Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Right to Discriminate

The Age September 30: Illustration by Dyson 'The right to discriminate'

The Age September 30: Illustration by Dyson 'The right to discriminate'

The Age continues to portray the recent success of the campaign for Religious Freedom in Victoria negatively as “the right to discriminate”. The cartoon above and the ratio of letters (Three to One against) are examples of this.

But discrimination cannot in itself be declared illegal. All employers have the right to discriminate, and in fact the entire employement process is, in essence, a process of discrimination. Employers discriminate on all manner of issues to determine the best person for the job. What employers do not have is the right to discriminate unjustly. What is at issue between the religious communities and popular opinion is what constitutes “unjust” discrimination. It is not, for instance, deemed unjust for political parties to discriminate on the basis of political preference when hiring employees for certain positions within the party. And I believe there has even been some argument about the legality of those wishing to hire table-top dancers as to whether they could discrimnate on the basis of the sex of the applicant.

With regard to the current issue, there are several issues at stake:

1) Is the person to be hired appropriate for the position?
2) How do we balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of communities and associations to conduct their affairs according to their communal ethos?
3) How far should the State go in legally determining the ethos of communities and associations?

It is not, perhaps, surprising that some religious communities will answer these questions in different ways. Some communities, for instance, the one from which Bishop John McIntyre speaks , may have fewer problems with the prevailing mores in our society than others. They may have different interpretations of what is “appropriate” or “unjust” discrimination. But they cannot claim that they do not employ to some degree the “right to discriminate”. I have heard that there are Christian communities in the world which will, for instance, when screening ordination candidates, discriminate against those who are opposed to the ordination of women as priests or bishops. Bishop McIntyre’s community may be a case in point. I would regard that as unjust. Bishop McIntyre may not.

It should also be pointed out that it is not inherently unjust to discriminate according to the appropriateness of an individual’s mores or personal ethos for various occupations. It would be surprising, for instance, if a person who was a conscientious objector to immunisation would be hired to run the swine flu vaccine rollout. Nor would the RSPCA be likely to employ an officer whose personal hobbies inlcuded blood sports. This is not a question of the employer passing judgement upon the moral life and decisions of the prospective employee – it is a question of whether the employee’s moral outlook is appropriate to the job for which they are being hired.

The point is that the right to discriminate exists. The point of disagreement is simply about what is just and appropriate discrimination and what is unjust and inappropriate.


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Swimming among Container Ships

Driving along one of Melbourne’s truck-laden freeways yesterday: not for the faint-hearted or the claustrophobic. Photo: Wayne Taylor of the Age

Driving along one of Melbourne’s truck-laden freeways yesterday: not for the faint-hearted or the claustrophobic. Photo: Wayne Taylor of the Age

Geoff Strong of The Age writes:

DRIVING a car on one of Melbourne’s freeways or ring roads can feel a bit like paddling a canoe between container ships. It is not for the faint-hearted or the claustrophobic.

He ought to try it with a motorcycle. I have always felt that that experience was like riding between office blocks going 100km/h. To use Strong’s comparison, it is like swimming among container ships.

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Tomasi UN statement not helpful

I can’t find the actual text of Vatican UN Observer Archbishop Silvano Tomasi on the internet, but if reports (see here and here) are to be believed, the statement is not one that could be considered “helpful” in the current climate. Of course, when backed into a corner (as appears to have happened by the specific and targeted attack from “international representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union” Keith Porteous Wood), it is perfectly understandable that the Vatican Observer should react defensively. Yet, surely he must know that pointing the finger at the crimes of others was not ever going to be an effective way in which to answer such an attack.

All that being said, the situation in which the Vatican finds itself is somewhat unique. What other body, whose operatives (we cannot say “employees”, since priests are not employees of the Vatican but of their local diocese) have been guilty of these crimes, has an international head office that could be held to account in the way some are trying to hold the Vatican to account? It is true, as the Archbishop points out, that the incident of child abuse is no higher among Catholic priests than among protestant, jewish, or in fact no-religion-at-all organisations, but the hierarchical set up of the Catholic Church does mean that the Vatican is an “easy target”.

