Kurt Cardinal Koch

Dialogika Resources

Interview: Jewish-Catholic Dialogue and the dialogue between the Holy See and Judaism

Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was interviewed by Oliver Maksan of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on the fringe of a meeting of the Joint Commission for the Jewish-Catholic Dialogue in Jerusalem on Monday of this week. His responsibility encompasses the dialogue between the Holy See and Judaism. From the website of Aid to the Church in Need

Q) Your Eminence, the state of Israel recently celebrated its 65th anniversary. Is a Christian compelled by this to acknowledge a modern-day fulfilment of the biblical promise of land to the Jews?

A) That is a very difficult question. The question of the relationship between the biblical promise of land and its fulfilment in the state of Israel in 1948 has, on the one hand a theological significance and, on the other, a political one. It is true that the promise of land is an integral part of Israel's identity. But a distinction must be drawn between the promise and its realisation. Palestinian Christians would contradict you vehemently here. They have experienced the Israeli seizure of land as the Nakba, as a disaster, which has often resulted in loss of the old homeland through flight and expulsion.

This is understandable. It is essential to distinguish between the promise and the way it has been realised politically. They have experienced the latter as an event which was an injustice to them and which involved violence. And so one can understand why Palestinian Christians are not able to embrace a theological interpretation of the founding of the state of Israel. Moreover the Palestinians also have a right to their own state.

Q) The Apostle Paul states in the Epistle to the Romans that God keeps his covenant. Yet in the subsequent theological history the notion of the disinheritance of the Jews predominates. How did this come about?

A) This has to do with the separation of church and synagogue. As historical research has shown, the process of alienation took place less quickly than had long been assumed. But the process entailed ever more radical consequences. The idea that the Church had superseded Judaism came to prevail. Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans, which very subtly considers the mystery of the interleaving of the New and Old Covenants, was also not able to prevent this. Even today it is a major theological challenge to consider how the eternal validity of the Old Covenant can be reconciled with the newness of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

But what does this mean? So are there two separate paths of salvation for Jews and Christians? Abraham and Moses for one group and Jesus Christ for the other? This would mean that Jews would also be exempted from the Church's evangelising mission.

For Christians there is of course only one path to salvation, the one which God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. On the other hand we Christians must not bear witness in relation to the Jews to a path of salvation which is completely foreign to them, as is the case with other religions. This is because the New Testament is built up totally on the basis of the Old Testament. The Catholic Church therefore does not have an organised Jewish mission, as certain evangelical groups do. On the other hand we Christians also testify before Jews to the hope which faith in Christ gives us.

Q) May messianic Jews, who recognise Christ as a Messiah and fulfiller of their Judaism, be a bridge here?

A) They could be a bridge, and they are a reality which it is impossible to ignore. For very many Jews, however, the messianic communities represent a major challenge. This question therefore has to be considered very sensitively so as not to jeopardise the official dialogues with Judaism.

Q) The Beatification of Pius XII could present a problem here. The Pacelli Pope is still a red rag to many Jews. He's accused of remaining silent about the Shoah. Can you understand that?

A) During the Second World War Pius XII was in a very difficult situation with respect to the cruel annihilation of the Jews. It is beyond dispute that he saved the lives of very many Jews. That is why on the Jewish side many positive things were said about him when he died. There are also Jews today who would like to include the Pope in the just among peoples. It should be said, however, that within the Jewish public the voices warning against his beatification are prevalent. Let us hope that when all the archives from this period are opened there will emerge a more adequate picture of Pope Pius XII, and that this will give a better insight into the extremely complex decision-making situation in which he found himself.

Q) In contrast Pius' successor, John XXIII, appears in a more positive light. The 5th June will be the 50th anniversary of his death. Is the Roncalli Pope still an inspiration for the Jewish-Catholic dialogue?

A) Quite definitely. Under him a fresh start was made in the relationship between the Catholic Church and Judaism. He really had a prophetic vision of the inseparable bond between Christians and the people of Israel. This view was then incorporated in the Council declaration "Nostra Aetate" and has since borne rich fruit. In the present anniversary year we can look back on this with gratitude.

Q) The pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI was seen by many Jews to be a step back from Nostra Aetate. They quote here the reformulation of the Good Friday intercession or the Williamson case. Can you understand these points of view?

A) On the whole I see no reason to regard the pontificate of Benedict XVI as having placed a burden on the Jewish-Catholic dialogue. On the contrary. There was a not inconsiderable number of Jews who stressed after he renounced his office that relations had never been as good as under the last pontificate. The Good Friday intercession is not a call for a mission the Jews, as it is often mistakenly seen, but rather it adopts the eschatological perspective of the Apostle Paul. As regards the Williamson case, Pope Benedict himself honestly conceded that there had been major mishaps in its preparation and publication. In my view it therefore makes no sense to repeat again and again these misunderstandings instead of expressing appreciation for Pope Benedict's major contribution to the Jewish-Catholic dialogue. In this respect he continued and intensified the great legacy of Pope John Paul II.

Q) Has Pope Francis been positively received by the Jewish world?

A) It is my experience that he has been received just as positively as Pope Benedict. I am gratified that our Jewish partners are approaching Pope Francis with much anticipation and hope. This will certainly also have to do with the good relations he cultivated as Archbishop of Buenos Aires with the Rabbis and Jewish communities there.