Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 13, 2008
Local priest named to Vatican commission
Fr. Frizzell has given decades to Catholic Jewish relations
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
South Orange, N.J.
Relations between Jews and Catholics are filled with tensions and challenges but are always inching forward, says Father Lawrence Frizzell.
Frizzell cited the recognition of the State of Israel by the Holy See in 1993 and many of the activities of Pope John Paul II as great steps forward in the betterment of relations between the two world religions.
“So we are building on that but every once in a while there comes a challenging point,” the priest said in an interview.
An Edmonton archdiocesan priest who has been doing interfaith work and teaching at Seton Hall University since 1974, Frizzell was recently named consultant to the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
Frizzell said one current challenge in Catholic-Jewish relations centres on the proposed canonization of Pope Pius XII, who some maintain did not do all he could to challenge the Nazi treatment of Jews.
The Jewish community and the Catholic Church have a longstanding dispute over the pope’s wartime record, which Jews hold was, at best, one of benign neglect and Catholics maintain was morally exemplary.
Frizzell addressed the issue in 1988 during joint discussion on the Holocaust. He and others are now organizing a conference in Washington, D.C., in May next year to again discuss the issue.
“Very few people would think (Pius XII) collaborated (with the Nazis) and many Jews are respectful and appreciative of what the pope did (to save lives),” Frizzell said.
“(But) there are people who don’t think the pope spoke out actively enough and so this is the question of debate.
“Nobody can be said to have done enough during that terrible period of the Nazis but the question in my mind is did Pope Pius XII do his best under the circumstances?”
The idea is “to learn lessons from this historical period” and apply those lessons to modern challenges, he said.
Frizzell said his five-year appointment— along with four others — as consultant to the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews is “a great honour for me.”
The Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews is part of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, whose president is Cardinal Walter Kasper.
Since the Second Vatican Council, the presence of this commission within the Council for Promoting Christian Unity has been considered symbolic of the unique relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish People.
The commission engages in ongoing dialogue with the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultation (IJCIC), the umbrella for all Jewish organizations with an outreach to other religious communities.
The purpose of the dialogue between Catholics and Jews is not to try to convert each other but to learn from each other, Frizzell said.
“We are talking about dialogue and dialogue means that we respect the people who have the conviction about their own faith experience and we want to share and learn rather than enter into polemics, arguments and fighting with each other.”
Frizzell was ordained for the Edmonton Archdiocese in 1962. A native of Trochu, Frizzell was educated at St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton and St. Paul’s University in Ottawa.
He earned a doctorate from the University of Oxford, England, where his dissertation focused on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He spent three years of biblical study in Jerusalem, Athens and Rome before returning to Edmonton to teach at St. Joseph Seminary.
In 1974 he became a professor of Jewish Christian studies at Seton Hall University and helped found the university’s master’s program in Jewish-Christian studies, the first anywhere.
In 1994 he became head of the institute, succeeding Msgr. John Oesterreicher, who founded the institute in 1953 and headed it until his death in 1993. Frizzell taught summer courses at Newman Theological Colege for 25 years until 1988.
In response to a question, Frizzell said Catholics must realize the richness of the Jewish background.
“St. Paul certainly drew upon his experience as a very devout Jew but after his conversion to the Christian faith of course he saw everything in the light of Christ,” he noted.
“Yet there is continuity in God’s plan and that’s what we want to examine and see how Jewish people can collaborate in our time with God’s divine plan that all children of Israel should be able to work together somehow.”