Personally, I find the statistical comparison “no more than anyone else” more than a little distasteful. The Catholic Church should be one place where all people are ENTIRELY safe from such predatory abuse, and I am ashamed that it is not so. It makes the task of evangelisation and of the promotion of the Catholic Faith a hell of a lot harder than it should be.


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“A Higher Status than Sainthood”?

How silly some secular reporting is. Cathnews is carrying this story from the Irish Times: John Paul ‘to be more than a saint’, the main thrust of which is:

AN IRISH Catholic bishop has predicted that Pope John Paul II, who arrived in Ireland 30 years ago today, will most likely have a higher status than sainthood in the Catholic Church. The Bishop of Meath, Most Rev Michael Smith, who was centrally involved in organising the papal visit, said he would not be surprised if Pope John Paul II was made a Doctor of the Church.

I won’t speculate about what his Lordship said that gave the reporter the impression that being a “Doctor of the Church” was a “higher status” in the Kingdom of Heaven than “sainthood”, but you and I know that it ain’t so. There is no higher calling or status that any human being can attain than the beatitude of sainthood. Anything else you might be – like, for eg., pope or a doctor of the Church or a Catholic blogger – is in a different category all together.

However, I do believe that the good bishop is right in his guess about the “Doctor of the Church” status of the late pope. Whether that decision will be made in our life time, I very much doubt. These things take time. St Therese of Lisieux, for instance, died in 1897, was canonised in 1925, but only declared a Doctor of the Church by JPII in 1997. There are only thirtythree doctors of the Church, none thus far from the 20th Century. Perhaps John Paul II will be our 20th Century Doctor? I for one think that the “John Paul the Great” title will only catch on if he is accorded the status of “Doctor of the Church”, but I don’t think that will be in our generation. Future generations are far more likely to appreciate him than today’s.

Of course, John Paul II isn’t the only theologian pope with which we have been blessed in the past 100 years. Next to John Paul II, Pope Pius XII would be another, if the number of times his writings are quoted by the 2nd Vatican Council are any indication. It could be possible more easily to proclaim Pius XII a “Doctor of the Church” than a “Saint” in the current climate. “Doctor of the Church” is a statement of the value and authenticity of his teaching, not of the holiness of his life. I don’t dispute the latter, but unfortunately, there are still those who are stoking the fires of controversy in that camp.

But of course, we are now in the 21st Century and must be looking ahead for today’s “Doctor of the Church”. Who could that be, I wonder? Could we have back to back papal Doctors? According to the Irish Times, Bishop Michael Smith:

also suspected Pope Benedict might, in time, become a Doctor of the Church. “In this generation we are very blessed to have had two popes who have made an enormous contribution to church teaching and church belief.”


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Cathy and David At the Movies: “District 9”


David:  Peter Jackson produced writer-director Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 – a alien/monster genre movie of incredible originality. Wikus Van De Merwe is a company operative who is put in charge of relocating a slum on the outskirts of Johannesburg with military backup. The twist is that the slum occupants are aliens, whose mothership was stranded floating above the city 20 years earlier. In the process of carrying out the eviction, Wikus has an accident with dramatic consequences, which gives him a radical new perspective on the aliens.

 Cathy:  Initially, I found the documentary style at the beginning of the film quite engaging, but ultimately I found this an extremely difficult film to watch. While I appreciated the message about segregation and alienation of those who are different, it was an extremely grim film with much graphic violence. At one stage, I felt like I couldn’t watch any more.

 David: Well, it was certainly visceral. Body parts and fluids everywhere. You could almost smell it, at times. I liked the “documentary” conceit too, but it was not consistently followed through, with much of the later part of the movie in more of the traditional “action” style. Everything else in the film was entirely consistent and narratively satisfying. Setting it in South Africa is rather obvious given the theme, but also made the movie work on an intellectual level.

