EDITOR'S NOTE: Eugene Fisher's role in the revision of Catholic teaching material and methods used in Catholic schools and seminaries to conformity with B'nai B'rith standards could not be overstated. His work was implemented with full support from the Vatican and the USCCB.
Bishops' Catholic-Jewish expert of past 30 years prepares to retire
By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Eugene J. Fisher said he currently has five books in the works and also hopes to do some teaching when he retires at the end of June after 30 years as associate director for Catholic-Jewish relations in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs ...
On his first trip to Rome after he was named the bishops' director of Catholic-Jewish relations in 1977, he said, a top Vatican Christian unity official "took me aside and said, 'Gene, you have to move forward in the American dialogue. You are paving the way for us.'" ...
Cardinal Keeler, U.S. episcopal moderator of Catholic-Jewish relations since 1988, said Fisher's work has not been limited to the United States. On the international scene "Gene has had a key role, and his work on the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee has been crucial," the cardinal said.
He added that Fisher is one of the people he turns to "when some difficulty arises."
Fisher has received a couple of honorary doctorates and numerous awards from Jewish groups for his work. Twice two professors from Hebrew University in Jerusalem nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
He has attended meetings of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee since 1978 and has been a Vatican-appointed member since 1980, when he also was named a consultor to the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.
He earned his doctorate in Hebrew culture and education from New York University in 1976, writing his thesis on the treatment of Jews and Judaism in Catholic textbooks -- a field in which he says he has seen tremendous progress over the years. His critiques of the treatment of Judaism in Catholic educational materials have been used as a resource in revamping catechetical texts in many countries.
"The church has two delivery systems" for its teaching, he said. "One is the classroom, one is the liturgy and the pulpit." In both areas Catholics now receive an entirely different message about Jews and Judaism than they did for nearly 2,000 years before Vatican II, he said.
The list of books and monographs Fisher has written or edited, many in collaboration with Jewish scholars, already runs two full pages single-spaced.
He said the five more he is currently working on are his memoirs; a collection of Cardinal Keeler's writings on Jewish-Christian relations; a third and final edition of Pope John Paul's texts on Jews and Judaism; a third edition of "Seminary Education and Christian-Jewish Relations," last published in 1988; and a collection, with commentary, of papal, Vatican and USCCB texts on Jews and Judaism since the council.
Eugene Fisher earned his doctorate at New York University in Hebrew Culture and Education, 1976. His doctoral thesis was: "The Treatment of Jews and Judaism in Current Roman Catholic Teaching". Until 1977, Dr. Fisher was Director of Catechist Formation for the Archdiocese of Detroit, as well as adjunct professor of Sacred Scripture at St. John's Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan, and for the Religious Studies department of the University of Detroit. Dr. Fisher was appointed to his present post as Executive Secretary of the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) in May of 1977. He succeeded Father Edward H. Flannery, who had held the post since its establishment in 1968 as part of the NCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. In 1981 he was named Consultor to the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews. He is one of nine Consultors to the Vatican Commission worldwide and one of two Americans. He is also a member of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee representing the Holy See. He has lectured widely throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. In 1995, a book he co-edited with Rabbi Leon Klenicki, John Paul II, Spiritual Pilgrimage: Texts on Jews and Judaism (Crossroad) won the National Jewish Book Award in the Jewish-Christian Relations category. He has published some 20 books and over 250 articles in the field of Jewish-Christian relations.