Mandel Baum House
+ Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney
14 May 2001
Last night Rabbi David quoted the Jewish saying that after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, the gift of prophecy is dead; so that those who claim to prophesy are either babes or fools.
Despite this, both of us have been condemned tonight, to talk on "the way ahead", but my ambitions are very limited for a number of good reasons. A bishop has to be planning for tomorrow, although Jesus himself told us not to worry too much. Tomorrow can take care of itself, we have worries enough today! And in the Catholic community there are scattered individuals who are so busy preparing for the future that they ignore and neglect today's responsibilities.
I speak too as one less wise; my normal condition, but in this case without extensive experience of ongoing dialogue, deep theological or sociological discussion on this vexed area of Jewish a Christian relations.
However I pray the psalms everyday, with all other Catholic priests; and I love them. I don't know how many priests, especially those suffering or in trouble who have told me how much the psalms have helped them.
In Rome 35 or 36 years ago our lecturer on the psalms told us they were unique in any literature. These were the years of Vatican II and all such claims were greeted sceptically by many students. I reserved my judgement and during the later years I have read something of the other great religions and found nothing to equal the psalms as a body of prayerful literature.
I have come to know and love my more deeply the writings of the great prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and especially Ezekiel, the strangest of them all. And I have come lately to study Elijah much more closely. For a long time I didn't understand his top billing among Jews and Christians and with Jesus himself! Now I believe he is particularly important, and for us now, because monotheism was nearly wiped out then by Jezebel and the prophets of Baal.
It was as a seminarian in the early '60s that I first heard a Rabbi speak, my friend Rabbi John Levi and I was upset by his energy and honesty. Then I probably considered him aggressive. I had grown up in a family which was strongly pro-Jewish, especially my father and I even wondered whether Rabbi Levi's claims about Christian ill treatment were accurate. Further study showed me, only too sadly that he was basically correct.
Many years ago I wrote a doctorate in history; Christian Church history. I have a respect for the past; know how messy and disconcerting and discomforting it can be. I recognise too the difficulty of adequately and accurately presenting the past, but we must face up to what is there, for good or ill. Then we can decide how to deal with it appropriately.
Occasionally people will say to me that the Jews complain too much about their sufferings in the past. Shouldn't we all look more to the future? Usually I reply that if we had lost 5 or 6 million of our co-religionists only sixty years ago, after many centuries of intermittent oppression of our minority status, then our sensitivities would be quite different too. I have visited Dachan and Auschwitz; terrible reminders of an unspeakable evil that must never be repeated. It is sobering to think that similar sufferings continued in the Soviet Gulags until fairly recently. In this life evil is never eliminated permanently.
These different sensitivities were brought home to me recently in trying to develop my views on the proposed anti-discrimination legislation in Victoria. My principal legal adviser was a brilliant young Jewish lawyer, a partner in his firm. While we weren't exactly of one mind when I did take a public position, I was forced to modify my position and certainly came to understand more adequately the attitudes of a smaller minority in a culture which still has a Christian majority and a good deal of Christian instinct, sometimes for ill as well as good, about it.
I know there are significant differences in the Jewish community too about how effective legislation can be in battling prejudice and discrimination as there are in every section of the community. But I am not opposed to limited, tight legislation outlawing incitement to racial or religious hatred.
It has been remarked that the Holocaust and the establishment of the state of Israel both changed public opinion in the Western world towards the Jewish people. These were powerful influences on Catholics too; but a particular catalyst for improved relations on the Catholic side came from Pope John Paul XXIII and the Second Vatican Council (1962-5).
John XXIII unleashed forces that he never dreamed of; he had no developed programme for where he wanted the Council to go; but he had realised, and truly, that the Catholic Church was caught in a suit of defensive armour, which was heavy, and sometimes a hindrance and ineffective in defence as well as attack. The Council provoked a cultural revolution in the Catholic community in the Western world, led by middle order functionaries more than the masses (unlike Mao's cultural revolution), which has sparked great losses in some countries a but there is no doubt that its encouragement of ecumenism among Christians by legitimate Catholic participation, and encouraging inter faith dialogue and co-operation has been a blessing in every sense.
