January 13, 2009 / 11:10 PM / 10 years ago

Italy rabbis pull out of dialogue, accuse Pope

ROME (Reuters) - A leading Italian rabbi Tuesday accused Pope Benedict of wiping out 50 years of progress in Catholic-Jewish dialogue and announced that Italian Jews will boycott an annual Church celebration of Judaism.

Elia Enrico Richetti, chief rabbi of Venice, said in an editorial in a Jesuit journal that the main reason for the rabbis’ decision to boycott was the reintroduction last year of a Holy Week prayer for the conversion of the Jews.

“If (to the prayer) we add the pope’s recent statements on dialogue being useless because the Christian faith is superior, it is clear that we are moving toward the cancellation of 50 years of Church history,” he wrote in the Jesuit journal Popoli.

Last year the Vatican revised a contested Latin prayer used by traditionalist Catholics on Good Friday, the day marking Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.

But 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 said it kept an underlying call to conversion that they had wanted removed.

In his editorial explaining the decision to boycott the Church’s day celebrating Judaism, marked on January 17, Richetti said Italian Jewish leaders had found their discussions with Vatican officials over the prayer frustrating and indicated that Catholic leaders had treated them in a patronizing way.

“The interruption of cooperation between Italian Judaism and the Church is the logical consequence of the position of the Church as expressed by its highest authorities,” Richetti wrote.

Another factor that has strained relations between Catholics and Jews in recent months is the figure of wartime Pope Pius XII, who reigned from 1939 to 1958.

Some Jews say Pius remained silent and turned a blind eye to the Holocaust while the Vatican says he worked behind the scenes to save Jews.

Jews have asked the pope to freeze the procedure that could lead to Pius being made a saint.

Relations between Catholics and Jews made great advances under the 27-year-long pontificate of the late Pope John Paul, who died in 2005. He was the first pope to visit a synagogue and led the Vatican to diplomatic relations with Israel.

But many Jews have said they sense that the clock is being turned back under the papacy of Benedict, who has made the revitalization of traditional Catholic identity one of his goals.

Benedict is due to visit Holy Land sites in Israel and the occupied West Bank in May but some diplomats say Israel’s siege of Gaza has put the trip into doubt.

Last week, a senior aide to the pope, Cardinal Renato Martino, angered Israel and many Jews by calling Gaza “a big concentration camp.”

Catholic-Jewish dialogue began in earnest after the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, with which repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for Christ’s death.

Editing by Richard Balmforth

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