a personal encounter between the pontiff and the Jewish community.

(Rosie Scammell covers the Vatican for RNS)

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  • Jerrod

    This is an important transition which hopefully will be adopted throughout the Church. Pope Francis is creating a remarkable legacy.

  • Betty Clermont

    This is just a restatement of the 50-yr-old document Nostra Aetate produced during the second Vatican Council and promulgated by every pope since then. If the Vatican states this is “new,” then that only proves that the raison d’etre of this pontificate is to churn out a headline every week about the “great” pope. Meanwhile, Catholics are still drifting away since they aren’t so easily fooled.

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  • Karen

    Go and teach the Gospel all over the world. Jesus said that – if the Pope said not to do it the Pope is dead wrong!

    Jesus said he will return when the Jews are converted – so Jesus wants them converted.

    The Pope is wrong! We are to convert with love and perseverance the entire world to Jesus!

  • Dante

    Good thinking. Let’s harass our Jewish neighbors. And if “love” and “perseverance” don’t work, bring back the Inquisition and Third Reich. They sure turned out well. After all, Jesus wants them converted, Christians have a monopoly on faith, and if they won’t convert then what other choice do Christians have?

    Oh wait, Pope Francis has a better idea….

  • jeff

    You Gotta Be Kidding

  • jeff

    You gotta be kidding me!!

  • JesusWasAJew

    News flash, Jesus fulfilled Jewish prophecy. Jesus was a Jew. Nobody should be converted to Catholism.

  • DTG

    Law of averages. Catholics no longer prosletyze. Militant Islamists prosletyze fervently. Soon no Catholics left, only militant Islamists.

  • Kevin Boyle

    So the Catholic Church declares that Christ made a mistake. The Pharissees were not wrong and do not need to be ‘saved’, nor even corrected.
    Note the following….
    “…..Christ is in hell drowning in boiling excrement….” According to the Talmud (Gittin 57a)

    Catholicism is occupied territory.

  • “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Jesus/Yeshua (John 14:6). This of course applies to all people. For all have sinned. All need forgiveness. Receive Him as Lord and Savior/Messiah, and turn away from sin. Trust in His finished work on the cross to save you, rather than trusting in your own works. Then you will enter God’s rest and know His peace that passes all understanding. God Bless

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  • Be Brave

    Rabbi’s, Pope’s and Priest’s and Republican Dominionists, Leftist Democrat’s, European Secularists and of course no Imam . . . do not overrule Yeshua the Messiah. The Apostles and disciples were commissioned by the Messiah to preach the Gospel and to convert the lost. But, those that refused the Apostles, were to be left alone to the eventual fate that awaits them. And, per Jesus, He was in charge of their fate.

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  • Charlenec

    Agreed agreed agreed!!! This is killing me that the communication has been put out to the Catholic/Christian faith, and to the world, that Catholics do not need to try to convert those of the Jewish faith! Nowhere does it say in the bible that we are to “go out to the world and proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, except those that are Jewish, leave them alone”! That is so wrong on so many different levels. And this is the reason I am a Christian first above my Catholicism because all it takes is for the Pope and the Vatican, which are man made, to make things up and now they become the word of God! I don’t care if you are black/white, Jewish, Hindu, Jehovah Witness, Jesus is the way, truth and life and I am not going to exempt anyone from hearing the word of God when I have the opportunity to share it, this is just nonsense.

  • abralissa

    Thank you stating that. We can’t give up on anyone of any faith. Proclaim the Gospel! Amen!

  • Nancy

    If in Latin, the word perfidious means unbelieving, why not translate this word accurately?

    Salvation comes from The Jews through Jesus The Christ.
    God Is Love. Love exists in relationship,
    “Let Us Make Man in Our Image.” – The Ordered Communion Of Perfect Love, The Blessed Trinity

    http://www.usccb.org/bible/john/1

  • Nancy

    11
    “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.h
    12
    This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.i
    13
    * No one has greater love than this,j to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

    To Love one another as Christ Loves us, it is necessary to desire Salvation for one another.

  • Garson Abuita

    Really? The Talmud called Jesus “Christ”?

    Always beware of people whose citations are ridiculous from the outset.

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