Roman Catholics and Jews after Vatican II – Taking Stock for the future 

“In order to meet reality, the image of the Jew within Catholic theology has to be extended beyond reasonable limits,” explained Professor Karma Ben-Johanan at this month’s event on Jewish-Catholic dialogue. “Who will be the Jewish partner in Jewish-Christian dialogue in a world of polarized, divided Judaisms? How will Catholics be able not to contribute to these detrimental divisions precisely through their goodwill and friendship?”

Important and urgent questions like these characterized “Roman Catholics and Jews after Vatican II: Taking Stock for the Future,” held on March 1 at the Angelicum in Rome, where two leading scholars and practitioners of dialogue, Professor Karma Ben-Johanan, of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Professor Gavin D’Costa, of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, discussed the controversial challenges facing Jews and Catholics in their conversation and cooperation after the Second Vatican Council. 

“What surprises me in Catholic-Jewish relations after Vatican II is the kindness and openness of most Jewish people, given the long history of persecution by many Christians who are part of my ‘family,’” shares Professor Gavin D’Costa. 

Elena Dini, Senior Program Manager of the JPII Center, moderated the conversation between these two leading scholars and dialogue practitioners, who also responded to some questions from the audience.  

“In this relation I am surprised by the eagerness of Catholic dialogue partners to overcome Christian anti-Judaism,” reflects Professor Karma Ben-Johanan, “and their resilient willingness to listen to criticism on behalf of Jews as well as by the wide debates among Jews with different convictions and backgrounds with regards to the appropriate response to the Christian reaching out for dialogue and reconciliation.” 

This public session was in the midst of a longer program of closed-door discussions and exchanges between a small group of highly committed scholars coming from Israel, the United States, and around Europe. Invested in such international collaboration, the JPII Center co-sponsored this comprehensive gathering, which began with opening greetings by Prof. Gavin D’Costa and Prof. Adam Afterman, a session on “John Paul II and the Jewish people” led by Prof. Hyacinthe Destivelle OP and Dr. Christian Rutischauser SJ, and another session on “Jewish Orthodoxy in the USA” with Prof. Ruth Langer and Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn.

These conversations continued the next day with another two sessions: “Joseph Ratzinger and the Jewish people,” led by Dr. Emil Anton and Prof. Matthew Tapie; and “Christians in Jewish Religious Zionist Thought,” guided by Prof. Menachem Lorberbaum and Rabbi Prof. David Meyer. The day concluded with a “Question & Answer Session” with Prof. Karma Ben-Johanan.

“As part of the conference I organized with professors D’Costa and Destivelle at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, we examined some of the critical issues that remain unresolved since the declaration of Nostra Aetate at Vatican II,” reflects Prof. Adam Afterman, Director of the JPII Center, “In an atmosphere of friendship and intimacy, the conference generated memorable moments of sincere and open dialogue addressing profound disagreements and differences.”