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Catholic Church Sticks to its Position on Mission to the Jews

From Die Welt- Welt Online; translation courtesy of Franklin Sherman

Bishops' Conference Criticizes Lay Group's Demand for Dialogue

Regensburg - The Catholic Church has come to a point of open conflict between the bishops and the laity over the question of mission to the Jews. The German Bishops' Conference (DBK) on Wednesday distanced itself sharply from a statement in which the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) in early April spoke out against any form of mission to the Jews. The bishops' critique, which was presented by Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg, culminated in the statement that the paper issued by the discussion group "Jews and Christians" of the ZdK can in no way be taken as an official document of the Church or as an authentic presentation of the Catholic faith. With this, the mission debate, which has been increasing among both Catholics and Protestants for quite some time, has reached a new stage.

To be sure, Müller, who is responsible for ecumenical affairs for the Bishops' Conference, rejects every form of hostility to Jews as a "betrayal" of the Christian confession, just as the ZdK does. But Müller objects to finding the difference between the two religions only in the concept of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. Müller also rejects the ZdK view that both Christians and Jews believe that "beyond the differences of belief," deeds of neighbor-love constitute a way to God. "What divides the Jewish and Christian confession," according to Müller, "is the question of whether Jesus is the promised messiah, whether his incarnation, his atoning death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead have in fact been accomplished by the one God of the covenant, the God and Father of Jesus Christ." The Church's undiminished confession of Christ remains therefore "constitutive" for the Catholic faith and a central theme in conversations with the Jewish faith-community.

Giving a negative connotation to the term "mission to the Jews" brings the whole mission of the church into discredit, Müller warns. Although God can lead to faith by ways of his own choosing those who do not know the gospel through no fault of their own, the church has "the necessity and at the same time the sacred right to proclaim the gospel." Therefore the missionary task retains "its undiminished significance and necessity, today and always," says Müller in the words of the Second Vatican Council. It is and remains an essential mark of the church of the new covenant to be a "church out of Jews and Gentiles."

Müller finds in the ZdK paper "completely mistaken" formulations. The new intercession for the Jews in the extraordinary rite for Good Friday has nothing to do with mission to the Jews in a negative sense. Nor is there such a thing as a "church of the Second Vatican Council" that views the covenant of God with the Jewish people as a way of salvation, without the acceptance of Jesus Christ and of the sacrament of baptism.