New S.F. archbishop supports Jewish ties

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San Francisco's new archbishop said this week he hopes to broaden the "very good relations" his predecessor shared with the Bay Area Jewish community.

"I hope I can build on that and continue it," Archbishop William Levada told about 30 American Jewish Committee regional board members Monday afternoon.

Levada, a conservative theologian who replaced the liberal to moderate Archbishop John Quinn in December, offered an overview of modern Catholic theology in a half-hour speech.

Responding to a question about infrequent but recurring references to Jews as "Christ killers" among Catholic clergy in Eastern Europe and Latin America, Levada condemned any Catholic who today would hold Jews responsible for the death of Jesus.

The Second Vatican Council's 1965 Nostra Aetate declaration states that Jesus died freely for "the sins of men and out of infinite love," according to the text reprinted in the Encyclopaedia Judaica.

"You aren't authorized to add an anti-Semitic interpretation," Levada said.

During his nine years as Portland's archbishop before coming to San Francisco, Levada said, he became the first bishop in the United States to speak at a synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath.

"I thought if the pope can go to the synagogue in Rome, that was a good example," the 59-year-old cleric said.

Levada, whose archdiocese covers San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties, already has accepted several invitations from the Jewish community since his local appointment.

At a March 5 memorial service in San Francisco for the victims of a string of suicide bombings in Israel, Levada sat with rabbis on Congregation Sherith Israel's bimah and offered a prayer for the dead and injured.

The archbishop said he didn't realize the significance of his appearance at the memorial service until he watched a TV news clip a few days later of a U.C. Berkeley student rally backing the militant Islamic terrorists.

"I was astonished to see and listen to this unrepentant, aggressive support," he said in a short interview after the speech. "It came home to me that my inclusion in the ceremony was important as an expression of solidarity from the larger community."

He was one of six archbishops who signed a March 17 advertisement blasting the suicide bombings and supporting Israel. The New York Times ad, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, included about 280 signatures of national religious, political, academic and business leaders.

Levada also has accepted an invitation to participate in upcoming Jerusalem 3000 events, sponsored by Bay Area Jewish community groups.