Vatican City: Catholics should not try to convert Jews and should work with them to fight anti-Semitism, the Vatican said on Thursday in a major document drawing the Church further away from the strained relations of the past.
It was the latest move on a host of issues, such as gay rights and re-marriage, that the Vatican or Pope Francis have made showing a desire to be more compassionate and open and to move further away from entrenched traditions.
In the past, for example, Catholic prayers have denounced Jews for not believing in Jesus. Jews have also accused the World War Two papacy of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust, a charge the Vatican denies.
The new document from the Vatican`s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews stressed recent Vatican teachings that the two religions were intertwined and that God had never annulled his covenant with the Jewish people.
"The Church is therefore obliged to view evangelisation (spreading Christianity) to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views," it said.
It also said Catholics should be particularly sensitive about the significance to Jews of the Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust, and pledged "to do all that is possible with our Jewish friends to repel anti-Semitic tendencies".
"A Christian can never be an anti-Semite, especially because of the Jewish roots of Christianity," it said.
The document coincided with the 50th anniversary of a Vatican repudiation of the concept of collective Jewish guilt for Jesus` death and the launch of a theological dialogue that traditionalists have rejected.
They believe there should be a so-called "Jewish mission" to convert Jews because they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Such traditionalists were therefore bound to be displeased by the document`s words on conversion, a senior Vatican official said.
"In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews," said the document, adding that there was a "principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission".
"This is the first formal document that makes it clear there is no intentional desire to actively proselytise amongst Jews," Rabbi David Rosen, international director of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told Reuters.
Rosen, who is based in Jerusalem, has been a key figure in formal theological dialogue with the Vatican for decades.