QUAERITUR: Jews using a Catholic church for their services

From a reader:

EWTN is reporting that a priest at St. Louis parish in Austin is allowing a Jewish group to use his parish for Jewish holy day celebrations.  There is a picture at the EWTN article here:

The altar is visibly being used for the purposes of the Jewish celebration, has been covered with Jewish religious artifacts, and the rest of the sanctuary/nave modified for their use.  Is this permissible in the GIRMs?

This is the second year this parish has allowed this Jewish congregation to use their facility.  STORY.

I don’t know if the Catholic pastor was aware of this, but the rabbi of the group using his church is also a board member of the local Planned Parenthood.

From a standpoint of what is "acceptable use" of a Catholic Church as indicated in the rubrics, is turning over the sanctuary to a rabbi and his group permissible?

First, I have actually been to that church in Austin and have even said Mass there, quite a few year ago.

I consulted a reliable canonist to get this issue.

The 1993 Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms on Ecumenism make provision for other Christian denominations to use our churches:

137. Catholic churches are consecrated or blessed buildings which have an important theological and liturgical significance for the Catholic community. They are therefore generally reserved for Catholic worship. However, if priests, ministers or communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church do not have a place or the liturgical objects necessary for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies, the diocesan Bishop may allow them the use of a church or a Catholic building and also lend them what may be necessary for their services. Under similar circumstances, permission may be given to them for interment or for the celebration of services at Catholic cemeteries."

This refers to other Christian denominations. It also gives caveats to guard against scandal.

Also, note that the diocesan bishop gets to make these decisions.  I take it that pastors cannot make this decision on their own.

In an emergency situation, allowing a Jewish community to use a church for their worship could be appropriate (e.g., the synagogue burns down, there is a furnace problem in winter, etc.). In such a case, it could be appropriate to remove the Crucifix and Blessed Sacrament during the duration of their visit.

BUT… wholesale alteration or rearrangement of the sanctuary?  No.  That’s just wrong.  This story strikes me as a bit odd, frankly.  Jews are usually very sensitive and respectful of the religious spaces of Christians.  Placing the Star of David over the tabernacle is just plain wrong.  I hope that this was done from ignorance and without the knowledge of the pastor.

The altar and the tabernacle are sacred things in se, and not merely because of what they are used for.  If they can’t be moved (and they shouldn’t be able to be, really), then they should either be left barren, or covered in a nondescript fashion, not re-ordered to accommodate their use in Jewish worship.

I have little doubt that Jews would have serious problems were Catholics whose church burned down used their synagogue’s bema for Mass, put a crucifix on the ark, and replaced the Torah scrolls with the Blessed Sacrament.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. moon1234 says:

    The whole idea that a faith who openly rejects Jesus Christ as God being able to use a Holy Place consecrated TO and FOR Chirst is anti-catholic. It is to reject that which Christ established.

    In MY OPINION, it is scandelous to allow this to happen. Allowing non-catholics to attend Mass is one things, afterall all men are called to be part of the Church. Allowing non-catholics, especially Jews, Apostates and Muslims to use a Catholic Church for their own pagan services is terrible. It also implicitly tells Catholics that maybe their Church is NOT the only true Church.

    Lex Orandi, Lex credendi.

  2. Louis says:

    I am shocked. I go to their Adoration Chapel.

  3. ttucker says:

    This church has a very large community hall.
    Why not use that instead of the sanctuary?

  4. moon1234 says:

    Canons of the First Vatican Council in the First Chapter of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith:

    If anyone denies that there is one true God, Creator and Lord of things visible and invisible: let him be anathema.

    Pope Pius IX condemned and proscribed the following errors:
    15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.

    16. Men can find the way of eternal salvation and reach eternal salvation in any form of religious worship.

    17. Good hopes, at least, must be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who in no way belong to the true Church of Christ.”

    the following propositions…are condemned and proscribed:
    Error #60. Christian doctrine was originally Judaic. Through successive evolutions it became first Pauline, then Joannine, finally Hellenic and universal” (Pope St. Pius X, Lamentabili Sane — Syllabus of Modernist Errors

    The Lord spoke to us this similitude that He might show us that the evil and adulterous generation of the Jews, because of their hard and unrepentant hearts, would be condemned, not alone by the Ninivites, but also and rightly by the other Gentiles. Since this impious generation knew not that it should repent, but daily grew more wicked, its last state was worse than its first. And this they themselves likewise implied when they said of our Savior: ‘His blood be upon us and upon our children’ Matt. 27:35

    So how exactly does this square with allowing Jews, or any other faith, to use a Catholic church for pagan worship? [That is not an accurate characterization of Jewish worship.]

  5. Peggy R says:

    I recall a similar story in which a Belgian priest allowed a local Muslim group to use his parish for their services. A curtain was across the sanctuary, I recall. Here we go:

    It appears to be intended as a temporary measure for just a few weeks. I don’t know the upshot today, some months later.

