Vatican moves upset rabbis interfaith dialogue nixed

One was the Sept. 3 beatification of Pope Pius IX, the 19th century pontiff who was the last pope to keep Jews in the ghetto and who was behind the 1858 kidnapping of a young Jewish boy who had been secretly baptized as a baby.

The other was a Vatican document released Sept. 5 that rejected the idea that other faiths are equal to Catholicism.

The document, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's guardian of orthodoxy, said followers of other religions are "in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the church, have the fullness of the means of salvation."

Other Christian factions have "defects" too, it said.

"There exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him," it said.

To many observers, both the document and the beatification of Pius IX seemed out of step with the outreach to Jews and other faiths that has been a pillar of the papacy of Pope John Paul II.

The pope made self-examination and repentance for past sins — including anti-Semitism — a major theme of the 2000 Jubilee, or Holy Year.

This culminated with the pope's praying at the Western Wall during his pilgrimage last March to Israel.

These new "pronouncements of the church are surprising and inconsistent with the courageous steps of John Paul II," Leone Paserman, president of the Rome Jewish community, told reporters.

Tullia Zevi, a former president of the Italy's Jewish community, called the two developments "a cold shower after the optimism generated by the development of dialogue."