ADL Vatican Newsletter
The Continuity of Dialogue: New Players, New Contributions
from Lisa Palmieri-Billig
Representative in Italy of the Anti-Defamation League
Interviews with: Walter Cardinal Kasper and Ambassador Yosef Lamdan
Rome, April 2001
As in ancient Greek games when torches were handed on from one runner to the next, so the
torch of dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish People first lit nearly 36
years ago by the Vatican II document, "Nostra Aetate", is entrusted from one
generation of religious and diplomatic delegates to the next.
Promising new figures are entering the scene one year after Pope John Paul II’s
historic visit to Israel, and the vicissitudes that followed that visit running from intense
enthusiasm at the Pope’s moving gestures to disappointment at the beatification of Pius IX
(responsible, in the 19th century, for the abduction of a secretly converted
Jewish child, Edgaro Mortara) and the recent Dominus Iesus document, that seemed to
convey the impression that there was no salvation outside Christ.
Jews and Catholics continue to seek clarification and understanding in a dialogue that
means much to both. In Rome, two newly appointed officials – one in the Roman Curia,
another in Israel’s Embassy to the Holy See – are contributing to the further
development of relations on the religious and diplomatic levels, respectively.
The conversations with Cardinal Kasper and Ambassador Lamdan transcribed below, took
place shortly before the May International Liaison Committee meeting in New York.
The ILC is the official organ for dialogue between world Catholicism, represented by
delegates chosen by the Vatican, and the delegates of the most representative
organizations of world Judaism – including ADL. It meets periodically, every one or two
Interview with Walter Cardinal Kasper,
President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Jews
Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, after thirteen years of outstanding service as
President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Jews and the Pontifical
Council for Promoting Christian Unity in which it is housed, is retiring. Cardinal Cassidy,
a very special person, has contributed many moments of deep insight and charted new
landmarks during his presidency, evidencing an ever deepening understanding and commitment
to both ecumenism and the unique dialogue between Catholics and Jews. Under his presidency,
exceptional events took place such as the Concert in memory of the Shoah at the Vatican’s
Paolo Nervi Auditorium, the issuing of the Shoah document, "We
Remember", the formation of the Catholic-Jewish Committee of
Scholars researching the history of the Vatican and World War II, and as culmination, Pope
John Paul II’s historic visit to Israel. Like others who have become involved in
Catholic-Jewish dialogue, he will surely continue to participate actively even after he
leaves Rome to return to his native Australia.
His worthy successor is Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has served the Council and
Commission as Vice President since June 1, 1999, taking over the Presidency after his
appointment as Cardinal by the Pope in the February 21 Concistory in Rome.
A renowned German theologian, who, some say, might one day succeed Cardinal Ratzinger as
the keeper of the faith in the Roman Curia, he worked closely with Hans Küng and Leo
Scheffczyk, as their Assistant at the Tübingen Theological Faculty in the 1960s, later
becoming Professor of Dogmatic Theology and Dean of the Faculty. He was named Bishop of
Rottenburg-Stuttgart in 1989, and in 1991 became President of the Department of Foreign
Affairs of the German Episcopal Conference, and Vice President of the Commission for the
Doctrine of the Faith. In 1994, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (which
he had already served as Consultant) named him Co-President of the International Commission
for Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue. In 1998 he was named Consultant for the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, and the Pontifical Council for Culture,
headed by Cardinal Poupard, and this year, for the Congregation of Eastern Churches.
His studies and work reflect his deep theological concerns with ecumenism on one hand,
and with Judaism on the other. He holds deep convictions regarding the unique relationship
between Jews and Christians, in keeping with the flow of post Vatican II Catholic thought.
He is a kind of "renaissance man" with truly catholic (small "c" in this
case) interests, being a member of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and the European
Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has a collection of international "honoris causa"
PhD"s to add to the two he earned at the Tübingen Theological Faculty.
In this interview, Cardinal Kasper presents a serenely optimistic account of the present
moment in Catholic-Jewish relations, reviewing some of the problems and their solutions,
focusing on the highly positive impact and aftermath of Pope John Paul II’s visit to
Interview with Cardinal Kasper:
Q:Cardinal Kasper, how do you see the present moment in Catholic-Jewish
A: I would say a series of things have happened, and the balance is positive.
First of all, I believe the Pope’s trip to Israel was of great importance in building
bridges with the Jewish People. Today, many Jews in Israel have a different view of the
Catholic Church than they had in the past.
No doubt, the "Dominus Iesus" document issued by the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, caused problems and produced a crisis of trust for our Jewish
partners. However, I believe that the article written by Cardinal Ratzinger for the
"Osservatore Romano" around Christmas time, helped to overcome this - although
Israel’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Joseph Lamdan, said that there were some difficulties
with the end of that article, which says,"We will pray that [God] grant also the
children of Israel a deeper knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, who is their son and the gift
they have made to us. Since we are both awaiting the final redemption, let us pray that the
paths we follow may converge."
