Archbishop Gomez addresses AJC

Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez spoke about Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s election as pope of the Roman Catholic Church, immigration reform and Catholic-Jewish relations during a dialogue organized by the American Jewish Committee of Los Angeles (AJC) on March 19.

“I know there’s a long history of cooperation between Jewish and Catholic communities in Los Angeles,” Gomez said during the event held at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel near Westwood. “I know that the AJC has been at the center of this. As we go forward on our journey together, I look forward to deepening our friendship and deepening the mutual ties that unite us in truth, respect and goodness.”

A 61-year-old native of Monterrey, Mexico, Gomez called Bergoglio — who took the name Francis upon his election as pope just days before the AJC event — “a humble and holy priest with a deep love for the poor” and “a faithful friend to the Jewish people.”

On the topic of immigration, Gomez, spiritual leader of the largest diocese in the United States and the first Latino to serve in the position, said he supports “comprehensive reform.”

The AJC event, “Bonds of Friendship and Fellowship: An Evening With the Most Reverend Jose H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles,” paired Gomez with Rabbi Mark Diamond, regional director of AJC Los Angeles.

During the gathering, Gomez and Diamond, who are both members of the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders, delivered remarks and participated in a Q-and-A with the audience.

Approximately 150 people attended the program, including AJC leaders and lay leaders; partners of the diocese and AJC; community leaders and diplomats. Clifford Goldstein, AJC Los Angeles regional president, gave introductory remarks; Bruce Ramer, an attorney and former national president of AJC, moderated the Q-and-A and David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, also spoke.

Immigration was a major point of discussion. As a group of senators in Washington hash out a bill on immigration reform, Gomez and Diamond said they support instituting a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States, among other changes.

“AJC is a leader, along with the church, in national efforts to fix our broken immigration system, and that must include family reunification, full path to earned citizenship for those in the country, employment-visa reform and effective main border patrols that safeguards our national security,” Diamond said. “Archbishop, AJC pledges to work side-by-side with you, the archdiocese, to promote, to achieve and to implement bipartisan immigration reform.”

Gomez said that he had participated in a meeting focusing on the immigration issue with President Barack Obama at the White House just two weeks before, along with Mark Hetfield, president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

“I think we all walked way from the meeting feeling like the president agreed with our concerns,” Gomez said.

A problem with the immigration debate is that “we have lost our ability to talk about issues in religious and moral terms,” Gomez said. “We have become more and more a secular society.”

When Gomez said that when he hears that the Obama administration deported more than 400,000 illegal immigrants in 2012, he thinks, “These are not statistics, these are souls.”

Diamond, as the head of AJC’s local chapter and as the former executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, has established robust interfaith relationships and has served as a Jewish liaison to international consulates in Los Angeles.

“This evening’s program is the latest manifestation of our [Jews and Catholics’] evolving and maturing relationship,” Diamond said.

The once-fraught relations between the two religious groups underwent a turning point after World War II, especially in 1965, when the Second Vatican Council issued “Nostra Aetate,” a declaration that said that Jews could not be held responsible for the death of Jesus, that Jews and Christians share patrimony and also denounced anti-Semitism, Diamond said.

In Los Angeles, rabbis and priests participate in dialogues and study seminars and there has been a joint exhibition of Christian and Jewish and art at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Passover seders for Jewish and Catholic clergy and laity have taken place and interfaith missions have traveled to the Vatican and Israel, he added.

Siegel said that he participated in negotiations between the Vatican and the Israeli government 20 years ago as a young diplomat.

“Since that time, I’ve seen this relationship evolve, strengthen and prosper, and I have to tell you, this moment in our history [with the election of Francis, the first pope from the Americas] is truly extraordinary,” he said.

After Gomez spoke for about 20 minutes at the event, Diamond delivered a response of about the same length. Then questions from the audience explored several topics.

Gomez declined to speak for the church on several topics. When asked if the Catholic Church has a role in bringing about negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Gomez responded, “I am just the archbishop of Los Angeles.”

His answer was the same when an audience member wanted to know if the church was concerned with “Islamic Jihadism.” But, he added, “We need to make clear that violence has nothing to do with religion.”

Diamond chimed in, saying that Catholic-Jewish relations should be a model for Jewish-Muslim relations and for Muslim-Catholic relations.

S.F. archbishop raps proposed circumcision ban

San Francisco’s Catholic archbishop expressed his opposition to a city ballot initiative that would ban circumcision for minors.

