April 2, 2002
volume 13, no. 62

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Man With A Mission

Part Three

by Mark Fellows
    Where once men saved their Faith by losing their lives, now we lose our Faith because it is no longer viewed by certain churchmen as worth dying for.

    A Jewish Assessment

    Bishop Fitzgerald rounds off his "Catholic analysis" of John Paul by noting how often the Pope uses the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate in combination with Lumen Gentium, which redefined the Church as "a kind of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind." [Par. 1] "The Church is a sign and not the complete reality," explains the man appointed by John Paul as Secretary of the Pontifical Commission on Interreligious Dialogue, adding that this interpretation of Lumen Gentium allows salvation "outside the visible boundaries of the Church." [p. 213] As for Nostra Aetate, the Pope says it "defined the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions . . . It is a concise and yet very rich document that authentically hands on the Tradition, faithful to the thought of the earliest Fathers of the Church." [p. 27, as quoted from Crossing The Threshold of Hope]

    This characterization, intended to reassure and re-orient Catholics, is in fact a significant distortion of reality. Catholics are not supposed to point things like this out, but non-Catholics can, and in the spirit of interreligious dialogue it seems proper to close with a Jewish analysis of John Paul II and mission work. Byron L. Sherwin is a Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Mysticism, director of the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Center for the Study of Eastern European Jewry at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, and co-editor of John Paul II and Interreligious Dialogue. According to Sherwin:

    "The teachings of Nostra Aetate regarding Judaism and the Jewish people proclaimed a doctrinal change of direction from the past. However, these changes often have been treated by the Holy See and by John Paul II as if they represent doctrinal continuity with the past. The Pope often evokes a claim of theological continuity in his vigorous attempt to steer his Church from a position of condemnation of Judaism to one of reconciliation with Judaism."
    How did Nostra Aetate change Church teaching? According to Sherwin, "Nostra Aetate altered the former teachings of the Church regarding Judaism and the Jews, while deliberately offering the impression that the new teaching of the Church had always been the teaching of the Church. In very subtle terms the 'displacement doctrine' [the theory that Christians replaced Jews as the chosen people] was virtually expunged . . . Nostra Aetate rejects the 'displacement doctrine' by affirming that God's covenant with the people of Israel was not revoked because that covenant is irrevocable 'since God does not take back the gifts He bestowed or the choice He made . . . the idea of 'mission to the Jews,' . . .is noticeably absent from the text of Nostra Aetate. The integrity of Jews as Jews and of Judaism as a religion is now affirmed. No longer is Judaism depicted as an obsolete religion. No longer are Jews primarily defined as potential Christians." [p. 141] Anyone familiar with John Paul's numerous public remarks regarding Jews will have difficulty disputing Sherwin on these points. He continues:
    "The Vatican's establishment of diplomatic ties with Israel is a concrete and specific expression of the Church's rejection of the displacement doctrine. By recognizing the Jewish State, the Holy See implicitly sets aside the claim that the loss of Jewish political sovereignty in the Holy Land was a punishment for the sin of deicide. In concrete terms, it [Vatican recognition] eliminates the earlier claim that the Jews have been punished and are accursed with perpetual wandering and humiliation . . . John Paul II posits a continuity of Church policy rather than the initiation of a new Church policy. He offers the impression that such initiatives and innovations merely make explicit long-standing implicit Church policy and doctrine. [p. 148, emphasis supplied]

    Why? Sherwin's opinion is that:

    "When John Paul II ascended to the papacy . . . [he] clearly understood that the institution he led------rotted in long-standing ancient and medieval traditions, yet operating under a mandate for change------could only effectively implement change when it was integrated into the continuity of tradition. Change had to be interpreted not as a break with the past, but as flowing out of the doctrinal teachings and the historical experiences of the past. Otherwise, change could bring a rupture of the continuity of the tradition, and, consequently, could pose a further threat to an already fragile institutional structure." [p. 149-150, emphasis supplied]
    One can discount Sherwin's caricature of the Church as "rotted in long-standing ancient and medieval traditions" without dismissing the astuteness of his observations. They are delivered without polemics or invective, as are his observations that, despite the insistent overtures made by John Paul [which Sherwin applauds] [13], 13. And Sherwin points out a legitimate, if narrow, arena for interreligious co-operation when he observes: For John Paul II, one of the driving forces behind interreligious dialogue is the attempt to forge an interreligious alliance against a common enemy and challenge, that is, atheism, secularism, and materialism, which he sees as being at the root of dehumanization and as inimical to human life, dignity, and freedom." (p. 155) John Paul's prime motivations for interreligious dialogue, however, in my view anyway, are positive, not negative. interreligious dialogue between the Church and Judaism:
    ". . . is not a dialogue, but two monologues speaking different languages. While theological concerns have been of paramount importance to the Church, and while the Church has recast its theology in terms of its relationship to Judaism, and while John Paul II has formulated a Catholic theology of Judaism, there has been little reciprocity from the Jewish side. Little attention has been paid in the Jewish academic, religious, or communal arenas to re-casting the often negative classical Jewish theological attitudes and views of Christianity." [p. 159]
    The "classical Jewish theological attitudes" is an allusion to the Talmud, a systematic blasphemy of Christianity and its Founder------and as an aside, one wonders if John Paul ll would extend his opinion that the Holy Spirit is "present in every human religion" to the anti-Christian Talmud. At any rate, even Cardinal Cassidy admits that interreligious dialogue with the Jews has been lamentably one-sided, [14] 14. But not without humor, unintentional humor, of course. "One of the many incongruities in Catholic-Jewish dialogue as it is actually practiced," writes Sherwin, is that "While the Pope finds abortion, birth control, most forms of infertility treatment, and many positions endorsed by feminists to be immoral, it is precisely these issues that most of the Jewish organizations involved in dialogue with the Church are advocating, for example, a pro-choice stance on abortion. This incongruity deepens when one realizes that Catholic-Jewish dialogue in practice mostly obtains between the Church------a religious institution------and secular Jewish organizations that identify with the ideology the Pope has depicted as the archenemy of religion: namely, secular humanism." (p. 158) expressing "dismay at the widespread lack of Jewish interest in and knowledge of the evolution of Catholic self-understanding with regard to Judaism and the Jewish people." [p. 159]

    Well, really now, why should the Jews, or any other non-Christians, care a wit about our supposed new "self-understanding?" They at least are remaining true to their creeds, false though they are. It generally required martyrdom to crack these tough nuts. After reading John Paul II and Interreligious Dialogue, however, one is left with the impression that not only would a Catholic be a lunatic to die for his Faith, he would annoy the Church hierarchy as well. Where once men saved their Faith by losing their lives, now we lose our Faith because it is no longer viewed by certain churchmen as worth dying for.

EDITOR'S NOTES: We have received the gracious permission of John Vennari, editor of Catholic Family News to reprint various articles he has published in the excellent Roman Catholic monthly publication. This multi-part article is by Mark Fellows, a regular contributor to CFN.

Note: [editor's bold, brackets and italicized for emphasis]

April 2, 2002
volume 13, no. 62
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