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Bishop mourns Latin decree as Jews ask for clarity

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A decree by Pope Benedict allowing priests to say the old Latin Mass more frequently has drawn criticism within Catholic and Jewish ranks, with one Italian bishop saying he was “in mourning”.

Pope Benedict XVI blesses the crowd gathered below in St. Peter's square during his weekly Angelus prayers at the Vatican, July 8, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

The decree, a nod to traditionalists which the Pope said was meant to heal divisions within the Church, was regarded by some as a blow to reforms introduced in the 1960s that promoted mass in local languages and understanding with non-Catholics.

“I can’t fight back the tears. This is the saddest moment in my life as a man, priest and bishop,” Luca Brandolini, a member of the liturgy commission of the Italian bishops’ conference, told Rome daily La Repubblica in an interview on Sunday.

“It’s a day of mourning, not just for me but for the many people who worked for the Second Vatican Council. A reform for which many people worked, with great sacrifice and only inspired by the desire to renew the Church, has now been cancelled.”

The Pope, in a letter to bishops on Saturday, rejected criticism that his move could split Catholics and reverse the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

Some Jewish leaders have sharply criticised the decree, which revives a passage from the old Latin prayer book for Good Friday calling for Jews to be converted. Others, however, took a more measured tone and called for clarification.

“I think there are those who have interpreted it in an extremely alarmist fashion,” Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) told Reuters.

“That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that need clarification but there is no question of Pope Benedict’s commitment to respectful relations with the Jewish people.”

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The AJC’s Rome representative, Lisa Palmieri-Billig, said the text of the decree was ambiguous on the issue. Church officials however had no doubt the prayer could now be said in certain circumstances, even if its use would probably be rare.

“I find it difficult to believe that the Pope would permit the Good Friday prayer, it could be a communication mistake,” Palmieri-Billig said.

“Conversion is a very sensitive issue for Jews and if the prayer is allowed, it would be a step backwards for dialogue.”

French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard said on Saturday the prayer could be changed if it caused difficulties with Jews.

Defending the decree, Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who is trying to heal the rift with the traditionalists’ main flag-bearer, the schismatic Society of Saint Pius X, said it opened the door for their return and “I wouldn’t understand if they don’t come back.”

However the group, which claims one million members, said on Saturday it had to iron out doctrinal differences with the Vatican before a reconciliation could take place.

The decree, possibly the most important of Benedict’s papacy so far, was issued on a summer weekend without the publicity that normally accompanies key documents.

The Pope did not mention it in his weekly Angelus blessing on Sunday and will retreat to the Dolomites mountains on Monday to start his summer holidays.

The Vatican will issue another text on Tuesday expected to declare Roman Catholicism the only true church of Jesus Christ, a statement that could anger Protestants.

Other Christian churches criticised Rome in 2000 when it issued a similar document signed by the Pope, who was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the top defender of Church dogma.

Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris, Avida Landau in Jerusalem