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Letter to the Editors
Dr. Gerhart Riegner, who had agreed to write an article for this issue of SIDIC on the future of the Jewish-Christian dialogue, forwarded to the editors the following letter. *
World Jewish Congress
Geneva, Sept. 5, 2000
At the end of the summer you kindly invited me to write, for the next issue of SIDIC, an article in which I would express my thoughts about the future of the Jewish-Christian dialogue.
At the time of your request I was still very impressed by Pope John Paul II’s visit to Jerusalem, and I accepted your invitation with pleasure. Indeed, I saw that visit, the gestures and the words of the Pope at Yad Vashem and at the Wall, as the culmination of our constant efforts over the course of several decades to improve and to normalize relations between the Church and Judaism. The main intent of this dialogue has always been to create a climate of mutual respect between us. The events in Jerusalem left me with the impression that we had fully attained this goal and that we could now enter a new level in our relationship. I was similarly encouraged by the fact that the Church had recently published the proceedings of a 1997 Vatican symposium, Radici dell’Antiguidaismo in Ambiente Cristiano (The Roots of Anti-Judaism in the Christian Milieu), a volume in which Christian anti-Judaism over the centuries was systematically addressed for the first time.
But alas! New events intervened into this happy and hopeful scene to cast doubt upon our optimistic sentiments.
The beatification of Pope Pius IX was a terrible shock for us. As soon as we learned that this beatification was intended we did not hesitate to caution against it. For how is it possible to comprehend, after a solemn expression of repentance and asking pardon for all wrongdoings against Jews throughout history, the beatification of somebody who more than anyone else personified the most authoritarian and closed attitude in the Church and who strongly condemned all modern movements? How hold up as an example for veneration a person who re-established the ghetto of Rome, who renewed all the discriminations of which the Jews were victims in the state and in the church, and who concealed and defended the clandestine conversion and abduction of a Jewish child and his elevation to the priesthood? Are these acts indicative of “unconditional fidelity to revealed truth”? 1
You know that during the past 30 years I have been a constant and sincere suppporter of a policy that would lead us to a reconciliation based on loyalty and absolute respect for the religious conviction of the other. But I am unable to understand these contradictory expressions in the Church. The situation would have been totally different if we could simply have celebrated together the beatification of Pope John XXIII, without conflating the two.
You understand that in a situation such as this it is difficult for me to write the article I promised. Some time is now required before one is able to define how we will be able to continue the dialogue.
I trust that you understand my situation.
Gerhart M. Riegner 2
* Dr.Riegner’s letter has been translated from French.
1 Editorial note: At the beatification of Pius IX John Paul II declared: “Pius IX was an example of unconditional fidelity to revealed truth.”
2 See SIDIC XXXIII, No. 1, 2000, pg. 30-32, for a review of Dr. Riegner’s memoirs: Ne jamais déspérer, Soixante années au service du peuple juif et des droits de l’homme (Never Despair: Sixty Years in the Service of the Jewish People and the Rights of Man).