Cathy:  I found it difficult to connect or empathise with any of the characters. The aliens were pretty gross, although I did feel some connection for the alien “Christopher Johnson” through his relationship with his son. Wikus (although extremely well-played by Sharlto Copley) had no sense of compassion or understanding for the plight of the aliens.

David:  By not using well known actors we get to see the characters as real people. Wikus undergoes several transformations in the film which redeems his character by the end. But despite the serious social comment in this film, District 9 has more in common with “Frankenstein” than “Cry Freedom”.

Cathy:  The trouble is, despite the alien element, the scenario is not too far removed from a shameful reality. I can see that it is a well made film – it just didn’t appeal to me. I’m giving it two and a half stars.

David:  It appealed to me greatly. I’m giving it four stars.

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When Good news is reported as Bad

You know there is something fundamentally wrong with the world (or perhaps just with the newspaper you are reading) when the media reports a “Good News” story as a “Bad News” story.

I refer to today’s Sunday Age story: Government bows to religious right which reports the joyful news that the religious communities in the State of Victoria have been successful in defending their religious freedom and basic human right not to employ (and in some cases to provide “services” to *) people who do not uphold their “ethos”.

I have reported before on the efforts that our community leaders went to to defend us against this threat to our religious liberty. It was a very well organised campaign that showed that the feeling on this subject in the community was not that of the Thought Police who are trying to rewrite our social mores for us by means of the law. In short, the Social Reformers were horrified that religious communities should be able to “discriminate” by employing staff (or providing services to clients) who shared and upheld their religious ethos. Today’s decision marks the failure of the psuh to stamp out this “injustice”.

And The Sunday Age isn’t going to take this lying down. Their “reporter” Melissa Fyfe allows a good deal of editorial bias and comment into what should be a news report. She writes

  • that the State’s religious communities will be allowed “to continue to discriminate against gays and lesbians, single mothers and people who hold different spiritual beliefs.”
  • that “church groups” will be allowed “to continue discriminating on the grounds of sex, sexuality, marital and parental status and gender identity.”
  • That “the decision has dismayed groups that argued that the review was a chance to eliminate entrenched discrimination in Victoria.”

So the exercise of religious freedom – the freedom to reject the mores that are being foisted upon us by the New Morality – is now to be condemned as “discrimination”.

And, according to Fyfe, “leading discrimination law expert Professor Margaret Thornton said that it was a win for fundamentalist religious groups.” So. The religious communities who reject the New Mores are all to be labelled “fundamentalist”!

Just for our information, who are these “fundamentalists”? Represented at the SARC hearings on August 5 were the following organisations:

Catholic Bishops of Victoria
Catholic Social Services
Anglican Church of Australia
Presbyterian Church of Victoria
Islamic Council of Victoria
Christian Schools Australia
Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria
B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission
Mt Evelyn Christian School
Australian Christian Lobby
Catholic Education Office
Association of Independent Schools of Victoria
Victorian Independent Education Union

When these are all condemned as “fundamentalist”, it is hard to see that any room at all is left in the rational, moderate camp. It seems, in fact, that we are all to be written off as “fundamentalist”, except for some significant mainstream Christian organisations who no longer espouse a recognisable Christian ethos in the realm of sexual- and bio-ethics.

[BTW, it is worth noting who the supporters of the change in our laws were. They included: the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, the Human Rights Law Resource Centre, the Law Institute of Victoria, Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, ALSO Foundation, and Tansgender Victoria.]

(* It is my understanding that an example of such “services” would be the provision of ad0ption services to same sex parents.)


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How would this be handled in a Catholic School?

I am very intrigued by this story in today’s edition of The Age: School the most dangerous place for young gays.

I wonder how such situations are handled in our Catholic schools?

