Vatican seeks to ‘clarify’ altered conversion prayer

By Toby Axelrod, April 10, 2008
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The Vatican has issued a clarification of the amended “Prayer for the Jews” in response to Jewish concerns over the reintroduction of references to conversion.

Issued by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the statement makes no mention of changing the prayer, which Pope Benedict XVI adjusted last summer.

But it insists that the “progress of friendly relations between the Jews and the Catholic Church over the last 40 years” should continue unabated.

There has as yet been no official response from the Central Council of Jews in Germany, which had threatened to reduce its contact with the Vatican over the prayer’s wording.

The storm of controversy was triggered last summer when the German-born Pope decided to bring back the Latin, or Tridentine, Mass — including its prayer that “our God and Lord may illuminate [the Jews’] hearts”. Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council, told Reuters on March 21 that the new prayer “implies a subtle charge to missionising the Jews, which I must describe as insulting, arrogant and as a clear backsliding in Christian-Jewish dialogue”.

Rabbi David Rosen, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), told the JC that he hoped the statement would help calm the fears of Jews that the Church is out to convert them. He said that Cardinal Walter Kaspar, his co-chair at IJCIC and head of the Vatican commission for religious relations with Jews, recently explained in writing that the prayer relates to theology concerning “the end of time”.

“It has no bearing on Jewish-Catholic relations, and certainly in no way compromises the Church’s total opposition to proselytising,” Rabbi Rosen continued, paraphrasing Cardinal Kaspar.

The newly released Vatican statement says that the unamended prayer of 1970, which does not directly speak of Jewish conversion, “continues to be in full use, and is the ordinary form of the prayer of Catholics”.

Cardinal Bertone’s explanation acknowledges Jewish concerns but stresses that there is no attempt being made by the Vatican to undermine interfaith relations that have “evolved from the basis of the Second Vatican Council”.

It also emphasises the Jewish roots of Christianity and the Church’s determination to combat antisemitism, and pledges to continue interfaith co-operation along the lines of the 1965 “Nostra Aetate” declaration of Vatican II.

    Last updated: 5:14pm, May 13 2008