As Pope John Paul II said at Assisi in 1986 "Either we learn to walk together in peace and harmony, or we drift apart and ruin ourselves and others". I have participated in some of these multi-faith celebrations, as recently as last Monday in the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings for the Centenary of Federation. Afterwards I turned to Rabbi John Levi who was sitting immediately behind me and said "well the Jewish contribution was the best" and my communications adviser said to me after "Yes, and the Christian contribution was probably the weakest".
For the Jubilee last year we had a memorial service for the victims of the Holocaust in St. Patrick's Cathedral and a number of Jews who were present claimed it was among the most beautiful they had attended.
We need to keep talking together; something that will remain a minority activity. But the attitudes of leaders, official or unofficial, are important in shaping the underlying attitudes of many others, community members and fellow travellers.
We need to keep speaking together, so that we respectfully listen to one another. This is not a ploy to get a message across; nor does it mean that we must agree. Nor does it mean that religious discussion has to abandon claims to truth. We are not condemned to relativism through speaking together; nor are we tacitly recognising that one religion is as good as another; not even claiming that religion is like musical taste, something that is quite difficult to validate!
Recently a man called Ulrich Schoen listed five aims in such a dialogue or conversation:
1) to dissolve misunderstandings
2) to improve relationships and know we are then better
3) to lessen fear and suspicion
4) to deepen faith in one's own religion
5) to create greater unity and co-operation
All of these seem to me to be worthwhile for present purposes.
Let me now list a few areas where we might be able to co-operate effectively:
a) to defend and promote belief in the one true God, the unutterable mystery of love. The growth of irreligion in Australia is most significant religious change over the last fifty years, and is part of the modern spread of secularism.
Catholics are not one people like Jews, but a great Church does have a cultural and historical momentum and modern bureaucracies can keep a shell performing efficiently, or seeming to do so. The denunciation of prophets bears on this challenge.
Psalm 23? Speaks of "man with clean hands and pure heart standing on the mountain of the Lord". In an age devoted to money and sometimes to sexual irresponsibility, the capacity to believe can atrophy. A significant challenge here!
b) Another important area of common effort could be the defence of the family. Patterns of divorce and remarriage; living in partnerships, of children affected by divorce; of increasing numbers of homeless children.
Not difficult to list the challenges, but more difficult to devise effective strategies.
Often not realised that no country in the Western world is producing a sufficient number of children to keep the population stable. Countries like Russia and Romania, Italy and Spain have started on a process of dramatic population decline. Jews and Christians might cooperate together to stress the blessings that children are the continuing importance of motherhood. A bit politically incorrect to do this a but it will be increasingly necessary.
c) Last night Rabbi David mentioned the dialogue between a Rabbi and the King of the Khazans, who pointed out that at that time Jews did not have political power and so were not exposed to the temptations of that power.
That is no longer the case in Israel. I am completely supportive of Israel's right to exist peacefully and regret that the recent initiative for peace has been squandered.
I am not going to comment particularly on developments there; I do not know the scene well enough and my area of responsibility is the Sydney Archdiocese.
But Jewish conduct of that necessary struggle will impinge on the situation of Jews throughout the world; the battle for world opinion is mightily important and racists will try to exploit every ambiguity and especially any explicit injustice.
Christians too regret the steady exodus of fellow Christians from so many parts of the Middle East, forced to migrate because of constant hostile pressures.
During the last 30 or 40 years there has been a significant reduction in the amount of Christian anti-Semitism. We thank God for that. To adapt to our circumstances the word of Martin Luther King "we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly". Our fortunes, as brothers, are inextricably linked.
The present Pope, John Paul II has also contributed significantly to the progress and consolidation of Jewish-Christian relations. His visit to the synagogue in Rome, his successful visit to Israel last year; the 1994 Vatican recognition of the State of Israel.By coincidence I was in Rome and present at Castel Gandolfo when the Israeli ambassador first presented his credentials. All these things have helped.
There is no doubt that his years at Wadowice at school with the local Jewish boys and girls; playing together in the same soccer team; seeing their dispersion and execution played an essential role in his leadership in this area.
A particularly poignant moment was when the Pope prayed at the Temple Wall and I will conclude with the written prayer he left in a crevice in this wall:
"God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your Name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those, who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant."