In contrast to other American Jewish leaders, Rabbi Jack Bemporad – director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding – was balanced in his reaction to a sermon pronounced by Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa on Good Friday, April 2. In the homily, the Franciscan priest quoted a letter from an unnamed “Jewish friend” who wrote that recent accusations against Pope Benedict XVI reminded him of the “more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.”
According to AP reports, Rabbi Bemporad said the pontiff and the Catholic Church are doubtlessly now under attack by sectors of the media and legal community. Bemporad said that he understood Rev. Cantalamessa and what he was saying in that the Jewish community has often been persecuted for things for which they bear no collective responsibility While comparing anti-Semitism to anti-Catholicism is an exaggeration, the rabbi said “It would be nice if there was a little more charity and understanding” on the part of the Church’s critics.
While Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League compared the current flap in Catholic-Jewish relations as a mere “blip”, he did say "What a sad irony this would be on Good Friday, where so much of the anti-Semitism was brought about by the church against Jews," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "Anti-Semitism was pogroms, inquisitions, expulsions that led to death ... What a grotesque comparison." For his part, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, another organization that combats anti-Semitism, said that the analogy used by Rev. Cantalamessa is “shameful” but vowed that organizations such as his will continue their dialogue with the Catholic Church.
Rabbi Bemporad will join with Catholic and Jewish leaders in Washington, D.C. on May 7 at the Catholic University of America to discuss "The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the New Testament," a statement from the Catholic Church that outlines a new approach to how Catholics understand the relationship between the Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures.
Co-sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Center for Law and Religion, the Catholic University of America, the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and the Rabbinical Committee for Interreligious Dialogue, the goal of the conference is for Catholics and Jews to explore how they can be true to their own faiths without being false to the beliefs of others.
"At a time when violence between races and religions is defining our lives, the new statement from the Vatican on relations with the Jews is a powerful sign of hope," said Rabbi Bemporad. "The Vatican's statement changes many of the stereotypical attitudes towards the Jewish people and their scriptures that in the past have been destructive to creating mutual respect and reconciliation."
"We are in an era of remarkable progress in the relationship between Catholics and Jews," said William Cardinal Keeler. "The Holy See's new statement on the Jewish scriptures and the New Testament is a important next step in our efforts to build bridges of understanding between our two faiths."
Attending the conference will be Cardinal William Keeler, Prof. Joseph Jensen O.S.B., Catholic University of America, Rabbi Bemporad, as well as Father Elias Mallon, Acting Dean of the Auburn Theological Seminary, and Rabbi Martin Cohen, Professor of History at Hebrew Union College.
Rabbi Bemporad had numerous audiences with Pope John Paul II, including a 1990 celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Vatican II in which he gave an address on Christian-Jewish relations on behalf of the world Jewish community. In 2000, he presented the Holy See with a menorah in remembrance of the Jews who perished during the Holocaust.