By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Palm Beach, Florida
tBy boycotting a 2005 event featuring French Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the former archbishop of Paris who is a convert from Judaism, Jewish leaders showed “we don’t have to renounce our dignity,” the Chief Rabbi of Rome told a national convention of the Anti-Defamation League on Friday.
tRabbi Riccardo Di Segni of Rome said that both he and Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, declined to take part in a Rome celebration of Nostra Aetate, the document of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) which set a new path for Catholic/Jewish relations, because Lustiger was featured on the program.
tLustiger, the son of Jewish immigrants to France from Poland, converted to Catholicism at the age of 15. (His given name at birth was “Aaron.”) Lustiger’s mother died at Auschwitz. Given that background, Lustiger has long been seen by the Vatican as a bridge to the Jewish community, and he is a veteran of Catholic/Jewish relations.
tFor some Jews, however, Lustiger is an ambivalent figure. Some worry that his life story implicitly suggests that a “good Jew,” from the Catholic point of view, is one who embraces Christianity. More broadly, some see Lustiger as a Jew who rejected his Judaism, and hence not someone they would regard as a natural interlocutor.
tDi Segni said that when the Vatican invited him to an event with Lustiger, he regarded it as “a lack of respect” which “contaminated the spirit of Jewish/Christian dialogue.”
tDi Segni thanked Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, for taking the same position.
t“We all paid for this for a little while,” Di Segni said. “Relations were closed for a while. But it was a good price to pay, because we don’t have to renounce our dignity,” he said.
In his address at that conference, Lustiger thanked those "who have worked to establish a new relationship between Jews and Catholics based on trust, esteem, and respect – making true friendship possible."
tIn general, Di Segni said Jewish relations with the Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI are “substantially positive.”
He noted that prior to his election as pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been lukewarm about John Paul II’s summits of religious leaders in Assisi, in 1986, 1993 and 2002, worrying that such events might promote religious relativism. Di Segni said that from his point of view, that ambivalence is actually positive.
t“We have to refuse the conception of John Paul II that the Catholic Church is the big umbrella under which we all must stay,” he said. “The important thing is that we have to be ourselves.”
tDi Segni also said that post-9/11, the nature of Catholic/Jewish relations has been transformed. Islam, he said, has taken the place of the Holocaust as the cornerstone of Catholic/Jewish exchange.
tAt the same time, Di Segni said that the interpretation of the Holocaust nevertheless remains a sticking point. He said he was not “absolutely” satisfied with treatment of the issue by Benedict XVI at Auschwitz last May.
t“Talking about God’s silence is a good way to avoid the problem of man’s silence,” Di Segni said.