Pope Meets With Jews; Condemns Anti-Semitism

By IAN FISHER

New York Times

June 10, 2005

ROME, June 9 - In his first major interfaith meeting, Pope Benedict XVI assured a delegation of Jewish leaders on Thursday of the Roman Catholic Church's commitment to fighting anti-Semitism and to closer ties among Jews and Catholics.

"My predecessors, Pope Paul VI and, in a particular way, Pope John Paul II, took significant steps toward improving relations with the Jewish people," he said in a meeting at the Vatican. "It is my intention to continue on this path."

Several rabbis who attended the meeting said afterward that it would probably ease worries among some Jews about there being a German pope, and whether Benedict was as committed as John Paul II to continuing close ties. Though somewhat symbolic and coming just six weeks after the pope's election, the meeting also broached the idea of Catholic and Jewish charities working together to fight AIDS in southern Africa.

"He said in effect we are almost in a special relationship," said Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, and one of two dozen Jewish leaders who met with the pope. "It was something he wanted to underscore early."

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said: "Whenever you have someone new in a position of that kind of power, you may not have doubts but you have concerns. This helped alleviate those."

While John Paul II did not erase all friction between Jews and Catholics during his 26-year reign, he was especially attentive to the relationship between them, asking forgiveness for Catholic anti-Semitism and, in 1986, becoming the first pope to visit a synagogue.

Several of those who attended the meeting on Thursday said Benedict had hurdles to overcome to dispel Jewish concerns: he had been a member, like many young Germans at the time, of the Hitler Youth organization, and he was the architect of a document in 2000 calling other religions "deficient."

But since his election in April, Benedict has put a strong emphasis on reaching out to those of different faiths.

In his address, the pope affirmed the Catholic church's commitment to "Nostra Aetate," a document issued during the Second Vatican Council that declared its common bonds with Judaism and other faiths and condemned anti-Semitism.