Pope stresses lack of Jewish blame
The pope has made a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people over the death of Jesus in a new book, tackling one of the most controversial issues in Christianity.
In excerpts from "Jesus of Nazareth" released on Wednesday, the pope uses a biblical and theological analysis to explain why it is not true that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for Jesus' death.
Interpretations to the contrary have been used for centuries to justify the persecution of Jews.
While the Vatican has for five decades taught that Jews were not collectively responsible, Jewish scholars have said the argument laid out by the pontiff, who has had his share of mishaps with Jews, was significant and would help fight anti-Semitism.
"There's a natural human tendency to take things for granted, and very often this tends to lead to a lapse in awareness and consciousness" about the risk of anti-Semitism, said Rabbi David Rosen, head of inter-religious affairs at the American Jewish Committee and a leader in Vatican-Jewish dialogue.
He noted that the Vatican issued its most authoritative document on the issue in 1965, "Nostra Aetate," which revolutionised the Catholic Church's relations with Jews by saying Christ's death could not be attributed to Jews as a whole at the time or today.
Rabbi Rosen said the pope's words might make a bigger, more lasting mark because the faithful tend to read Scripture and commentary more so than church documents, particularly old church documents.
"It may be an obvious thing for Jews to present texts with commentaries, but normally with church magisterium, they present a document," he said. "This is a pedagogical tool that he's providing, so people will be able to interpret the text in keeping with orthodox Vatican teaching."
The book is the second instalment to the pope's 2007 "Jesus of Nazareth," his first book as pope, which offered a very personal meditation on the early years of Christ's life and teachings.
This second instalment, set to be released on March 10, concerns the second half of Christ's life, his death and resurrection.