This prayer or hope expresses an eschatological outlook. It is not to be interpreted as
an attempt to missionize. I think there cannot be any mission of Catholics towards Jews. The
"nations" who will convert, according to the Gospel, are "Goyim", not
We have different opinions about Jesus Christ, and that is our main problem. But this
article by Cardinal Ratzinger made it clear that Jews do not belong within the category of
world religions, but are, rather, at the bottom of our own origins. Ratzinger asserts that
"it is evident that our dialogue, as Christians, with Jews is on a different level than
that with other religions." [The Jewish faith "as witnessed in the Jewish
Bible, the Old Testament of the Christians, is for us not another religion but the basis of
our faith." LP-B]
There is a difference between faith and belief. The world religions have beliefs of
religious wisdom. Faith, on the other hand, is a response to revelation coming from God to
us. Jews have faith, and we cannot define Christianity without referring to the Old
Q:Objections have been made that "Dominus Iesus", contrary to the
traditional post Vatican II syllabuses for Vatican documents on dialogue with religions, did
not mention relations with Jews as a separate category but assimilated them into the concept
of world religions.
A: This interpretation is incorrect. There has been absolutely no shift in our
vision. We cannot deny the special and particular relationship that Christianity has with
Judaism, which is different from that with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc.
Q:The beatification of Pius IX created another major obstacle in our dialogue.
Jews could not understand how a Pope who kidnapped a Jewish child and insisted on raising
him to become a priest far from his family , despite international furor over this act,
could be chosen as an example of holiness for Catholics.
A: The choice of Pius IX caused a problem for some Catholics too, not only for
Jews, for other reasons as well. But beatification does not mean we approve of every act of
that person during his lifetime, especially if viewed in today’s social and ethical
context. Some things would be impossible to accept today, but we must also take into account
the convictions of the times in which he lived. The qualities of holiness for which he is
beatified are separate and do not include these aspects.
Q:Your Commission is entrusted with the religious aspects of dialogue with
Israel and its People. But are you also in touch with Vatican State Department Officials
regarding political issues involving Israel and the Middle East?
A: Yes, we are in touch of course. Our information also comes from the reports of
the Nuncio in Israel, which we go over together. A concern at the moment is the Tantur
Ecumenical Center, [between Jerusalem and Bethlehem - LP-B] which is under great stress
because of the present unrest. People from all over the world including many pilgrims go to
Tantur and we are very worried. Our prayers are that a peace agreement may be reached,
although the situation seems very difficult now.
Q:What issues are on the table for the future in the Catholic-Jewish dialogue?
A: We hope to progress in dialogue over religious issues such as Teshuva, the
conversion of the soul, reconciliation. Dialogue entails people, partners, who have their
own, different visions so we must not be afraid of difference. If there are no differences,
there are no strong convictions and dialogue becomes empty. We have a lot in common:
religious convictions, the Scriptures, common values based on the Ten Commandments.
Our differences are rooted in our different views of Jesus, but we must respect each
other in these differences as well. They are essential to our respective identities, and we
must talk about them too, in order to understand each other better. We should have the
feeling that we are learning from each other.
For many years I was a scholar, studying the Jewish background to the New Testament,
which is why I think we have so much to learn from each other. I also learned a great deal
from writers like Martin Buber, whose translations and essays were widely published in
The Jewish influence on German culture has been enormous. In fact the latter cannot be
understood without taking into account how Jewish thought permeated German philosophers. We
must learn more and more how to listen to each other.
So, the religious topics that we could delve into together would include the concepts of
Teshuva, Shalom, collections of prayers, the meaning of the Ten Commandments for our times,
themes regarding creation, human rights, etc. These are all the more important considering
the lack of spiritual orientation in today’s societies.
Q:Would you consider these topics as "theological"?
A: I would in the sense that theology is a scholarly reflection on human religious
experience, a reflection on our common heritage of the Ten Commandments and what they mean
in the face of today’s huge problems that challenge reconciliation and peace. Of course
social problems are included in these reflections. We have a common heritage - let us study
Interview with Yosef Lamdan, Israel"s Ambassador to the Holy See
Israel’s new Ambassador to the Holy See, Yosef Lamdan, the third in the five
years of formal diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel, follows the trail
blazed by his two predecessors, Shmuel Hadas and Aharon Lopez, who, after leaving their
posts in Rome have both remained engaged in the field of interreligious dialogue for peace.
