Pope’s man to face fury over 'convert' text

The Pope’s British envoy is to visit West London Reform Synagogue on Shabbat amid what its rabbi calls the “most acute crisis” in Jewish-Catholic relations in the past 20 years.

Rabbi Mark Winer will publicly bring up the controversy sparked by the Pope’s endorsement of a Good Friday prayer which openly calls for the conversion of the Jews.

Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz, the Apostolic Nuncio, is due to preach at the synagogue’s Shabbat morning service and to take part in a post-kiddush discussion with Rabbi Winer.

In the draft of an address to be delivered tomorrow, Rabbi Winer says that “expressions of Jewish anger” over the prayer “have reached a level I do not recall in my lifetime of dialogue, as a rabbi, with the Catholic Church. Rabbinical bodies in some countries have forbidden their rabbis from participating in dialogue with representatives of the Holy See. Antisemitic riots and incidents have occurred in more than a few places.”

But stressing the need to continue dialogue, he calls for the prayer to be revised and for Archbishop Muñoz and the Church “to hear our pain”.

Pope Benedict XVI published his revision to the Good Friday prayer —used in the minority Latin Tridentine rite — in time for Easter. Although he deleted an original reference to the “blindness” of the Jewish people and the plea to “remove the veil” from their hearts, the amended text asks God “to enlighten their hearts so that they recognise Jesus Christ”.

The Good Friday prayer recited by most Catholics, however, avoids an explicit mention of conversion and instead runs: “Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God…”

Rabbi Winer notes that the contentious text is used by fewer than one per cent of the world’s billion Catholics. “If the Tridentine Latin liturgy were limited to a rump group of Catholics functioning without Vatican sanction, few would have paid it any attention,” he says.

“The fact that it was officially sanctioned by Pope Benedict — even if only for the recitation by a tiny minority of Catholics — gives credence to the fear, expressed by some, that the Catholic Church is retrogressing to its history of antisemitism. The Pope’s approval of the Latin text touches a raw nerve in the deeply engrained psyche of the Jewish people.”

Archbishop Muñoz, who had an advance copy of Rabbi Winer’s remarks, did not wish to respond before his visit.

    Last updated: 5:01pm, June 3 2008