WESTCHESTER, Oct.31, 2005 - Until only 40 years ago, the Jewish people could expect to take a theological beating in most any Roman Catholic Church.
"People lived their whole lives, up until 1965, being told that Catholics believed that all the Jews at the time of Jesus were responsible for the crucifixion and all the Jews since then were somehow complicit in the crucifixion," said Bellitto, assistant professor of history at Kean University in Union, N.J.
An appreciation of how Jews were portrayed until that point in history is necessary to grasp what a revolutionary change took place 40 years ago this month, when the Vatican released Nostra Aetate, one of 16 documents to come out of the historic Second Vatican Council. Nostra Aetate, Latin for "in our time," broke from the church's insular past and created a new Catholic mind-set for thinking about other faiths.
The document, released by Pope Paul VI on Oct. 28, 1965, famously offered that the "Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions." It acknowledged how Hinduism and Buddhism seek to rise above the human condition and praised Islam's monotheistic link to Abraham.
But interfaith scholars agree that Nostra Aetate's most radical and lasting effect, especially in the United States, was to tear away a deeply embedded, church-endorsed stigma from the Jews.