Tensions Linger As Pope Readies for Synagogue Visit

January 8, 2010

Author: Francis X. Rocca

Source: Religion News Service


When Pope Bene dict XVI visits Rome’s main synagogue next Sunday (Jan. 17) to mark Italy’s 21st annual Day of Jewish-Christian Reflection, the setting alone will reflect a momentous event in Jewish-Catholic relations.

The Great Synagogue of Rome stands inside the city’s former Jewish ghetto, where for centuries (from 1555 to 1870) Rome’s Jews lived behind locked gates and were treated as pariahs by orders of the Vatican.

In going there now, Benedict follows in the footsteps of his predecessor Pope John Paul II, whose 1986 visit was the first time a pope had entered a Jewish house of worship since the early centuries of Christianity.

Benedict’s repeat visit represents the “institutionalization” of John Paul’s historic overture, setting a precedent that “will be very hard for any successor to ignore,” said Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

Still, Benedict’s visit also comes at a moment of heightened tension between Jews and the Catholic Church. Several recent controversies have raised doubts—which Rosen calls “unjustified”—about Benedict’s commitment to strong relations between the two faiths.