Minutes of Meeting

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Date: October 29, 2000

Location: University of Dayton, Alumni Hall

Meeting Topic: The Faults of the Catholic Church: Papal Apologies

Facilitator: Rev. James Heft, S.M., Univ. Of Dayton

Host: Donna Bealer & Carmen Appel

PRESENT: Agnes Hannahs, Vice-Chair, presiding; Nan Adams, Donna Bealer, Joanne Beirise, Joyce Biederman (Koenigsberg), Rivka Bodzin, Martin Bodzin, Connie Breen, Bea Burke, Corinne Coleman, John Cowden, Leslie Cowden, Shirley Flacks, Michael Jaffe, Marcia Jaffe, Bette Jasko, Bob Jasko, Sophie Kahn, Stephen Kahn, Jack Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, Barbara Levine, Ken Lotney, John Magee, Bill Rain, Anne Ringkamp, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Pat Searcy, Jack Sederstrand, Bill Youngkin.

Agnes called the meeting to order at 7:55 PM. She thanked Donna Bealer and Bea Burke (substituting for Carmen Appel) for hosting the meeting and providing refreshments. Donna delivered the devotional which included parts of a recently issued statement of Jewish scholars on Christianity.1 The statement was signed by approximately 200 Jewish leaders including many rabbis. The statement made the case that it is time for Jews to reflect on Christianity. The statement also maintained the following: Jews and Christians worship the same God; through Christianity, many have entered into a relationship with the God of Israel; all humans are created in the image of God; Jews and Christians must work together for justice and peace.

Agnes brought several copies of the Dayton Jewish Observer which she offered to any of the attendees who wanted them. Harold Rubenstein reported that he spoke recently with Judy Auster. Judy and Arthur Auster were active members of the Dialogue until they moved to Florida recently. Judy indicated that she and Arthur were doing fine in their new location.

Agnes then invited people who are new attendees at a Dialogue meeting to be introduced. Dr. John Cowdon and his wife Leslee were introduced. Jerry Kotler introduced Michael and Marcia Jaffe. Michael is a music announcer on WDPR, Dayton's classical music radio station. Dr. Rifka Bodzin and her husband, Martin were introduced. Eleanor Koenigsburg introduced her daughter Joyce Biederman.

Jack Kelley delivered a number of announcements. He said he was gratified by the issue of Dabru Emet. He reported that the Jewish-Christian Commission that has been studying Pius XII's role during the Shoah (Holocaust) is proceeding with its work of studying Vatican materials. An important issue is whether materials from the Vatican archives should be released to the public so that scholars can more easily study the Vatican role during this period . On another matter, Jack reported that Dr. Ellen Fleischman of the University of Dayton's Department of History delivered a lecture on the Israeli-Arab situation at the University of Dayton. She studied in Ramallah. Jack also reported that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has asked the Vatican to intervene in the Israeli-Arab conflict, but so far there has been no response from the Vatican. Joanne Berise reported that the controversial Oberamergau Passion Play closed this week in Germany. There will be another play in the year 2010. Jack stated that he has put on display in the University of Dayton's Alumni Hall pictures from the Oberamergau Passion Play. He noted that there have been many improvements in the play which have removed anti-Semitic elements but other improvements need to be made.

Ken delivered a number of announcements. He passed around a copy of an e-mail reporting on Cardinal William H. Keeler's talk to a Jewish congregation about the recently issued Vatican document, Dominus Iesus. That document maintained that salvation comes from Christ alone, and the Church he founded continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church. Dominus Iesus therefore seems to go against all the tolerant attitudes to other religions (including Judaism) that have developed in the Catholic Church since Vatican Council II began in the 1960's. Cardinal Keeler maintained that media misrepresentation has caused the controversy over this document. Ken also passed around a copy of a press release from the Israel Interfaith Association on the recent conflict between Arabs and Israelis. The Israel Interfaith Association is an organization of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and members of other religious communities in Israel (perhaps analogous to the Dayton Christian Jewish Dialogue). The statement calls for leaders of all the "Abrahamic" religions (Christians, Jews, and Muslims) to take leading positions to stop the deterioration of relations, open a dialogue, and reinforce the humanitarian values common to all these religions. Ken also passed around a statement from Elie Wiesel concerning the recent Israeli-Arab conflict. In the past, Elie Wiesel has been an active proponent of the Peace Process. However, in this statement, he blames Yasir Arafat completely for the outbreak of violence and the destruction of the Peace Process.