First, let me say a couple of things:

1) I abhore violence, persecution and victimisation toward anyone, including those who self-identify as homosexuals. Paragraph 2358 of the Catechism says: “[M]en and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies…do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

2) I affirm with the Church (always thinking with the Church on this blog!) that (in the words of the Catechism again in the prior paragraph): “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity [cf. Gen 19:1-29; Rom 124-27; 1 Cor 6:10; I Tim 1:10], tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered”141 [CDF, Persona humana 8]. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

3) I am surprised that a boy in Year 6 (aged 11 or 12) could already be so sexually aware and mature as to be able to identify himself as “gay”.

4) I myself received distressing victimisation and name calling in later primary school and early secondary school in a country school, being called a “poof” simply because I acted differently from most of the other country boys my age with reference to matters of taste and culture. (I did not, at any stage, however, self-identify as “gay” – I would not have imagined such a thing).

So, given all that, how would the situation of this young man be handled in a Catholic School today? What would be the appropriate pastoral response?


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Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese assessed as “Low Risk”

Here’s a funny thing. I use CA Computer Security, which gives me a running indication of the risk of websites I might visit.

I just noticed that when I go to the Website of the Glorious See of Melbourne, I get a “Low Risk” warning! Apparently the location is “unknown”.

I have just sent them an email to verifying the website as bona fide, but I must say I am amused to think what “low risk” might mean in the context of the Church. I would like to think that, in light of what Jesus said about anyone who wanted be his disciple taking up one’s cross and following him, that the warning should in fact be “high risk”!

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When the rot set in…

Gasparo Cardinal Contarini

Gasparo Cardinal Contarini

I have recently visited my good friend, Lutheran Pastor Fraser Pearce. There I encountered a book he recently picked up at a second hand book store, “Cardinal Contarini at Regensburg”, by Peter Matheson (Clarendon Press, Oxford: 1972). It is a superb story, told upon the foundation of a great deal of scholarly research, about the part played by Gasparo Cardinal Contarini at the Catholic Lutheran dialogue meeting in Regensberg in 1541 (the Lutheran delegation was led by Melanchthon, Bucer also present, and Eck too).

The Regensburg Colloquy is a most interesting topic, but at the moment, I just want to make a small comment about a something Matheson says the beginning of Chapter 10 on page 122. There we read:

The turning point of the Regensburg colloquy was the failure to reach agreement on the nature of the church; the death blow was given by the controversy over transubstantiation. This was really most surprising. Why should the boundary between the confessions have been born at this particular point? Was this not a relatively new dogma, promulgated as recently as 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council, and one pertaining to the scholastic theory rather than to the substance of the Faith? It seems decidedly out of character that Contarini should dig in his feet on this particular issue, especially when he knew that the success or failure of the colloquy depended on his attitude. It seems ironic that the ecumenical endeavours of the 16th century should have foundered on a teaching which today seems to be dropping slowly but steadily below the Catholic horizon.

Now isn’t that extremely interesting? The Regensburg Colloquy took place mere years before the Council of Trent, at which the doctrine of transubstantiation was defined “as most fitting”. On the other hand, Matheson was writing his book mere years after the Second Vatican Council, after which it is generally agreed “the rot set in”. Is it not astounding that by 1972, Matheson, who seems (by all accounts) an innocent bystander and observer of facts, makes the passing observation that the doctrine of transubstation “today seems to be dropping slowly but steadily below the Catholic horizon.”

What can this signify, other than that by 1972, in the 7 years since the end of the Vatican Council, the “rot” had well and truly set into the Catholic Church. This was the era when Bendiction and Eucharistic Adoration was being rejected all over the world. This was the era when all sorts of new theories about how the Eucharist “re-presented” Christ came into vogue. This was the era of “breaking bread together on our knees” (or not, as the case may have been). How surprised Matheson would have been to discover that 35 years later, the doctrine of transubstatiation is well and truly on the rebound, with Eucharistic Adoration playing a significant role in the New Evangelisation, having been encouraged by our two great popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Ask any young person who attended World Youth Day in either Cologne or Sydney what the highlight was, and they will tell you: Eucharistic Adoration with the Holy Father. They may not be able to tell you exactly what transubstantiation is, but they will be able to tell you that “That’s Jesus up there”.

