The Vatican said Thursday it hoped an unprecedented symposium on the roots of anti-Semitism in Christian teaching would help overcome past divisions and misunderstandings between Catholics and Jews.
The Oct. 30-Nov. 1 theological symposium, the first of its kind, will be attended by top Vatican cardinals as well as some 60 leading Catholic theologians and representatives from Protestant and Orthodox Christianity. No Jews are attending.
A Vatican statement said the symposium "in the first place aims to overcome the misunderstanding and divisions of the past, rediscover the character of each faith and look to the future with tranquility and hope."
It said reviewing the past would help the Roman Catholic Church seek "truth and contribute to a correct orientation of the lives of the (Catholic) faithful."
Some Jewish leaders have called on the Vatican to use the symposium to issue an apology for past persecutions and to discuss the attitude of the church during the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews in the Holocaust.
But the program of the symposium, which is expected to be closed to the public and the media, indicated that the theologians will concentrate on the religious roots of anti-Semitism in Catholic teaching and tradition.
Jews have accused the Catholic Church and wartime Pope Pius XII of turning a blind eye as the Nazis killed some 6 million Jews.
Vatican historians say Pope Pius worked quietly behind the scenes and did not speak out more forcefully for fear of worsening the situation for Catholics as well as Jews in Germany and German-occupied countries.
Pope John Paul II, who is expected to address the theologians at the end of the symposium, said earlier this month the Catholic Church had already asked forgiveness for its past sins against the Jews.
"Forgiveness has been asked many times for the past and even for recent times," the pope told reporters Oct. 2. "It is interesting that it is always the pope and the Catholic Church who ask for forgiveness while others remain silent."
Catholic relations with Jews have improved greatly in the past 30 years since the Second Vatican Council repudiated the concept of Jewish guilt for Christ's death. Relations took a revolutionary step forward in 1994 when Israel and the Vatican established full diplomatic relations.
Jews around the world have for years demanded a major Vatican document, perhaps a papal encyclical, on the Holocaust.
The pope, who grew up amid the horror of the Nazi occupation of his native Poland, has often strongly condemned anti-Semitism.
In 1979, he visited the infamous Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in southern Poland, and in 1986 he became the first pope to visit a synagogue, where he called Jews "our beloved elder brothers."
The pope has often defended the role of Pope Pius during the Holocaust.
In the written text of a speech during a visit to Germany last year, the pope wrote of the controversy: "Those who don't limit themselves to cheap polemics know very well what Pius XII thought about the Nazi regime and how much he did to help the countless victims persecuted by that regime."
Earlier this month, French Catholic leaders asked God and the Jewish people to pardon the French church for the silence of its elders when 76,000 Jews were deported from France to Nazi death camps in World War II.