In what Jewish leaders hail as a breakthrough, a Vatican commission has joined world Jewish leaders in urging progress toward Vatican diplomatic recognition of Israel.
The declaration was part of a statement issued yesterday at the end of an international meeting at St. Mary's Seminary in Roland Park. The meeting was the first in the Western Hemisphere between the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee for Inter-Religious Consultations.
Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress in New York, said the joint communique on Vatican diplomatic recognition of Israel was "the first time any such statement has been joined in by our Vatican partners."
The statement acknowledges that only the Vatican Secretariat of State and the government of Israel can negotiate the matter. But Mr. Steinberg said he believes yesterday's action indicates that "in the future we will see such diplomatic recognition."
The Vatican maintains official contacts with Israel but has withheld symbolically important diplomatic recognition. The Vatican's hesitation stems from Israel's unsettled borders, concerns about Palestinian rights and fears that diplomatic relations could result in reprisals against Arab Christians in the Middle East.
But "more of these questions are beginning to be resolved," largely because of Middle East peace talks within the last year, said Archbishop William H. Keeler of Baltimore, a delegate, who was instrumental in bringing the interfaith meeting to Baltimore.
He moderates the Catholic-Jewish discussion in this country and has wide experience in relations between the two faiths. Earlier in the meeting, he urged that Israel be more sensitive to the position of Christians as a minority within Israeli borders.
The joint statement also included a call for opening Vatican archives of documents from the period of World War II and the Nazi Holocaust to "serious scholars on a case-by-case basis. . . ."
The meeting at St. Mary's was the 14th since the international conversation started in Paris in 1971 as a response to the Second Vatican Council calling for an end to anti-Semitism and cooperation with other faiths. The talks have proceeded along two tracks -- deepening the understanding of each faith for the other and pursuing ways in which the two can collaborate on a moral and social agenda.
Much of the work of interfaith understanding focuses on how each faith portrays the other in teaching children and training clergy. Catholic texts no longer bear the "teaching of contempt" for the Jews, said Judith Banki of the American Jewish Committee. But she said Catholic teaching could go further in presenting the development of Judaism since the advent of Christianity.
On the Jewish side, Christianity is not maligned but often ignored, Ms. Banki said. Jewish teaching about Christianity should include the advances in interfaith relations since the Second Vatican Council, she said, "so Jewish kids don't grow up thinking that the Inquisition and the expulsion [of Jews] from Spain is the end of Catholic-Jewish relations."
The leader of the Catholic delegation, Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, was cited in the joint statement for saying that the Catholic Church should express "teshuvah," the Hebrew word for repentance. He specifically mentioned this year as the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of Jews, as well as
Muslims, from Catholic Spain.
Of particular concern to both sides of the dialogue was the anti-Semitic streak in ultra-nationalist movements rising throughout Europe, especially in countries emerging from communism.
"We have found in our Catholic friends, I believe, new allies to combat these trends of anti-Semitism, xenophobia, anti-foreigner," said G. M. Reigner, an honorary president of the World Jewish Congress.
The delegates also sought to collaborate on a common social agenda, from environmental concerns to preventing the exploitation of women and children in pornography. "We feel we have much to say together today," said Cardinal Cassidy.