So. Matheson was mystified as to why Cardinal Contarini should be so contrary with regard to the doctrine of transubstantiation in his dialouge with the protestant leaders. We today find this so self-evident that to require explanation seems superfluous.


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On the Jewish Question: “There’s no confusion – it’s both/and.”

I should have blogged on this before, but it has only just come to my attention. You will remember I recently drew your attention to the Uniting Church statement on Christian Jewish relations. In that post, I mentioned the following:

The whole issue of the continuing significance of God’s covenants with the Jewish people remains unclarified in Catholic teaching at this point – even though, I would contend, the broad outlines and boundaries of what we can say are very clear indeed. Things were stirred up a number of years ago by the document “Reflections on Covenant and Mission“, which seemed to claim a “two-fold path of salvation”, one through Christ for the Gentiles and one through the Mosaic Covenant for the Jewish people. Hence, the document concluded, Christians should not evangelise Jews. Both statements are very controversial, although you will find some in the Catholic Church today defending them as if they were official Catholic teaching. They are not – even though some official Catholics do teach them (if you get what I mean).

Well, there has been some development on that front, which happened at the June meeting fo the USCCB (I was on long service leave, so missed the fracka that resulted).

As a bit of background, last year (June 2008) the USCCB meeting voted to make a change to their Catechism in reference to this matter (the change has just been given Vatican recognitio a few weeks ago – things move slow in Rome…). That change is as follows:

United States Catholic Catechism for Adults

(Washington, D.C.: USCCB Publ., 2006)

Revision on pages 130-131

Prior version:

The Catholic Church also acknowledges her special relationship to the Jewish people. The Second Vatican Council declared that “this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts he makes nor of the calls he issues.” (LG, no. 16) When God called Abraham out of Ur, he promised to make of him a “great nation.” This began the history of God revealing his divine plan of salvation to a chosen people with whom he made enduring covenants. Thus the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them. At the same time, “remembering, then, her common heritage with the Jews, and moved not by any political consideration, but solely by the religious motivation of Christian charity, she [the Church] deplores all hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.” (Second Vatican Council, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions [Nostra Aetate; NA], no. 4)

New version:

The Catholic Church also acknowledges her special relationship to the Jewish people. The Second Vatican Council declared that “this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts he makes nor of the calls he issues.” (LG, no. 16) When God called Abraham out of Ur, he promised to make of him a “great nation.” To the Jewish people, whom God first chose to hear his Word, “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ.” (Rom 9: 4-5; cf. CCC, no. 839) At the same time, “remembering, then, her common heritage with the Jews, and moved not by any political consideration, but solely by the religious motivation of Christian charity, she [the Church] deplores all hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.” (Second Vatican Council, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions [Nostra Aetate; NA], no. 4)

Now when that change was suggested last year, there was some dismay expressed by Jewish groups and Catholics involved in dialogue with Jews in America. According to Daniel Burke of the Religion News Service “some Jewish leaders were perplexed” by the change. Burke reported:

[The change] puzzles Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “Why take a very simple sentence and replace it with a very complicated paragraph?” he asked. “When did the Catholic church decide that our covenant was finished?” Alan Berger, a professor of Holocaust studies at Florida Atlantic University, called the change the latest “in a long line of mixed symbols. It’s very troubling.”