Archbishop George Niederauer condemned the initiative in a May 23 letter sent to the San Francisco Chronicle, his archdiocese’s newspaper reported.

“Although the issue does not concern Christians directly, as a religious leader I can only view with alarm the prospect that this misguided initiative would make it illegal for Jews and Muslims who practice their religion to live in San Francisco—for that is what the passage of such a law would mean,” he wrote.

“Apart from the religious aspect, the citizens of San Francisco should be outraged at the prospect of city government dictating to parents in such a sensitive matter regarding the health and hygiene of their children.”

The initiative garnered enough petition signatures to appear on the city’s Nov. 8 ballot. Jewish groups have condemned the proposed ban and have been joined in their opposition by the San Francisco Interfaith Council.

The Cardinal Comes to the Board of Rabbis

In a historic address to the Board of Rabbis of Southern California last week, Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, called for the elimination of centuries of Catholic and Christian anti-Semitic teaching and a new era of Catholic-Jewish understanding and cooperation.

Praising pioneering efforts of Los Angeles Catholics and Jews in ongoing dialogue between the two faiths, Mahony told about 70 rabbinical, church and Jewish community leaders at the Los Angeles Jewish Federation that “the prospects for Catholic-Jewish relations in the 21st century are more promising than at any other point in our shared history.”

In earlier periods, Mahony admitted, “the Christian conscience vis-à-vis the Jews had been lulled.” But the doctrine of “Nostra Aetate” — the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 declaration on the church’s relations with non-Christian religions — articulated for Catholics a new understanding of Jews and Judaism, an understanding in which there is not the slightest hint of contempt, and not an iota of a ‘conversionist’ agenda,” he said. Even though this new Catholic understanding had yet to be fully implemented, the cardinal conceded, “I can assure you that we are well under way.”

In his half-hour of prepared remarks, Mahony suggested several goals for Catholic-Jewish relations in the next century. Among them: the elimination of all vestiges of anti-Judaism and anti-Jew — commonly known as “the teaching of contempt” — from Catholic preaching and teaching, as well as deeper Jewish understanding of Christianity; just as Christians are correcting ancient stereotypes about Judaism, Jews must overcome deep misunderstanding and ignorance of church life and practice, Mahony said. Since both the Catholic and Jewish communities have long histories of responding to the needs of impoverished immigrant groups, Mahony suggested the two groups join in helping Los Angeles’ vast numbers of inner-city poor. In the wake of the controversial Vatican Document — “We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah,” issued last March — the two faiths should undertake joint studies as well as institutionalize Holocaust studies in elementary, secondary and college schools and religious education programs, Mahony said. “The goal,” Mahony declared, “is nothing less than the healing of memory in order to frame a common understanding upon which to base educational programming for future generations.”

Beginning with the Lenten season 1999 through 2000, Pope John Paul II is going to be “much more specific about asking for forgiveness,” Mahony said in response to a question on why the church hadn’t spoken out more forcefully against clerics who actively aided Hitler or stood idly by while Jews were deported.

Mahony also roundly condemned the murder of a New York doctor who performed legal abortions. “How anyone in their right mind could be ‘pro-life’ and shoot somebody is such a complete contradiction that it just doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

The cardinal’s address, at the invitation of Board of Rabbis President Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark, marked the first time that a Los Angeles cardinal had spoken to the religious body, Goldmark said. “I think it says a lot about this one man that not only did he come to this Jewish group… but he was very open to being asked serious, if not difficult questions.”

Having someone of Mahony’s stature address the rabbinical body “is a gesture that can’t be overstated,” observed Board of Rabbis Executive Vice President Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson. “He was willing to come to us and spend generously of his time with us because it’s important to him, and it’s important to where the church is today.” The cardinal’s suggestion that Jews reciprocate Catholic efforts at tolerance and understanding by learning more about Catholicism is well founded, Artson added. “We have demanded of Catholicism that it reassess its position about Jews and Judaism, and [yet]… many Jews treat the Catholic Church as if it’s still the year 1492.”

In a written response to the cardinal’s speech, Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom praised Mahony for being “one of the first individuals to lend his name and prestige to the organization of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous which helps support over 1,500 Christian rescuers who risked their lives to save Jews from Nazi predators.” Since Jews and Catholics are “family,” Schulweis said, “we can expect in the coming millennium many irritants that come from families such as those we have experienced in the question of the crosses and churches of Auschwitz and the canonization of [Jewish-born nun who perished in Auschwitz] Edith Stein.” But, he cautioned, it is also important to hold onto hope and not to focus exclusively on the tragic and bitter past.