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For Fear of the Jews

Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee, Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (can’t they come up with shorter titles?), issued a brief, curious statement in response to Pope Benedict XVI’s revised prayer “For Conversion of the Jews” in the Tridentine Good Friday liturgy. Bishop Sklba opens by saying, “The Holy Father has heard with appreciation the concerns of the Jewish community that the prayers of Good Friday should reflect the relationship between Jews and the Church put forward in Nostra Aetate,” the Vatican II declaration on relations with non-Christian religions. He then quotes Nostra Aetate: “God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues — such is the witness of the Apostle” (#4).

The Lord does not “repent” of the call He issued to the Jews to be His Chosen People. But He did send His only Son for the salvation of the world, for “the Jew first” (cf. Rom. 1:16; 2:10,19). But His own “knew him not” (Jn. 1:10). Pope Benedict has said that the 12 Apostles “have become a summons to all Israel to conversion and to allow themselves to be reunited in a new covenant, full and perfect accomplishment of the old.” Conversion in Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Faithfulness to the Old Covenant and conversion in Christ are mutually exclusive.

Bishop Sklba continues: “Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to present the relationship of the Church and the Jews within the mystery of salvation as found in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans (cf. Rom. 11:11-32). Central to the concerns of the Holy Father is the clear articulation that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ and his Church. [Amen! — Ed.] It is a faith that must never be imposed but is always freely chosen.” Bishop Sklba, echoing Nostra Aetate (#4), then closes with a paean to ecumenism: “The Catholic Church in the United States remains steadfastly committed to deepening its bonds of friendship and mutual understanding with the Jewish community.”

We get the sense that Bishop Sklba is attempting to distance his office from Benedict’s actions — the Holy Father is concerned with articulating salvation through Jesus Christ; we are committed to “mutual understanding.” It was his choice to do this, not necessarily ours. So don’t blame us!

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