October 2, 1998
WASHINGTON --In an advisory to the Catholic Bishops onthe upcoming canonization of Edith Stein (Blessed Benedicta of the
Cross), Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore said the canonization can
be the catalyst for a significant historical and theological dialogue
between Christians and Jews.
Edith Stein was born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1891. A writer
and teacher, she became an atheist, converted to Catholicism, and
eventually entered the Carmelite religious order. She was executed by
the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1942. Pope John Paul II is scheduled to
canonize Blessed Benedicta at the Vatican on October 11.
Cardinal Keeler is Episcopal Moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations,
National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). He was Chairman of the
Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA),
which issued an advisory concerning appropriate understandings for
Catholic veneration of Sister Benedicta of the Cross, in 1987, the year
in which she was beatified.
The NCCB General Secretariat sent the "Advisory on the Implications for
Catholic-Jewish Relations of the Canonization of Edith Stein" to all
Catholic Bishops in the United States on October 2.
Cardinal Keeler said the present statement renews the earlier advisory
and updates it based on insights gained through Catholic-Jewish dialogue
in the intervening decade.
He said the 1987 advisory sought to address two underlying Jewish
concerns. The first concern was that the raising up of a convert of
Jewish background for Catholic veneration might
occasion the development of organized movements within the Church to
proselytize and convert other Jews.
But Cardinal Keeler said there has been no hint of an organized
conversionary effort using Edith Stein's name being developed among
"Her intellectual and spiritual journey, from which Catholics have so
much to learn, is presented as her own, a model for Catholics, not a
model for Jews," Cardinal Keeler said. "Meditation on and emulation of
Blessed Benedicta of the Cross will deepen the faith of Catholics and,
properly understood, should lead Catholics to a deeper appreciation of
the spiritual richness and integrity of Judaism, the faith to which God
has called the Jewish people," he stated.
The second major Jewish concern addressed in the 1987 advisory was that
raising up the figure of a Jewish convert as symbolic of the millions of
victims of the Shoah might lead to an "appropriation" by the Church of
the Holocaust itself by making it seem that the Church, not the Jewish
people, was the primary victim of Nazi genocide. In response, Cardinal
Keeler cited and reinforced the earlier statement by the BCEIA:
"We see the beatification of Edith Stein as a unique occasion for joint
Catholic-Jewish reflection and reconciliation. In honoring Edith Stein,
the Church wishes to honor all the millions of Jewish victims of the
Shoah. Christian veneration of Edith Stein does not lessen but rather
strengthens our need to preserve and honor the memory of the Jewish
victims. Catholic veneration of Edith Stein will necessarily contribute
to a continuing and deepened examination of conscience regarding sins
of commission and omission perpetrated by Christians against Jews during
the dark years of World War II, as well as reflections on those
Christians who risked their very lives to save their Jewish brothers and
In this same context, Cardinal Keeler also cited numerous statements of
the Holy Father calling the Church to repentance for the Shoah, a series
of statements by Bishops' Conferences both in Europe and the United
States, and especially the statement last March of the Holy See's
Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, We Remember.
Text of Cardinal Keeler's "Advisory on the Implications for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the Canonization of Edith Stein"