The Vatican's influential Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who upset Jewish leaders last year with published remarks suggesting that Judaism finds its fulfillment in Christianity, told reporters here that Roman Catholics do respect the Jews' understanding of their own Scripture and faith. "They are the owners of the Old Testament," he said.
But key rabbis in the turbulent international Jewish-Catholic dialogue, who declined to meet with Ratzinger at an informal reception here, said that further clarification of Ratzinger's views is still needed in a formal setting.
"It (would be) imprudent to make a judgment about what his actual systematic views are about Jews and Judaism on the basis of a social tea party with him and his answer to one question at a news conference," said Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations.
Tanenbaum and two other members of the committee decided not to meet with Ratzinger at the residence of New York Cardinal John O'Connor on Wednesday. Tanenbaum said it would be inappropriate, and possibly misunderstood, if the Jewish committee members met him socially as individuals before a formal meeting being arranged with their Vatican counterparts.
Ratzinger's remarks last fall were only the latest source of Jewish-Catholic friction in 1987. The biggest furor arose over Pope John Paul II's Vatican audience in June for Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, who has been accused of complicity in Nazi war crimes.
Ratzinger, the highest-ranking doctrinal authority under the Pope, was quoted in an Italian publication last October as saying that the Catholic Church, in dialogue with Jewish leaders, should pursue the theological stance that Judaism finds its fulfillment in Christianity.
He later amplified his statements by saying that, "for us," the Jewish faith finds completion in Christianity. However, Jewish spokesmen said then that his views still seemed to fall short of church and papal statements declaring that God's unique covenant with the Jewish people still stands.
At a news conference Thursday held in connection with a conference on biblical scholarship, Ratzinger was asked whether Catholics can enter into dialogue believing that the Old Testament has its own integrity or if they have to say the Old Testament is incomplete without the New Testament.
Ratzinger's answer was two-fold: "I think that good Christian theology must study profoundly the Old Testament and must also hear the Jewish interpretation, because they are the owners of the Old Testament. . . . New Testament is also Scripture in the sense that it gives Christians the key to the Old Testament, and without the Old Testament the New Testament could (have) nothing to give us."
Secondly, he said, the special point of the dialogue must be that Christians regard the New Testament as a "partial" fulfillment of the Old Testament--yet not the complete fulfillment because the Christian Scriptures speak of the kingdom of God still to come. "Jews would say this is not the case and we must respect (their) position." Ratzinger added that he was sure that Jewish partners in the dialogues also respect the Catholic position, "so about this point I think they can have a good dialogue."
Told of Ratzinger's statement Thursday, Rabbi Henry D. Michelman, executive director of the Synagogue Council of America, which represents the three major branches of Judaism, said, "I don't see any clarification. I don't see any particular step forward."
A more favorable view of Ratzinger's visit was expressed by Rabbi James Rudin, the national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee. Rudin said in an interview that he was one of six rabbis who attended the Ratzinger reception at O'Connor's residence and that he found the Vatican official's news conference comments to be "useful."
Tanenbaum said, "The most important thing out of his visit here was his apparent willingness to engage in some serious discussion. I welcome that, if that is his intention."
The main reason for Ratzinger's rare U.S. visit was to lecture here Wednesday on the state of Catholic biblical scholarship, which he heavily criticized as shorn of any significant supernatural message.
Elaborating on his Wednesday lecture, Ratzinger said Thursday that fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible "cannot be an answer to our problems because it's naive." He said that some form of historical-critical methods must be used to understand the historical context of each book of the Bible. Father Raymond E. Brown, who also gave a talk here, told reporters that in the United States the Catholic Church loses "infinitely more" members to fundamentalist media preachers than it does because of rarely taught, liberal Bible interpretations.