Ken then described a proposal for a program being developed by Suzi and Dieter Walk for the February 11, 2001 meeting. The program would be cosponsored with Yad B' Yad, an organization of Evangelical Christians committed to relating to Israel and the Jewish people with kindness and respect. The program is a dramatic presentation by Suzi Sandager of Corrie ten Boom who was a woman from a Dutch Gentile Christian family who spearheaded a rescue operation to save Jews during the Holocaust. This program was previously presented by the Dayton Hadassah chapter, and it was extremely well received. The Dialogue program would be open to the Dayton-area community. Ken reported that Pam Thimmes, the originally scheduled speaker for February 11, 2001, had agreed to reschedule her talk for one of the open dates on the Dialogue schedule. A motion was made and passed to authorize the Dialogue to develop the Corrie ten Boom program.

Jim Heft's Presentation

Ken introduced Rev. James Heft (Jim) at about 8:30 PM. Jim has previously served as Provost of the University of Dayton and Chair of its Religious Studies Department. He is currently University Professor of Faith and Culture and Chancellor. Jim has spoken many times to the Dialogue over the years, and he is one of its favorite speakers.

  1. Introduction: the context for "Papal Apologies"
    1. The pope has proclaimed this a jubilee year in celebration of the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus.
    2. In Tertio Adveniente (Nov. 1994), he said that the preparation for the year 2000 had become, as it were, "a hermeneutical key to my pontificate."
    3. Jubilee is a biblical idea from Lv. 25 which popes since 1300 have adapted.
    4. In John Paul II's own life, two events shed some light on the importance of this jubilee:
      1. The Polish Millennium of 1966--1000 years of Christianity in Poland. Stefan Cardinal Wyszyñski, archbishop of Warsaw and Gniezno and primate of Poland, used this anniversary to renew Polish Catholicism in various ways--e.g., Our Lady of Czestochowa at the center; galvanized resistance to Communist government; several years of special prayer services, novenas prepared for this celebration.

        Cardinal Wyszyñski was archbishop of Krakow and main celebrant and preached for the mass that culminated this one thousandth anniversary; it released massive spiritual energy, and was for him a very formative experience.

        A second event was the 1979 anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Stanilaus, archbishop of Krakau, killed by the Polish king. Celebrating this feast fueled resistance to the king. With this celebration, Cardinal Wyszyñski wanted to give strong energy world-wide to a movement against communism, but doubted that he would ever succeed in generating it. He wants a religious revival, world-wide.

    5. Given these two formative events for the future John Paul II, it is not surprising that he wanted to celebrate in a big way the 2000th jubilee year. And central to this celebration is repentance and conversion, a period of self examination for past sins of Christianity, of Christians and of the Church--especially over the past 1000 years--major concerns calling for repentance are the divisions among Christians (especially with Eastern Christians) and the relations between Christians and Jews. In his 1994 letter, the pope wrote: "facing this great jubilee, the Church needs metanoia, that is the discernment of the historical failures and negligence of its own children when compared to the exigencies of the gospel. Only the courageous acknowledgment of faults and of omissions for which Christians became in some sense responsible, along with the generous determination to remedy them with the help of God, can give effective impulse to the new evangelization and to make the path to unity more easy."
    6. Both the pope's visit to Israel and the Western Wall last March and the historical agreement on justification between Lutherans and Catholics are both major steps toward healing.
  2. Several examples of "apologies" by other members of the hierarchy have followed upon the leadership and the example of the pope:
    1. The 1995 statement of the German Bishops stated that "despite the exemplary behavior of some individuals and groups . . . we were nevertheless, as a whole, a Church community . . . who looked too fixedly at the threat to their own institutions and who remained silent about the crimes committed against Jews and Judaism." They urged the German nation to confess its guilt and to willingly and "painfully learn from this history of guilt of our country and of our church as well."
    2. The 1997 statement of the French Bishops who stated that "in the face of so great an utter tragedy, too many of the Church's pastors committed an offense, by their silence, against the Church itself and its mission . . . this failing of the Church of France and of her responsibility toward the Jewish people are part of history. We confess this sin."
    3. In November, 1999, Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee made three affirmations and five requests for forgiveness.
      1. Affirmations

        I acknowledge that we Catholics have through centuries acted in a fashion contrary to God's law toward our Jewish brothers and sisters. Amen.

