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US Jews Enraged by Catholic Document Urging Missionizing of Jews

A document by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, suggesting that interfaith dialogue should be used to convert Jews, has alarmed US Jewry.
By Malkah Fleisher
First Publish: 8/24/2009, 11:47 AM / Last Update: 8/24/2009, 12:33 PM

A June document issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), suggesting that interfaith dialogue conducted by Catholics with Jews should be used as an opportunity to missionize them, has disturbed and infuriated American Jews from all streams of practice.

Entitled "A Note On Ambiguities Contained In Reflections On Covenant And Mission", the document references a 2002 missive on the topic of interfaith dialogue with the Jews written in coordination with the National Council of Synagogues by an advisory group to the USCCB's Committee on Ecumentical and Interreligious Affairs.

The old document, although it affirmed missionary work in general and stated that interfaith dialogue could be "mutually enriching," specifically stated that Jews should not be sought for conversion, as they serve a purpose as "Jewish witnesses". 

However, the "Note on Ambiguities" revokes these understandings. In the new document, USCCB  Bishops assert the centrality of missionary work to Catholic doctrine and suggest a finite divine covenant with the Jews: "The long story of God's intervention in the history of Israel comes to its unsurpassable culmination in Jesus Christ, who is God become man."  According to the document, "we also believe that the fulfillment of the covenants, indeed, of all God's promises to Israel, is found only in Jesus Christ."

The American Jewish world has erupted in response to the "Note on Ambiguities", with several organizations uniting to reply with "serious concern."

Signed on August 18 by the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League (ADL), National Council of Synagogues, Orthodox Union, and Rabbinical Council of America, a letter posted on the ADL website says the "Note on Ambiguities" "engendered both uncertainty and considerable disappointment with respect to the position maintained by the Church and its spokespersons," with "invitations" to become Christian making Jewish participation in dialogue with the Church "untenable".

While Pope John Paul II often spoke of a covenant "never revoked," the "Note on Ambiguities" seems to annul that position, with a harder-line stance on conversion being taken by new Pope Benedict XVI.