Ambassador Lamdan feels strongly about the importance of relations between the Roman
Catholic Church and world Jewry, especially Jews in Israel. He is the first Ambassador to
choose to attend a meeting of the International Liaison Committee (May 1 - 4) albeit as an
He describes diplomatic relations with the Vatican as a special form of diplomacy,
different from his long experience in the international arena. Paradoxes are often the norm.
While the Vatican has in the past tried to plant high hedges separating the areas of
religious and political concerns in relations with Israel, assigning the former to the
Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Jews and the latter to its Department of
State, the hedges have thinned out since formal relations between the two States were set
up. The "Fundamental Agreement" itself, which sets the basis for all future
relations, is filled with religious terminology and references to joint moral and ethical
concerns, rooted in a common spiritual heritage.
Born in Scotland, Yosef Lamdan started his diplomatic career in the British Foreign
Office (1965), representing Great Britain in Tel Aviv (1967-1971). After his aliyah his
talents were taken up by Israel’s Foreign Ministry as First Secretary (1973 - 1976)
followed by a series of first-hand experiences right in the fray of international politics
as Counselor of Israel’s Mission to the UN in New York (1976-1981), then Director of the
Israel Foreign Ministry’s office for Egyptian Affairs (1981-1984) and later for North
American Affairs (1989-1994). He was Israel’s Diplomatic Representative in Beirut in 1982
and Minister at Israel’s Embassy in Washington (1985 - 1989). His last stint outside
Israel before being assigned to Vatican City was a return to familiar territory as Israel’s
Ambassador to the UN and International Organizations in Geneva (1994-1998).
Interview with Ambassador Lamdan
Q:Ambassador Lamdan, How does your present position as Israel’s Ambassador
to the Holy See compare to your past experiences in international diplomacy?
A: What strikes one most, I think, is the difficulty in understanding the
mechanics of the decision-making process in the Vatican. I say this with great respect –
but one immediately becomes aware that Vatican diplomacy differs from general diplomacy
Modern diplomacy is relatively open. The new concept involves public diplomacy and
interactive exchange. Generally, when you visit a diplomat who represents the foreign office
for which he works, you tend to speak of real, concrete issues. It seems to me that Vatican
diplomacy is none of those things. It seems to be based more on old-fashioned secret
diplomacy, without a sense of genuine exchange.
The Vatican tends to be well informed from the field, from its local nuncios. Material is
analyzed "in situ", whereas generally, this would be done centrally, at a country’s
Foreign Ministry. Here, the nuncios seem to mold the decision-making process, providing both
information and analysis, while the Vatican’s Foreign Ministry sets the strategy for the
larger policy issues.
Q:What are the consequences of this policy?
A: The conduct of day to day relations becomes more complex, in that it is less
open to the interchange of information or views.
Q:So there is no connection between your meetings with Vatican officials and
ensuing statements by the Pope?
A: I think our scope to influence is somewhat limited. But we follow statements by
the Pope very carefully. His address the day I presented my credentials, September 18, 2000,
was particularly warm, fresh from memories of his visit – with "gratitude", as
he said, "to the civil and religious authorities for the welcome and attention they
gave me during the intense days of my visit in March." [Regarding the peace process, he
had said, "We all rejoice every time a step forward is announced in the complex
negotiations...The continuation of dialogue and negotiation is itself a significant
development. And it is important to acknowledge just how substantial is the progress made so
far, lest those involved be discouraged at the size of the task still ahead." LP-B]
Q:Before Israel had an Embassy to the Holy See, religious and political
questions were officially kept separate and handled in different sections of the Vatican by
different people. Is this still so?
A: There is a sort of two-track diplomacy. The tracks are not parallel but there
is a criss-crossing, overlapping, and a certain correlation.
The formal address for religious dialogue is the office of the Commission for Religious
Relations with Jews. However, there is cooperation at a series of different levels in the
Vatican, and in daily work, the contents of our meetings don’t always lend themselves to
Q:Your interest in Catholic-Jewish relations seems to be pronounced. How does
this area enter into your diplomatic mission?
A: Israel has a genuine interest in this dialogue. The Jewish People have had at
least 1500 unhappy and difficult years of relations with the Catholic Church, and Israel is
the State of the Jewish People. In the past, the Church Fathers and their followers accused
Jews of "Deicide", claiming they were therefore despised by God, condemned to
eternal wandering, etc. Now, we have a revolutionized Church before us that considers us,
theologically, as "older brothers." Yet only 35 years have passed since the Second
Ecumenical Council and the "Nostra Aetate" document landmark – so there remains
much work to be done.
Q:What will be the legacy of the Pope’s visit to Israel?
A: There are over one billion Catholics on the earth. We – along with many other
governments – take the Vatican’s positions very seriously.
Last September, the Pope stated he hoped his visit would become "a kind of
testimony, especially to the younger generation, as an invitation to build a new era of
relations between Christians and Jews."
