Welby's statement on Christian-Jewish relations welcomed

By Callum May
BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

Jewish leaders have welcomed a statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said the Church had been partly responsible for the spread of anti-Semitism.

In an article published in a book by the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Most Reverend Justin Welby called anti-Semitism an "insidious evil".

He added: "It is a shameful truth that, through its theological teachings, the Church, which should have offered an antidote, compounded the spread of this virus."

The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, called the archbishop's words "powerful and timely".

In the article, Archbishop Welby said Christians should be "deeply repentant" for the fact that anti-Semitism had "infected the body of the Church.

"We live with the consequences of our history of denial and complicity," he said.

Christians' public attitudes to Jews have changed since the middle of the 20th Century.

Catholics still pray on Good Friday that Jews will convert to Christianity. But references to "perfidious Jews" and "blindness" - which once formed parts of Church services - have been removed.

Pope John XXIII intervened more than 50 years ago, ordering that the Latin word "perfidis", meaning "faithless", be removed.

The word was controversial because of its similarity to the English term "perfidious", which is used as a synonym for "treacherous".

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Pope Benedict XVI changed a prayer used in the Tridentine rite to remove a reference to "the blindness of that people"

And in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI altered the prayer used in the Tridentine rite, or extraordinary form of the liturgy, removing a reference to "the blindness of that people".

The Church of England's Good Friday liturgy now asks God to take "all blindness and bitterness of heart" from both Jews and Christians.

Mr Arkush said Christians had sometimes been to blame for anti-Semitism "permeating European thought" for thousands of years.

He said that in modern times, it became evident in the debate about Israel and the Palestinians.

"You have such incidents as anti-Israel Christians appropriating Jesus as a Palestinian and saying that Israel (or the collective Jew) is crucifying Jesus anew," he said.

"Such language is inflammatory and untrue."

Dr Ed Kessler, the director of the Woolf Institute in Cambridge for the study of relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims, said it was "too easy" to say that criticism of the state of Israel by Christians could always be anti-Semitic.

But he said the appropriation of Jesus in such a way could be perceived as anti-Semitism.

"Justin Welby's words epitomise a soul change in Christian-Jewish relations since the end of the Second World War and the Holocaust," he said.

"Christianity has shifted from what was, for the most part, an inherent need to condemn Judaism to one of a condemnation of anti-Judaism and warning about the ongoing threat of anti-Semitism.

"This shift has led not to a separation from all things Jewish but, in fact, to a closer relationship with 'the elder brother'."