Cardinal William H. Keeler, who served as the 14th Archbishop of Baltimore (1989-2007), died Thursday March 23, 2017 at age 86. He served as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (1992-1985) and Chair of the Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (1984-1987). For many years he also served as the U.S. Bishops' Moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations.
Rabbi A. James Rudin, Senior Interreligious Adviser for the American Jewish Committee, who worked closely with Cardinal Keeler in advancing Catholic-Jewish relations over decades, wrote the following upon learning of the cardinal's death:
"Cardinal Keeler was an extraordinary global leader in building human bridges of mutual respect and understanding between Roman Catholics and the Jewish people.
"As a young priest, he participated in the Second Vatican Council when, in 1965, the world's Catholic bishops overwhelmingly adopted the historic Nostra Aetate Declaration that represented a revolutionary change in the Church's teachings towards Jews and Judaism.
"Cardinal Keeler was Bishop of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, before becoming Baltimore's Archbishop in 1989, where he served until his retirement in 2007. The Cardinal was a fierce and effective adversary of all forms of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, and he strongly supported educational programs for both Catholic clergy and laity about the horrors of the Holocaust.
"During the nearly 40 years of our friendship, I was privileged to co-lead several interreligious missions with Cardinal Keeler that included meetings with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. In addition, we co-led trips to Israel and to the infamous death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In all our years working together, he remained committed to what he always called 'the sacred task' of constructing positive relations, both institutional and personal, between our two ancient communities.
"Even when there were flashpoints and controversies between Catholics and Jews, William Keeler remained unflagging and zealous in solving and overcoming such difficulties, and moving forward in what he considered perhaps the most important work of his 62 years as a devoted priest.
"The world and the Church that he dearly loved have lost a giant figure, a gifted and energetic man who dedicated his life to Catholic-Jewish reconciliation and authentic dialogue. While we salute his many lasting achievements, AJC has lost a loving friend and a trusted colleague."