Forward got it backward, say organizers

Organizers of a three-day Catholic-Jewish dialogue at Seton Hall University contested a Jewish newspaper’s account of a speech by Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Vatican’s chief envoy on Catholic-Jewish affairs.

The board of directors of the Council of Centers on Christian-Jewish Relations issued a statement expressing its “dismay” at a story that appeared in the Forward, reporting on the council’s 10th annual meeting at Seton Hall University in South Orange on Sunday.

According to the Forward, Koch left many “Christian and Jewish interfaith officials angry and distressed” when he suggested that “many Jews approve the potential canonization of the controversial Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII.”

Rabbi Eric Greenberg, director of interfaith affairs for the Anti-Defamation League, was quoted as saying that Koch’s assertion indicated “the continuing challenges facing Catholic-Jewish relations.”

In their response, the council directors said the report gave a “misleading impression” of the two-hour talk. A fuller account, the statement said, would have reported Koch’s acknowledgement of Christian “complicity in the horrific developments” of the Shoah, his assertion that “Jews are ‘participants in God’s salvation’ even though they ‘do not believe in Jesus Christ as the messiah of Israel and son of God,'” and that the Catholic church rejects missionary work directed at Jews.

Some Jewish attendees also came away with a favorable impression of Koch, who is paying his first visit to the New York area since being appointed president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which includes the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

Although he was not present at the cardinal’s speech, Rabbi Burton Visotzky, director of the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Jewish Theological Seminary, had lunch with the cardinal at a JTS reception the day after the Vatican emissary’s Seton Hall appearance.

Koch “was perfectly lovely,” Visotzky told The New Jersey Jewish News. “He was welcoming. He was warm. He reached out to the Jewish community, and we were happy to see that he was here in friendship and ready to work with us. It is no surprise that Catholics and Jews don’t agree on everything, and there will be issues that we will have disagreements about. That said, my job personally as a rabbi is to first build a friendship that we can work together on going forward.”

– Robert Wiener