February 13, 2008 / 2:10 AM / 11 years ago

Conservative rabbis "dismayed" over Catholic prayer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An assembly representing Conservative rabbis worldwide expressed dismay on Tuesday over a revised Roman Catholic prayer calling for the conversion of Jews and voted to ask the Vatican to clarify the text’s meaning.

Pope Benedict XVI blesses his faithful from the window of his private apartment at the end of the Sunday Angelus prayer at the Vatican February 10, 2008. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

The Rabbinical Assembly, which represents 1,600 Conservative rabbis worldwide, said it was “dismayed and deeply disturbed to learn of reports that Pope Benedict XVI has revised the 1962 text of the Latin Mass, retaining the rubric, ‘For the conversion of the Jews.”‘

In a resolution approved after an hour of debate over two days, the group praised improved Jewish-Catholic relations over the past 40 years and agreed to “seek clarification from the Vatican of the meaning and status of the new text for the Latin Mass which will be heard in Catholic Churches on Good Friday.”

Conservative Judaism is one of the main branches of the religion in many countries worldwide, along with Orthodox and Reform Judaism.

The Good Friday prayer in Latin would be heard by very few Roman Catholic congregations worldwide, but Jewish groups have expressed disappointment over its language, viewing it as a step backward after decades of improvement in ties between Jews and Catholics.

Reforms in the 1960s led to the church dropping references to conversion of Jews in Good Friday prayers and were seen by many Jews and Catholics as “affirming that God’s covenant with the Jewish people has never been revoked,” the rabbis said.

Pope Benedict, who will visit the United States in April just a few weeks after Good Friday, touched off a controversy last year when he agreed to make the old-style Latin Mass more available for traditionalists along with a missal, or prayer book, that had been phased out in reforms of the 1960s.

The pope had agreed not to use the traditional Latin prayer because of its references to Jews’ “blindness” over Christ and other language considered offensive. The new prayer released last week, however, included a reference asking God to help Jews “acknowledge Jesus Christ as the savior.”

During their debate over the issue at an assembly in Washington, Conservative rabbis wanted their resolution to express concern about the prayer but without damaging steadily improving ties with the Church, those who attended said.

“I’m pleased with it. It does reflect the fact that we’ve had good relations with the Church for the past 40 years,” said Rabbi Alvin Berkun, the outgoing president of the Rabbinical Assembly and a long-time participant in inter-faith dialogue.

“I think it’s respectful but registers the fact that the Jewish community has a concern,” he added. “We can’t sit idly by when we see a step back in the relationship.”

Berkun said the dispute over the prayer would not have an impact on the pope’s visit to Washington and New York, which will include meetings with the Jewish community.

“None of this is going to interfere with the reception that the Jewish community is going to offer him during his trip to the United States,” he said.

Editing by Stuart Grudgings

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