Fifty-two years ago on this day, October 28th, the Catholic Church officially stopped blaming the Jewish people for the death of Jesus. This ground-breaking statement came after more than a millennia of hatred, persecution and destruction that was far too often spurred on by the writings and preachings of the Catholic Church. The revocation of this centuries-old accusation was part of a document known as Nostra Aetate, “In Our Time,” that was issued during the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) in 1965. Its title in English is “Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions,” and, as such, discusses the Church’s relationship with Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. However, the section relating to Judaism constitutes about 1/3 of the document.

What brought about this dramatic change? After the Holocaust, there was a great deal of soul-searching about how the world could allow the attempted annihilation of the Jews to take place. In 1958, Archbishop Roncalli, who had served in Istanbul during the war and was involved in saving scores of Jews, was elected Pope John XXIII. Having read the work of French Historian and educator Jules Isaac, who, just after the war, published his research on the underlying anti-Semitism in the Gospels and Church documents, Pope John XXIII realized the culpability of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust, and acknowledged that, at the very least, it provoked the underlying anti-Semitism of the populace. He appointed Cardinal Augustine Bea to research and draft a document dealing with the Church’s anti-Semitism.

Pope John XXIII passed away in 1963, but his successor, Pope Paul VI continued the re-evaluation process, presenting the Nostra Aetete at the Second Vatican Council. Not only did this document revoke the accusation of the Jews killing Jesus and repudiate persecution of the Jews, it also recognized the Church’s roots in Judaism and the eternal, unbreakable nature of the covenant between God and the Jewish people.

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