Robert P. George, a leading conservative Catholic intellectual and author who teaches at Princeton(and a member of the Deseret News editorial board), said Nostra Aetate wasn't really a new declaration. "The teaching of the church had always been that the responsibility for the death of Christ ultimately lay with each sinner, and that means every human being … and it was for our sins that Christ died," George said. "But certainly the prejudice against Jews historically associated with Christian teaching was taught, in many cases even by church men. But that doesn't mean it was the teaching of the church. It was just the individual beliefs of some that the Jews had special responsibility for the death of Christ. And that was formally and decisively repudiated at the Second Vatican Council."
George said Pope John Paul II, who spoke Yiddish, had a special bond with Jewish people and went beyond Nostra Aetate. Pope John Paul declared anti-Semitism as a grave sin and called the Jews "our brothers" in the faith.
George also said that Pope Benedict "is looking to make gestures of his own." The Pope has issued the new book in his own name as author and not as an official Papal document — thus making it a more personal expression. "He found a way to make a personal gesture — speaking in his own name, Joseph Ratzinger, not as Pope."
David Elcott, is the Taub Professor of Practice in Public Service and Leadership at the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University and has worked in the past on interreligious dialogue for the American Jewish Committee. He sees the Pope's gesture as an acknowledgement that he doesn't just write for the Catholic Church but realizes that his words are also significant for those outside the church. "When the Pope writes this book, he understands this very well," Elcott said. "He is doing a beautiful homiletic on the text. This is exactly what I would expect to see. Of course, the power is that he is the Pope. And in doing this, this becomes normative for the Catholic community."
Chadwick said there is one more way that his and the Pope's identification of the Sadducees adds a new twist to the debate. At the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in A.D. 70, the Sadducees were virtually wiped out as a result of the Jewish uprising against the Romans. "The only Jewish party that survived the war with Rome were the Pharisees," Chadwick said. "What that means is that there are no Jews today anywhere who are descendants of the Jews who plotted against and essentially brought about the death of Christ."
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