WASHINGTON Conservative rabbis expressed concern on Monday over a newly released Catholic prayer calling for the conversion of Jews and said they hoped a resolution expressing dismay over the wording would send a message to Pope Benedict.
Many Jewish organizations have voiced disappointment over the prayer and the Rabbinical Assembly representing some 1,600 Conservative rabbis worldwide is considering a resolution at its meeting this week in Washington saying it is "dismayed and deeply disturbed."
Rabbi Alvin Berkun, president of the group, said the release of the revised Latin-language Good Friday prayer by the Vatican last week was only a small bump in improving Jewish-Catholic relations, but the Jewish community needed to express concern.
"I think as Jews we have learned that we can't just sit idly by, that when there's even a minor setback we need to focus on it," said Berkun, a long-time participant in inter-faith dialogue.
Pope Benedict, who will visit the United States in April, touched off a controversy last year when he agreed to make the old-style Latin Mass more available for traditionalists along with a missal, or prayer book, that had been phased out in reforms of the 1960s.
The pope had agreed not to use the traditional Latin prayer because of its references to Jews' "blindness" over Christ and other language considered offensive. The new prayer released last week, however, included a reference asking God to help Jews "acknowledge Jesus Christ as the savior."
The Rabbinical Assembly's draft resolution calls on the Vatican to clarify the status of the new text and whether similar language will be used in vernacular services heard in most Catholic churches worldwide.
STRAIN ON INTERFAITH DIALOGUE
"We express deep concern that the new Latin text ... may cast a harsh shadow over the spirit of mutual respect and collaboration that has marked these past four decades, making it more difficult for Jews to engage constructively in dialogue with Catholics," the draft says.
"I think it's an important message that's being sent," Berkun said. "It's not a violent message. It's a message that says we care. We don't want to see a retrogression, a regression in Catholic Church relationships."
Rabbis attending the assembly debated the resolution for 35 minutes at the end of their closed session on Monday and appeared to be generally supportive, a media consultant for the group said. They will take up the resolution again on Tuesday.
Berkun said the group did not favor breaking off longstanding talks with the Vatican over the issue, unlike Jewish organizations in some other countries.
"We feel the only way to get progress is to keep talking," he said, adding that the dialogue with Catholics over the past 40 years had produced a sea change in attitudes.
The Rev. Richard Sklba, a leading U.S. bishop on interreligious affairs, said in a statement that "the Catholic Church in the United States remains steadfastly committed to deepening its bonds of friendship and mutual understanding with the Jewish community."
He said the pope had attempted to remove negative language from the prayer while at the same time articulating that "salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ and his Church" and should "never be imposed but always freely chosen."
The vast majority of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics hear mass in their local languages, and only several hundred thousand traditionalists would hear the Latin prayer on Good Friday, celebrated this year on March 21.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)