Benedict XVI criticised for Jewish-Christian relations article

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has been accused of anti-Semitism because of an article he has just written about Christians and Jews.

In an essay for Communion on Jewish-Catholic relations, Benedict denied the Catholic Church ever adopted “supersessionism.”

Supersessionism is the theological belief that God’s covenant through Christ replaced the covenant God made with the Jewish people.

Benedict also wrote in his essay that the Christian reason behind reading the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is the only valid one.

Both Jewish and Catholic leaders say this essay confirms Benedict holds anti-Semitic views.

One rabbi said the essay encourages “a new anti-Semitism.”

Another said it was “most problematic” that the former pope insists that Christians instruct Jews on how the Old Testament is to be interpreted from a Christological point of view.

Whoever describes the role of Judaism like this is building the foundation for a new anti-Semitism on a Christian basis,” said Rabbi Walter Homolka, executive director of the School of Jewish Theology at Potsdam University in Germany.

“Benedict’s suggestion that Christians should teach Jews how to read selected parts of the Hebrew Bible in a Christological way is very problematic,” said the Rev. Christian Rutishauser, head of the Jesuit order in Switzerland and an expert on Jewish-Christian relations.

The association of Christian-Jewish dialogue groups spoke of the essay in relation to the second Vatican Council and said it “undermines Vatican teaching since the 1960s and even contradicts declarations he had made as pope.”

“The future of Christian-Jewish dialogue could falter in the face of this thoroughly critical questioning of its theological foundations,” the German Coordinating Council of Societies for Christian-Jewish Cooperation said.

However, while the essay has many detractors, other critics support Benedict’s views.

Some Catholic theologians have come to Benedict’s defence.

Bochum University theologian Thomas Söding said the essay was “not an irritation, but an inspiration for Jewish-Christian dialogue.”

Vienna University theologian Jan-Heiner Tück said the essay aimed not to roll back some Catholic positions but to further the dialogue between the two religious traditions.

Benedict’s essay left open the difficult question of what role in salvation Catholicism saw for Judaism, since it viewed the Jewish covenant with God as unbroken but the Christian covenant as the true bond, Tück said.

A Vatican document in 2015 said both covenants were paths to salvation, but how this worked was “an unfathomable divine mystery.”

“That should have been made clearer,” Tück said.

Benedict was not trying to roll back progress in Christian-Jewish dialogue, he said, “but maybe there’s a certain gap in the description of the positive meaning of Judaism for salvation.”

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