Forgiving the Vatican

Congregants at Valley Beth Shalom heard an unusual plea for forgiveness at their Sept. 12
Selichot services. Monsignor Royale M. Vadakin, pastor of St. Anastasia Church in Los Angeles, spoke
of efforts on the part of the Vatican to address the “bad blood” between Catholics and Jews, so that
“the year 2000 and its millennium celebration may serve as a possible vehicle for reconciliation” among
the world’s religions.

“My presence here speaks louder than words — regardless of what I say or don’t say, we’ve
begun a journey,” Vadakin said. “For me, as a Catholic Christian, it is the courage to look at and
acknowledge the sinfulness, both individual and corporate, of the Shoah which rests within my faith
reality. For you, it is the patience to lead me to those painful moments and encourage me.”

Prior to the event, members of the congregation received a copy of the Vatican document, released in
March and titled “We Remember: A Reflection of the Shoah.” Developed by the Vatican Commission for
Religious Relations over a period of 11 years, the sometimes defensive report briefly examines the history
of Catholic prejudice against Jews in the time leading up to the Holocaust and the consequences of that
relationship. It then exhorts present-day Catholics to work toward preventing any future tragedies
fueled by bigotry and racism.

The monsignor called the report “an enabling document,” comparing it to the Nostra Aetate, a report
released in 1965 that decried anti-Semitism and eliminated the practice of blaming Jews for the death of
Jesus — thus providing the first basis for Jewish-Catholic relations.

While he lauded the sentiment behind the recent report, the monsignor upbraided the Vatican
Commission for its slow pace.

“I believe an 11-year period of hyped announcement was a tragic flaw. It seems to the Jewish
community and many Catholics as if much was promised but little produced,” he said. “My hope is that all
of us — especially Vatican commissions — may take deeply to heart the Torah wisdom that the pious
promise little but produce much.”

The monsignor later commented on the current situation in Poland, where Catholics have been
planting small crosses just outside the gates of Auschwitz.

“While the Church has not taken an official position on the matter, Cardinal Glemp [the local Church
authority in Poland] has asked his people to take down the small crosses,” Vadikin said, adding that,
while he understood the local Jewish community’s consternation, he hoped that the large cross erected
outside of the camp’s gates to honor a recent visit by the Pope would be allowed to remain.

Vadakin was asked to appear by VBS’ Rabbi Harold Schulweis, a longtime participant in
ecumenical peacemaking. Schulweis said that his decision to invite the monsignor was spurred,
in part, by his frustration with Jewish community leaders who did not take the Church’s report
seriously enough.

“I know the newspapers carried some reports, but most people [in the Jewish community] didn’t even
comment on it,” Schulweis said, shaking his head. “They don’t realize how important this is to both

The synagogue’s main sanctuary, which holds about 1,000 people, was filled to capacity for
Saturday’s event. In addition to Selichot worshipers, the audience included representatives of St.
Cyril’s and Our Lady of Grace churches, both in Encino. In honor of the monsignor and their other
Catholic guests, the VBS choir performed a special arrangement of Psalm 117 (known in Catholic
parlance as In Exitu Israel) in Latin and Hebrew, combining Sephardic cantillation with Gregorian chant.

After hearing the soaring blend of the two musical styles, Vadakin wryly remarked, “Perhaps we
all would have a greater understanding of each other if we simply sang our thoughts instead of
saying them.”