As I reported earlier, the USCCB has made some changes to its Catechism and clarified its stance on Catholic dialogue with Jews in recent months. Now there is another development. According to the National Catholic Reporter,
“U.S. Jewish leaders had found [a] passage [in the Note on Ambiguities contained in REFLECTIONS ON COVENANT AND MISSION] offensive and said faithful Jews could not enter into dialogue with Catholics if those Catholics were always at least implicitly seeking their conversion.”
Five key officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops have excised [the] controversial passage from a public note on Catholic-Jewish dialogue issued in June two USCCB committees… The church officials, who included Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, USCCB president, also issued a six-point “Statement of Principles for Catholic-Jewish Dialogue” that clearly affirms that God’s covenant with the Jews has never been revoked.
The controversial paragraph (still complete on the online version) read:
7. Reflections on Covenant and Mission maintains that a definition of evangelization as the “invitation to a commitment of faith in Jesus Christ and to entry through baptism into the community of believers which is the Church” is a “very narrow construal” of her mission. In its effort to present a broader and fuller conception of evangelization, however, the document develops a vision of it in which the core elements of proclamation and invitation to life in Christ seem virtually to disappear. For example, Reflections on Covenant and Mission proposes interreligious dialogue as a form of evangelization that is “a mutually enriching sharing of gifts devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism.” Though Christian participation in interreligious dialogue would not normally include an explicit invitation to baptism and entrance into the Church, the Christian dialogue partner is always giving witness to the following of Christ, to which all are implicitly invited.
The letter of the five bishops to the five Jewish leaders indicates that not only the final sentence (the sentence in bold in the quotation above), but also the sentence before it (the whole section in italics) will be removed from the Note on Ambiguities contained in REFLECTIONS ON COVENANT AND MISSION.
What is one to make of this? Well, a couple of things, and both are made clear in the accompanying Statement of Principles for Catholic-Jewish Dialogue.
The first is that by entering into dialogue with Jews, Catholics do not retreat from their belief that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Covenant of God with Israel. The bishops assert that it is their duty to bear witness to the fullness of the Catholic faith, that this truth must be stated honestly and accurately in the dialogue, and that only Catholics who are faithful to the teaching of the Catholic Church are truly qualified to engage in dialogue with the Jews.
On the other hand, the bishops affirm that God has not revoked his promises to the Jewish people (note that the six principles carefully avoid stating that the Mosaic Covenant is still a valid alternative path of salvation for Jews alongside the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus), that they wish to proceed with the dialogue in a spirit of deep friendship and respect, and that Jews have no reason to suspect that we are using our dialogue with them as a covert means of proselytism.
Both these principles indicate that the US Bishops have in no way abandoned what I have called the “both/and” approach. The removal of the reference to an implicit call to baptism does not mean that they have retreated from their affirmation that all dialogue involves an explicit witness to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. It does mean that the bishops wish to remove anything that might impede the dialogue – ie. the opportunity to make such a witness – with the Jewish people. If fear of proselytism is such a stumbling block, then it is best to remove it. I don’t think we should criticise this decision – however unfortunate it may be that the sentences needed to be removed to allay the fears of our partners in this dialogue.