In actual fact it is very simple, but we will get there in a moment. The even bigger news story was what happened at this year’s June meeting of the US Catholic Bishops. This time, the document “Reflections on Covenant and Mission” was in the Conference’s sights. At the end of the day, they released an extensive clarification of that document called: A NOTE ON AMBIGUITIES CONTAINED IN REFLECTIONS ON COVENANT AND MISSION. This “note” makes the following statements about Reflections on Covenant and Mission (emphases mine):

• When the document was originally published, it was mislabelled as a statement of the “Bishops’ Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee and the National Council of Synagogues.”
Reflections on Covenant and Mission is not an official statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Reflections on Covenant and Mission was not subject to the same review process that official documents undergo.
• Nevertheless, some theologians, including Catholics, have treated the document as authoritative.
• The section in Reflections on Covenant and Mission representing Catholic thought contains some statements that are insufficiently precise and potentially misleading.

Therefore they make the following clarifications:

• Catholic evangelization relative to the Jews will take an “utterly unique” form—precisely because God has already established a particular relationship with the Jewish people, going back to the call of Abraham.
• It is incomplete and potentially misleading in this context [ie. the context of discussion about the evangelisation of Jewish people] to refer to the enduring quality of the covenant without adding that for Catholics Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God fulfills both in history and at the end of time the special relationship that God established with Israel.
• The clear acknowledgment of the relationship established by God with Israel prior to Jesus Christ needs to be accompanied by a clear affirmation of the Church’s belief that Jesus Christ in himself fulfills God’s revelation begun with Abraham and that proclaiming this good news to all the world is at the heart of her mission.
• In the proposition that interreligious dialogue is a form of evangelization that is “a mutually enriching sharing of gifts devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism”, Reflections on Covenant and Mission develops a vision of evangelisation in which the core elements of proclamation and invitation to life in Christ seem virtually to disappear. The Christian dialogue partner is always giving witness to the following of Christ, to which all are implicitly invited.
• The Church respects religious freedom as well as freedom of conscience and does not have a policy that singles out the Jews as a people for conversion. However, in addition to the fact that she will always welcome “sincere individual converts from any tradition or people, including the Jewish people”, St. Paul’s complete teaching also refers to the inclusion of the Jewish people as whole in Christ’s salvation.
Reflections on Covenant and Mission, however, renders even the possibility of individual conversion doubtful by the implication that it is generally not good for Jews to convert, nor for Catholics to do anything that might lead Jews to conversion because it threatens to eliminate “the distinctive Jewish witness”. This line of reasoning could lead some to conclude mistakenly that Jews have an obligation not to become Christian and that the Church has a corresponding obligation not to baptize Jews.
• The fulfillment of the covenants, indeed, of all God’s promises to Israel, is found only in Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, the right to hear this Good News belongs to every generation.

Now this “clarification” has been greeted with even more dismay by some in the Jewish and Catholic communities. Writing in the latest edition of “Ecumenical Trends” (Vol 38 No 8), long time participant and leader in the Jewish Catholic dialogue, Fr John T. Pawlikowski (in fact, one of the original authors of Reflections on Covenant and Mission), has written an article called “Catholic-Jewish Dialogue: The Road Remains Bumpy”. In this article he writes:

The document [Reflections] also elicited strong protest from certain conservative Catholic quarters, including a trenchant analysis from the late Cardinal Avery Dulles who spent his latter days trying to “correct” what he regarded as false interpretations of Vatican II on the Jewish question. Dulles, for example, began to question whether Nostra Aetate really asserted a continued covenantal inclusion for the Jewish people after Christ and insisted that we must continue to grapple with the apparent abolition of the Jewish covenant with the coming of Christ proclaimed in the Letter to the Hebrews. …

In recent months pressure was mounting on the Vatican and the USCCB to correct the so-called ambiguities in Reflections on Covenant and Mission and in other documents including a catechism. … Certainly it is the right and responsibility of CDF and the Bishops doctrinal committee to weigh in on such a document. In the context of genuine dialogue with the drafters their input would have been welcomed given that Reflections was originally proposed as a study document. Unfortunately no such dialogue occurred. As a result, we are left with a document that creates more ambiguities and results on the core question of finality in Christ and conversion of the Jews. …

