Three Catholic cardinals spur a sea change in religious history

“Cushing, Spellman, O’Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations,” by Rabbi James Rudin. Eerdmans. 157 pages. $18.00.

Rabbi James Rudin provides a well-researched yet easily accessible insider’s view on the how the Second Vatican Council’s statement against anti-Semitism came into being. In particular, he underscores the roles of two Influential men – Cushing and Spellman – in gaining support for the transformative “Nostra Aetate” document that finally became official Vatican policy in 1965. 

Rabbi Rudin prepares for his main narrative by backgrounding the history of Jewish-Catholic relationships over the centuries. In so doing he details the two major stumbling blocks to accommodation. One was the promulgation of the concept that Christianity, rooted in the covenant of the New Testament, rendered the Israelite covenant with the one God obsolete and irrelevant. The “replacement theology” that made Christianity spiritually the New Israel and the only path to redemption could never create harmonious relationships with a people who continued, in spite of all forces turned against it, to maintain itself as a viable, powerful faith tradition.

The second was the inherited view, based on faulty history, that the Jews were Christ-killers.

The author shows how both of these concepts nourished anti-Semitism and possibly even fed the flames of hatred that culminated in the Holocaust.

His detailed biographies of the theologically conservative Richard James Cushing and Francis Joseph Spellman, contemporaries with very different personalities, help Rabbi Rudin explain how each man prepared himself to take advantage of a moment in history at which their personal power, political influence, and largely unexpected commitment to a new vision could bring forth a strong majority vote in favor of the “Declaration on Jews and Judaism” that concluded the Second Vatican Council.

Rabbi James Rudin

Of particular interest is Rabbi Rudin’s section on “The Art of Romanita” in his biography of Cardinal Spellman. He defines this term “as the art of subtly bestowing personal favors to cement friendships” which later could be “converted into influence for the individuals who had provided the favors.” Rabbi Rudin writes, “Spellman practiced ‘Romanita’ better than anyone else within the global Catholic Church.” He used his mastery of this art quite well in the service of the Second Vatican Council.

Rabbi Rudin takes us through the endless rewrites (primarily by Cardinal Bea), the strenuous politicking, and the persuasive speeches of Cardinals Cushing and Spellman that eventuated in the “Nostra Aetate” and the opening of new possibilities. He also points out the fragility of this new teaching in the light of the engrained anti-Jewish hostility that is still part of Catholic tradition. The Declaration needed and still needs ongoing support, constant positive action by Catholic and Jewish leaders, to maintain its vision and force.

In this regard, the exemplary figure was the third American Catholic giant, Cardinal John O’Connor, whose efforts a generation later brought forth important results. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the March  14, 2012 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and in the March 15 Naples and Palm Beach Gardens editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Rabbi Rudin pdf

For more on Rabbi Rudin, click here: Florida Weekly – James Rudin Review  and here: Florida Weekly – James Rudin Profile

This piece was reprinted in the October 2012 issues of the Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties) and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota /Manatee).

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors, Jewish Themes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s