VATICAN CITY Pope Benedict has approved a conciliatory statement for Jews upset by a Good Friday prayer that many saw as a call for their conversion, Catholic and Jewish sources said on Monday.
The statement, likely to take the form of a letter from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone to the chief rabbi of Israel, is expected to be released soon but perhaps not in time for this Good Friday on March 21.
Bertone is second only to the Pope in the Vatican hierarchy, meaning the clarification is coming from the highest levels, as had been requested by the Jews, the sources said.
The Vatican last month revised a contested Latin prayer used by a traditionalist minority on Good Friday, the day marking Jesus Christ's crucifixion, removing a reference to Jewish "blindness" over Christ and deleting a phrase asking God to "remove the veil from their hearts".
Jews criticized the new version because it still says they should recognize Jesus Christ as the savior of all men. It asks that "all Israel may be saved" and Jews say it keeps an underlying call to conversion that they had wanted removed.
But Cardinal Bertone will say in the letter that the new prayer is not a call for conversion or proselytism and that there was no turning back on dialogue between the two religions.
The letter is expected to stress the concept that all salvation, including that of Israel, is in God's hands and that the prayer is not a call for missionary activity.
Jewish groups complained last year when the Pope issued a decree allowing wider use of the old-style Latin Mass and a missal, or prayer book, that was phased out after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962 to 1965.
They protested against the re-introduction of the old prayer for conversion of the Jews and asked the Pope to change it.
Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee and the International Jewish Committee on Inter-religious Consultations criticized the new version of the Good Friday prayer.
According to sources familiar with drafts of the letter, it will say that the Vatican still takes as its reference point the landmark 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate (In our time).
This repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for the killing of Christ and urged dialogue with Jews.
Rabbis around the world had asked the Vatican to clarify the new prayer. Italy's Jewish community was particularly tough, saying the new prayer was a serious step backward that posed a fundamental obstacle to continued Catholic-Jewish relations.
Sources on both sides said they hoped Bertone's letter to the chief rabbi would end the controversy.
They said it would say that the Church had no intention of returning to what one source called "the language of contempt" it had used in the past and wanted to stress mutual respect.
The prayer will be heard only by a tiny minority of Catholics who attend services on Good Friday that are held in Latin rather than in their local languages as usual.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella, editing by Tim Pearce)