While the cardinal's statement illustrates the slippery slope down which this sort of dispute can soon lead to hurt feelings on all sides, he is, of course, right. Catholics are free to believe whatever they want about the universal truth of the doctrines of their faith. The same right must also apply to everyone else when it comes to their opinions about their own religions and everyone else's. Problems arise not from believing these different things, but how we act on those differences.

On that score, it is important for Jews to understand that the Catholic Church has, in recent generations, moved light years away from the spirit of the Disputation of Barcelona. Under the inspired leadership of Pope John XXIII and later Pope John Paul II, the Vatican discarded the teaching of contempt for Judaism, and introduced new curricula in their schools and churches based on respect for Judaism and recognition of past persecutions.

As for proselytizing, unlike many Protestant denominations, the church has dropped campaigns to specifically target Jews for conversion.

Yet Jewish groups still fear that if the Vatican, in seeking to mollify its own liturgical conservative wing, moves away from the spirit of Vatican II, it will mean that Catholics no longer embrace John Paul II's beliefs that taught Catholics to think of Jews as their theological older brothers whose legitimacy should not be questioned.

That fear is genuine and it is based, in no small part, on the legacy of church-based missionizing that was rooted in compulsion and oppression of Jews.

But as Cardinal Kasper told Vatican Radio in another interview, the revised prayer "does not mean we are embarking on a mission" to convert Jews. Rather, they are just expressing their faith.

Jews and Catholics may have many things in common, but they do not accept the fundamentals of each other's religions. No less than in 1263, Christians believe theirs is the true path to salvation. Jews still disagree. In societies where religion rules all, such as most of the Islamic world, such theological differences are just as much a matter of life and death as they were in Barcelona during the Disputation.

Agreeing to Disagree

But in free societies such as our own, we can merely say, "vive la difference" and leave it at that, knowing none of us will be the worse for wear as a result of our contrasting views about the nature of eternity or divinity.

Genuine interfaith dialogue is not rooted in agreement, but rather, on agreement to disagree. The trick is to do so in a civil manner, and to avoid public attacks on each others' faiths that can only lead to discord and prejudice.

It is not for Jews to tell Catholics what to say in their prayers, any more than it is legitimate for them to go back to trying to censor the Jewish liturgy as they once did. Respect is a two-way street.

Rather than seek to turn Benedict's revival of the Tridentine mass into a major issue, what we need to do is to stop worrying about Catholic prayers, and instead continue the work of bringing the two faiths closer together in defense of Western freedoms.

This is a moment in history when the greatest challenge to religious freedom is not coming from the traditional sources of reaction within Christianity, such as those that sought to punish Nahmanides for defending Judaism at Barcelona. Instead, our challenge comes from forces within Islam that have already sought to censor the beliefs of Pope Benedict for defending the West. Their goal is to dismantle the entire edifice of tolerance that Jews and Christians have worked so hard to create.

Given that reality, this is not the time to pick fights over other people's prayers.

 

Reprinted with permission from Aish.com.

Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of Commentary magazine where he blogs at www.commentarymagazine.com.