The Vatican has issued a document aimed at reducing anti-Semitism and increasing understanding by helping priests and educators teach more effectively about Judaism.
But some Jewish leaders branded it "regressive," faulting it as paying scant attention to the Holocaust and as lacking a religious dimension in its discussion of Israel.
The 12-page statement was released this week by the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. It said the objective "is not merely to uproot from among the faithful the remains of anti-Semitism . . . [but also] to arouse in them, through educational work, an exact knowledge of the wholly unique 'bond' which joins us as a church to the Jews and Judaism."
The document, entitled "Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church," emphasizes the Jewish roots of Christianity, and it says Judaism should be presented "as a contemporary, not only 'historical' -- and thus superseded -- reality." The document points out that Jesus "was and always remained a Jew."
But the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations said the document reflected a "regressive spirit" and showed "little recognition of how Jews conceive of themselves."
The international group, which includes such organizations as the World Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, said the document contained "much of value" but that some aspects reflect "a retreat from earlier Catholic statements."
Much of the document draws on the Second Vatican Council's Nostra Aetate, considered a landmark in Catholic-Jewish relations. The new statement reiterates the key point of Nostra Aetate, that the Jewish people should not be held responsible for the death of Christ.
Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum of the American Jewish Committee, who 20 years ago was part of the Jewish-Catholic dialogue that contributed to the writing of Nostra Aetate, found "a kind of begrudging heavy-handedness" in the new document.
Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, deplored "a note of religious triumphalism" in the guidelines. "There can be little progress toward better relations if one sees the other as being denied the means of salvation, and as somewhat lesser in the eyes of God," he said in a prepared statement.
But Eugene Fisher, head of Catholic-Jewish relations for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the document "doesn't say the only way to salvation is by becoming a member of the institutional church through baptism."
The guidelines devote only one sentence to the Holocaust, saying that Catholic teaching should "help in understanding the meaning for Jews of the extermination during the years 1939-45, and its consequences," which the Jewish organizations termed "vague, passing and almost gratuitous."
On Israel, the teaching guide says: "The existence of the state of Israel and its political options should be envisaged not in a perspective which is itself religious but in their reference to the common principles of international law."
The Jewish committee complained that in this passage, "Israel is emptied of any possible religious significance for Christians." The Vatican's historical refusal to recognize the state of Israel has long nettled Jewish groups.