In recent months, Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis has made defamatory statements concerning his bishop, Most Reverend Kevin C. Rhoades of Harrisburg. These statements have arisen in the context of Sungenis’ writings concerning Judaism and the Jewish people, which many, including Bishop Rhoades, have found to be hostile, uncharitable, and un-Christian in their tone and erroneous in their content. Further, such writings, while purporting to present authentic Catholic teaching, do not follow the teaching and approach of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI on this subject.
For that reason, Bishop Rhoades recently answered a series of questions in order to present clearly the Church’s teaching regarding her relationship with the Jewish people.
(1) Do you believe that the Jewish people have their own independent salvific covenant with God, apart from Jesus Christ, so that there are two independent saving covenants in effect today, one for Jews and one for Gentiles?
Bishop Rhoades: I have always believed and taught that Christ established a new and eternal covenant through his own death and resurrection. I have always believed and taught that this is the definitive covenant which will never pass away. I do not believe that the Jewish people have their own independent salvific covenant with God, apart from Jesus Christ. It is not correct to speak of two independent saving covenants in effect today, one for Jews and one for Gentiles, since Jesus is the only Savior, who continues His saving work in the Church and by means of the Church, His Body. There is only one salvific economy. As Pope John Paul II taught in the encyclical Redemptoris Missio, “No one, therefore, can enter into communion with God except through Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit.” I have always affirmed the unicity and universality of the salvific mystery of Jesus Christ. The salvation possible for our Jewish brothers and sisters, indeed for any person, is only through the grace of Christ.
(2) Do you believe that anyone reaches heaven without the mediation of Jesus Christ?
Bishop Rhoades: I think your second question is answered above, but I will repeat that I do not believe anyone can reach heaven without the mediation of Jesus Christ. As Saint Paul wrote to Timothy: “[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:4-6).
(3) Do you understand anything on page 131 of the U.S. Catechism for Adults to mean that the Jewish people (or any group) have their own, independent saving path to God, outside of Jesus Christ?
Bishop Rhoades: I do not interpret anything on page 131 of the U.S. Catechism for Adults to mean that the Jewish people (or any group) have their own independent saving path to God, outside of Jesus Christ. I can see how the one statement that “the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them” might be misunderstood. I would interpret it to mean that the Jewish people retain a special relationship to God because of the Old Covenant, but I would not interpret it to mean that the Jewish people can be saved through the Old Covenant apart from Christ.
(4) Do you believe that the Church is called to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples, including the Jewish people?
Bishop Rhoades: Of course. I believe that the Church is called to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples, including the Jewish people. This is the Church’s missionary mandate, received from Christ. That is why I so strongly support and promote the Propagation of the Faith and the Church’s missionary endeavors. But the Church’s missionary activity must always be marked by profound respect for people of other religions and profound respect for their religious freedom. It must be marked, above all, by profound charity in word and deed. We must always proclaim the truth with charity. By the way, this is my episcopal motto: “Veritatem in caritate” [truth in charity].
For more background on this controversy, see the new post Breaking the Silence. The following links are also quite informative:
Bishop Rhoades Sets the Record Straight
Bishop Rhoades and Michael Forrest respond to Robert Sungenis
Response from the USCCB on page 131 of the USCCA
Is the new Adult Catechism really heretical?