“In Facebook, there is a category of your status, whether you are married or single or widow or divorced, and there is another category that is it’s complicated,” he said to chuckles coming from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. “Well, I think that no one has any doubt, your eminence, that the relationship between Jews and Catholics, Jews and Christians, is complicated.”
The event was co-sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Consulate General of Israel in New York and reflected on the accords between the Holy See and Israel were signed on December 30, 1993, establishing diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Israel for the first time. The agreement went far beyond the Nostra aetate, the Vatican II declaration that sparked the initial dialogue between the Catholic Church and Jews.
Cardinal Dolan said that Pope Saint John Paul II had an “obsession” with Jewish-Catholic relations that led to his “masterstroke” of signing the accords.
“He was also very shrewd; he knew the importance of words,” said Cardinal Dolan. “He would become the first pope to utter the phrase ‘the state of Israel,’ and that was considered controversial early in his pontificate at an address in Toronto, Italy, in 1980, in which he tied the guaranteed rights of Israel to the sufferings of the Shoah.”
Cardinal Dolan said that Pope John Paul II used backdoor diplomacy, calling on close friendships to initiate informal discussions that eventually led to the agreement, often bypassing official delegates on both the Vatican and Israeli sides.
“It inspires us … to continue to dare, never to be straight-jacketed by apprehensions and hesitancies of the past,” he said.
And a troublesome past it was, noted Adam Gregerman, Ph.D., associate professor of theology and religious studies and co-director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Gregerman outlined millennia of sour relations, often egged on by Catholic and Christian opposition to Jews living in the Holy Land.
Gregerman traced the hostility back to the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus says that the city of Jerusalem will be destroyed because its residents did not recognize him as the son of God.
“These words, put on the lips of Jesus in the Gospel, clearly allude to, or perhaps look back to the cataclysmic devastation of the Jewish war against Rome that took place between 66 and 70 CE or AD, that left the city of Jerusalem in ruins, led to many Jews being forced to leave the land of Israel,” said Gregerman.
But, as Archbishop Bernadito Auza, permanent observer of the Mission of the Holy See to the U.N. noted, resistance to the state of Israel and antisemitism are both very much contemporary issues.
“As Pope Francis emphasized last year … the fight against antisemitism, the future of the state of Israel and the Holy See, and particularly between Jews and Catholics, will either be together or will not be at all,” he said. “Pope Francis has repeatedly affirmed, and before him both Saint John Paul II and Benedict the 16th, any form of antisemitism is a rejection of one’s own origins, a complete contradiction for a Christian.”
Cardinal Dolan agreed, and noted there is still work to be done. “Even though here we are celebrating 25 years of diplomatic relations between two states, we cannot avoid really going down into the woods,” he said.
He noted that John Paul II was “bitterly criticized” for not holding out for more concessions from Israel before the signing of the accords. He said there are still many areas of contention, which, not surprisingly often boil down to money and property.
“Those are not problems unique to Israel and the Holy See, but we need to make progress of those and it can sometimes be frustrating that they’re not,” he said.
But it’s because the accords were signed that such conversations can be broached, he said, adding that he hopes the dialogue will continue well into the future.
“The best way to settle the remaining issues is to deal with them in a spirit of trust and as equals as diplomatic partners,” he said. “We still have issues to be settled and I don’t want those cynics to win.”