        I acknowledge that such actions harmed the Jewish community throughout the ages in both physical and psychological ways. Amen.

        I acknowledge that we Catholics, by preaching a doctrine that the Jewish people were unfaithful, hypocritical and God-killers, reduced the human dignity of our Jewish brothers and sisters, and created attitudes that made reprisals against them seem like acts of conformity to God's will. By doing so, I confess that we Catholics contributed to the attitudes that made the Holocaust possible. Amen.

      2. Requests for forgiveness

        I ask for forgiveness for all the hurtful and harmful statements by Catholics against the Jewish people throughout the centuries. Amen.

        I ask for forgiveness for all the statements that implied that the Jewish people were no longer loved by God, that God had abandoned them, that they were guilty of deicide, that they were being, as a people, punished by God. Amen.

        I ask for forgiveness for all the statements that reduced the Jewish people to "non-people," that created contempt for them, that reduced their human dignity. Amen.

        I ask for forgiveness for all the teaching and preaching in Catholic churches that may have led up to the Holocaust and that may have contributed to the horrors of that attempt at genocide. Amen.

        I ask for forgiveness if Catholics in any way here in the city of Milwaukee contributed in the past or in the present to those movements that denigrate Jews and threaten their well-being in our midst. Amen.

  3. We shall now concentrate on some of the difficulties that accompany such apologies. I will concentrate especially on the papal apologies.
    1. First, there is the distinction theologians have traditionally drawn between the holiness of the Church and the sinfulness of its members.
      1. Cardinal Journet, a prominent theologian of the nature of the Church (ecclesiology) once stated in the 1950s that: "the Church is not without sinners but it is without sin."
    2. This theology of the Church suffers in my view from a certain "defensiveness," beginning with the polemics of the Protestant Reformation and continuing on with the Church's long-standing opposition to the Enlightenment. As a consequence, theologians tended to abstract the Church "itself" from history. In view of this, the key question becomes, in the words of theologian Frank Sullivan commenting on the International Theological Commission's (ITC) text, Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past2 (America, April 8, 2000) "whether the Church itself can be held responsible for the sins of its members, and how the evident presence of sin in its history is compatible with the Church's holiness." Should the Church be seen as a mother who takes responsibility on herself for the sins of her children? The ITC document realizes that sometimes what was done "in the name of the Church" could have been done in "contradiction to the Gospel." The document does not squarely face that in some instances, what was done in the name of the Church was done following policies backed by some members of the hierarchy. As Sullivan notes, "What is needed is the frank recognition that some official policies and practices of the Church have been objectively in contradiction to the Gospel and have caused harm to many people." In his view, instead of speaking as the ITC document did of the "holy mother with sinful children," they would have done better instead to have simply spoken of the "pilgrim people of God." Vatican II (LG. 8) stated that "as a people" the Church is a "human institution, always in need of reform, always in need of purification." Still, insofar as Jesus is at the center of the Church, holiness resides there too.
      1. Another question that arises is whether one can ask forgiveness for what others have done in the past. Such a request for forgiveness is hollow if there are not efforts to promote genuine repentance today.
      2. Again, another question: Is it enough to say that the Nazi movement is a pagan movement, which I believe is true, and not add that it gained force precisely because of Christian anti-Semitism?
      3. Another question that has been raised is whether it is sufficient for a person to ask for God's forgiveness, and not also for the forgiveness of those hurt? It should be obvious that Christian teaching on repentance requires not only reconciliation with God, but also with ones neighbor. And in some contexts, reconciliation with ones neighbor is necessary before approaching God and asking God's forgiveness.
      4. Should Christians continue to speak of the Old Testament and New Testament? Why not the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures? This matter of what to name the Testaments is not easily resolved. The Old/New pairings do not do justice to the canon held by the Jewish people; who likes to have their testament referred to as "old"? On the other hand, to make the distinction between the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures does fine by the Jews, but not by the Christians, who see in the Hebrew Scriptures their own history of salvation as well. First and Second testament is hardly an improvement either, as they do no more than indicate chronology. I bring up this problem of what to call these sacred writings for the simple reason that how we speak of them also indicates how we should speak of our own relationship with each other, Jew and Christian. It seems to me that we have yet to figure this out satisfactorily.
      5. So, in the meantime, let us continue to trod together the long, difficult and indispensable road to mutual understanding through dialogue. This past week the International Catholic-Jewish Commission met in Rome for three days. They are on a three year time frame to produce a report. I trust that their work will help us to sort out some of the matters related to the Pontificate of Pius XII during W.W.II. In the meantime, we stay at the table and together work for justice based on truth and graced with love.
      Jim's formal presentation ended at 9:00 PM.


