Cardinal George and the Jews

John Allen gives context, and update:

Speaking of cardinals, two weeks ago I interviewed Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who will likely soon take over as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Our conversation was wide-ranging, and at one point I asked the cardinal for a reaction to Jewish criticism of the pre-Vatican Latin liturgy, and specifically its prayer for the conversion of Jews on Good Friday.

I asked if the prayer could be changed, and this was George’s response:

“Of course it can be done, and I suspect it probably will be, because the intention is to be sure that our prayers are not offensive to the Jewish people who are our ancestors in the faith. We can’t possibly insult them in our liturgy … Not that any group has a veto on anybody’s prayers, because you can go through Jewish texts and find material that is offensive to us. But if we’re interested in keeping the dialogue strong, and we have to be, we should be very cautious about any prayer that they find insulting. ‘They,’ however, is a big tent. What my Jewish rabbi friend down the block finds insulting is different from what Abraham Foxman [national director of the Anti-Defamation League] finds insulting. Also, it does work both ways. Maybe this is an opening to say, ‘Would you care to look at some of the Talmudic literature’s description of Jesus as a bastard, and so on, and maybe make a few changes in some of that?'”

That comment apparently drew protest from some Jewish leaders who felt George was mixing apples and oranges, comparing the normative liturgical prayer of the Catholic church to dusty rabbinical commentaries from centuries ago.

In response, George offered the following clarification, which I am happy to present in full:

“Regarding the possible change or omission of some texts in Talmudic literature that are offensive to Christian believers, the point is not to compare relatively obscure scholarly texts with liturgical prayers that have a much wider audience and influence, but to suggest that the controversy surrounding the texts in the 1962 Roman Missal might be an occasion for opening a wider dialogue. An endless cycle of recrimination neither reflects nor advances the strong and friendly relations that are now taken for granted by many in both the Jewish and the Catholic communities. Trusting in these relationships, why can’t we discuss texts that are hurtful to either Jews or Christians and, if appropriate, suggest changes?”

I don’t see that he has helped his position by this statement. To refer to the Talmud as “relatively obscure scholarly texts” in contrast to “liturgical prayers that have a much wider audience and influence” might be seen as insulting. And he concludes by reasserting the point that got people upset: “why can’t we discuss texts that are hurtful to either Jews or Christians and, if appropriate, suggest changes?”