Neither the issue of finality in Christ or the need to the conversion of all people are susceptible to easy resolution … but Nostra Aetate, the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and church leaders such as Cardinal Kasper has altered the way we need to think about these questions today. Regrettably these changes are not adequately reflected in the Bishops Doctrinal Commission’s statement, leaving our Jewish partners and many in the dialogue with continuing questions where Catholicism really stands on these issues within the Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

Another writer in the same edition of “Ecumenical Trends”, Ruth Langer (Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at Boston College), simply says of the USCCB’s “Note on Ambiguities”:

Its conclusion, that “the fulfilment of … all God’s promises to Israel is found only in Jesus Christ … the right to hear this good news belongs to every generation” sounds like a statement that God’s covenant with Israel is not valid and that those who love Jews will seek to remove them from their Judaism now.

If this is the case, then the inner discourse of the official Catholic community is a call for an annihilation of Judaism even as the public discourse — exemplified by Pope Benedict’s speeches in Israeli May 2009 — proclaims irrevocable commitment to the Second Vatican Council’s commitment to seek “genuine and lasting reconciliation.” Is there some failure of communication here? Or is there a failure of integrity?

Many Jews are confused.

I can understand many Jews being confused by these developments, especially when some Catholics have been less than honest about the truth of Catholic teaching. The fact is that the Catholic faith holds a “both/and” position in this regard, in much the same way that it does in many other areas. The “both/and” position entails a necessary tension, nevertheless both positions in this tension are crystal clear.

The USCCB outlined these two positions in their explanation of the changes to the catechism:

By making the change in the USCCA, there is not a change in the Church’s teaching.

Catholics believe that

[1] all previous covenants that God made with the Jewish people are fulfilled in Jesus Christ through the new covenant established through his sacrificial death on the cross…

[2] the Jewish people continue to live within the truth of the covenant made through Abraham, and that God continues to be faithful to them.

The USCCB’s clarification of the ambiguities in Reflections on Covenant and Mission expresses exactly the same both and position:

The [1] clear acknowledgment of the relationship established by God with Israel prior to Jesus Christ [which] needs to be accompanied by

[2] a clear affirmation of the Church’s belief that Jesus Christ in himself fulfills God’s revelation begun with Abraham and that proclaiming this good news to all the world is at the heart of her mission.

That tensions exist in this position is quite obvious. However both aspects of the position are perfectly clear and should not be the cause of any further confusion or anxiety. If there is an appearance that the Church seems to be giving mixed messages to the Jewish community, then this can be understood from the point of view that sometimes the Church speaks from one side of this “both/and” position and sometimes it speaks from the other side.

But is there any justification for the idea that the Church’s “inner discourse…is a call for an annihilation of Judaism”? Again, one must consider the two sides of the “both/and” position. The Catholic Church affirms God’s commitment and faithfulness to the Jewish people which he established in his covenants with them. But (and there is a “but”), he has expressed that commitment and faithfulness through the renewal of the covenant in Jesus Christ. The proclamation of this renewal was not proclaimed last of all but first of all to the Jews, and only then to the Gentiles. Today still, the Gospel is primarily addressed to Jews and only secondarily to the rest of humanity. To exclude the Jewish people from this proclamation today would be a denial of the very roots that Christianity has in the Jewish community. The point is that just as the proclamation of this renewed covenant in Jesus Christ had implications for the Jewish religion when it was first proclaimed, so it continues to have implications for the Jewish religion today.

Does this mean that by proclaiming the Gospel Catholics actively seek “the annihilation of Judaism”? The simple answer is “No”. It would be more true to say that we are seeking “the fulfilment” of Judaism. Christianity is not the fulfillment of Judaism – the Messiah (ie. the Christ) is. The fact is that Christianity proclaims as a present reality the very eschatological fulfillment which Judaism itself (at least historically) has always loked for with eager expectation: namely, the coming of the Messiah. The only argument between us concerns the identity of that Messiah…


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