      Harold asked about the Pope's call for repentance and conversion during this Millennium Year. Jim said the call could be for conversion of Jews and other non-Christians, but it is mainly a call for the conversion of Catholic Christians to a deeper living of their own faith.

      Steve said he sympathizes with the Pope for making these apologies. But he asked how effective they were in changing the views of the average Catholic person? Jim said he could not answer that question without knowing whether the views of average Catholics are changing because of the pope's call. Nevertheless, he believes it would be to varying degrees. Steve noted his concern that the Papal apologies should be taught to Catholics in Austria.

      Lorraine thanked Jim for his presentation, noting that he has a profound insight into the problem. She stated that the requests for forgiveness by Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee were awesome. Lorraine asked whether anything like this is being done currently in Poland. Jim said yes. The message of apology has been communicated around the world. Lorraine noted that a lot of anti-Semitism in the past was actually sanctioned by popes. She asked how one pope could apologize for the actions of a prior pope, especially if that pope was thought to be infallible. Jim replied by reminding that when the pope first broached the idea of calling the Church to confess its sins publicly, that some Cardinals advised him not to do it for they feared that such admissions would weaken the Church. Concerning the infallibility of past popes, Jim added that the definition of Papal infallibility must not be overextended. There is no universal agreement in the Church on all those teachings which are infallible. For Catholics, certainly the creed would qualify as infallible, as would teachings on the nature of Christ, the Trinity, the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, the Marian dogmas and several others. But not all theologians would agree on every one of the "several others" that should be included.

      Joanne reflected on the apology for what past people have done. Jim replied that he could not as a Christian ignore what has been done in the past in the name of the Church. He thinks to admit the failures of forefathers and foremothers is important. The likelihood of not repeating those failures is increased if (1) they are seen as failures, and (2) they are publicly stated as such.

      Jack asked about roots of anti-Semitism in the scriptures, asking whether anti-Semitic lines should be dropped from the liturgy. Jim is reluctant to drop any lines from the liturgy. He thinks it is better to leave them in and to critique them. If we encourage people personally to read the scriptures on their own, he continued, and they encounter these texts in that way for the first time without any understanding of how they are to be interpreted, we would have a bigger problem than the one we have now.

      Harold asked how long it takes for Papal teachings to get down to the ordinary people. Jim replied that the movement of ideas is not just down to the people, but also up from the people to the Vatican authorities.

      Jerry Kotler said that industrial organizations have a similar problem in changing an organizational culture. For example, disseminating company guidelines on safety, sexual harassment, quality, and other programs is a problematic process. Some organizations have been successful and some have not. Jerry noted that successful organizations budget a lot of money for training. If this idea is applied to the Catholic Church, how much money does the Church have to budget for training? Jim agreed that dissemination of new ideas is problematic, even for the Catholic Church. He noted that in the Catholic community in the US, education is too frontloaded and is focused mostly on children. Adult education programs are often weak. More attention should be given to educating adults. Jim felt that some Protestant denominations have often done better in the area of adult education, but in recent years regret having to depend on public schools to form their childrens' characters.

      The meeting adjourned at about 9:35 PM.

      Respectfully submitted,

      Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

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      1 Dabru Emet, A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity, September 10, 2000.


International Theological Commission, Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past, December, 1999, (