Now these aspirations need to be translated into concrete actions. From my experience
there is a clear openness and receptivity on the part of Catholic officials – such as
heads of the Pontifical Congregations for Catholic Education, for the Clergy, for the Laity,
and among the Pontifical Universities, in Catholic communities, etc. I have found no
reservations, no hesitation. And all these institutions have vast networks that reach out
Of course there is no single, universal method. Education, on all levels, is of primary
importance to spread the new positions to let Catholics know of the changed theology –
though obviously, implementation cannot be the task of the Embassy.
The fact remains that at the grass roots, Catholics often have little or no awareness of
the revolution that has taken place in Catholic thinking on Jews and Judaism – so
"reach-out" is essential..
Q:The Pontifical universities in Rome have for years offered courses in Jewish
Studies. How effective are they?
A: The university is a very important area. About 45 courses in Judaica – in
Biblical Studies, Jewish philosophy, Jewish mysticism, Jewish-Christian relations, etc. are
currently being offered in 12 different Pontifical universities in Rome. However, the
studies are optional and fragmented and do not lead to any certificate or degree in Jewish
studies. It would probably be more effective if an Institute for Jewish Studies could be set
up, offering exchange programs between Israel and the Vatican. It would be excellent if we
could reach more seminarians.
There could also be more exchange in non-religious areas. Our interreligious dialogue
should also depend on people-to-people communication - with more Israelis exposed to
Christians and more Christians to young Israelis - for example through student exchange.
We could perhaps also work together through the Cor Unum International Cooperation
program, in African and other third world countries.
Q:Why do you feel that Israeli participation – in particular in the
Jewish - Christian dialogue – is so important?
A: Because Israeli Jews constitute over 40% of the world’s Jewish population and
Israel is absolutely central to Jewish life. These two factors make Israeli participation
extremely significant to Jews and Catholics all over the world. In order to be truly
meaningful, the dialogue must have a significant Israeli component.
Q:At a year after the Pope’s visit, what is the perception of
Catholic-Jewish relations in Israel?
A: Israelis genuinely hope that a new chapter is being opened, with a move towards
reconciliation and fraternal cooperation.
The Pope’s visit helped change the attitude of some Israeli Jews to dialogue. His visit
was remarkable in many ways. A whole generation suddenly became aware that there is a vast
culture out there which they know little or nothing about. And it appeared to be different
today from how it was portrayed in the sad stories they had heard from their parents and
Now many want to discover and understand. John Paul II’s visit worked as a catalyst for
stimulating interest in a wide field of religious culture that is part of our common
Q:How would you say Israelis feel about theological dialogue?
A: They feel there are so many positive things to be done on the social,
humanitarian level where deep connections can be made, whereas theological dialogue could
quickly lead to dead ends.
Q:What feedback do you get from the Vatican regarding the present crisis with
A: The Vatican is genuinely concerned at the breakdown of the peace process,
especially because of the human situation in the territories and the ongoing terror within
Israel. The Christians in the Holy land are in a difficult predicament, especially those who
live within the territories governed by the Palestinian Authority.
The Vatican follows the situation closely and knows what is happening. The new Government’s
position in Israel is very clear. We are prepared to return to negotiations but only after
the violence is stopped. The Palestinian Authority’s leader seems unwilling or incapable
of putting an end to terrorism.
Q:How have Israeli Jews reacted to the "Dominus Iesus" document?
A: There is no one single position. But doubts about the nature of the dialogue
have been raised at a time when there is a genuine desire for dialogue among Israelis. For
example, some are asking "What is the purpose of dialogue?", since the document
states that dialogue is part of the greater evangelical mission of the Church. Jews in
Israel are looking for clarification on what exactly is meant by that. I am sure that Jews
did not enter this dialogue thinking that its ultimate aim was their conversion. The
document also triggers basic questions on the meaning of "equality" in dialogue:
for example, does it mean – as it appears to say – that while there can be reciprocal
respect between partners in dialogue, this does not hold true regarding the views expressed?
The normal Western way of conceiving "dialogue" includes respect not only for
the person of the other, but also of his/her views. A willingness to respect the other’s
views does not mean that one has to accept them.
Q:Some recent initiatives of the Embassy in cooperation with the Vatican?
A: As you know, we held a high-level study day in Rome on John XXIII at the end of
the year 2000. We opened an exhibit by a well-known Israeli artist in the Vatican at the end
of April. And in Israel, last March 13, Cardinal Cassidy, hosted by the Interreligious
Coordinating Council of Israel, gave a keynote address a year after the Pope’s visit.
We hope to be able to launch other cultural and inter-religious initiatives both in the
Vatican and in Israel in the course of the year.