    Googling indicates that JP2 said that was a no-no for Islamic worship in Catholic Churches in 2004.

  6. Traductora says:

    Strange story. Nostra Aetate strikes again? A lot of Unitarian and UCC congregations here share their space with Reform temples, but since the Unitarians don’t accept Christ anyway and the UCC barely do so, that’s not surprising. I’d suspect this pastor has an agenda.

    That said, I’m a little confused about the new, improved Catholic approach to non-Christians. Is there any opinion on these “Koran blessings” held last Sunday by Catholic churches, such as the Sacramento Cathedral? I also read about a parish (I don’t remember where) where they read the Koran during mass. I’m not sure that I see how anything that specifically rejects Jesus Christ as Son of God and also is full of seething hatred of Jews and Christians can possibly be the subject of a Catholic blessing. But I haven’t heard any official criticism or even statement on it yet.

  7. MJ says:

    When I was in Rome a few years ago, they were “renovating” the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls to “make room” for other religions to hold “inter-faith services” there…it was upsetting to see! I find this just as upsetting, especially — and most especially! — that they are using the altar. Never, never should Christ be displaced or as Father Z said, “wholesale alteration or rearrangement of the sanctuary” — even in the name of “charity”.

  8. moon1234 —

    Jewish worship is not pagan worship.

    Was Mary a pagan? Were the Apostles pagan? Was Paul a pagan? Are you seriously saying that Anne Frank was killed for being a pagan of pagan blood?

    Or are you calling the Lord your God a pagan? Are you saying that Jesus Christ, the Son bowing to His Father, was bowing to Moloch and the gods of the Philistines?

    I hope that you just made a typo or an unthinking remark, because the alternative is shockingly blasphemous. In either case, wash your brain out with soap.

  9. asophist says:

    Pagan: relating to, characteristic of or adhering to non-Biblical religions, especially earlier polytheism. – Wiktionary
    Wiktionary also notes that it usually refers to nature-worship or pantheism and frequently is intended with negative connotations. While today’s Jews are tragically mistaken in not recognizing that Our Lord is The Christ, they are not pagan. I am scandalized by allowing a Catholic church to be used for ANY kind of non-Catholic worship. How could it be allowed on any legitimate, Catholic theological basis? That said, I am also scandalized by much of what passes for Catholic worship these days, even in some of our most beautiful churches.

  10. Elle says:

    The rabbi/Freedman is a board member of the local PP!
    Oh, let me think hmm, this priest doesn’t know what he’s allowing is wrong??? Placing the Star Of David over the Tabernacle? What else would be allowed…I shudder to think…

  11. pel says:

    I live a few blocks from the parish grounds and am in the geographic boundaries of the parish, although it is not my official parish of record. The Cathedral a few miles away holds that role.

    The pastor of this parish was formerly (may still be?) in an official diocesan role to foster ecumenism. I forget the title he had, at the moment.

    He also previously allowed the Austin Inter-Religious Thanksgiving meal to be hosted on parish grounds with some quasi-spiritual gathering in the church itself.

    This kind of stunt from him doesn’t surprise me.

    I suppose that since this is one of the ancient Jewish celebrations, it may be technically above board.

    But anything that even has the appearance of diminishing the personage of the Son of God in His own sanctuary should be absolutely forbidden, in my book.

  12. doanli says:

    I agree with what Suburbanbanshee said.

    As Pope John Paul the Second said they are our “elder brothers and sisters”. They’re not “pagans”.

    Remember that little part in the Bible that said, Jesus Himself said, that “Salvation comes from the Jews”?

    Haven’t they as a people suffered enough?????

    However, a parish center/hall would have been more appropriate. No one should remove our Lord in the Holy Sanctuary from His rightful place.

  13. RosaMystica says:

    We have a similar situation, where a local group of traditional Anglicans are allowed to say “mass” in the chapel of the local Catholic hospital. They hope to make use of the Ordinariate, but are not yet in communion with the Catholic Church. I’m afraid their advertised “masses” at the hospital may cause confusion for Catholics looking for daily mass. And there could also be a problem if any of the Anglicans receive at the Catholic mass which is offered in that chapel one morning a week.

  14. shane says:

    “Was Mary a pagan? Were the Apostles pagan? Was Paul a pagan?”

    But the Pharisaic Judaism of Christ’s time is not the same as the talmud-based Rabbinic “Judaism” of today.

    “Haven’t they as a people suffered enough?????”

    Horrible crimes have been perpetrated against Jews throughout history, as with many other nations (few of whom feel the same need to wallow in perpetual victimhood). Jews today are disproportionately very socially privileged, and have often been in the past as well.

  15. ALL: Leave the Jews as pagans line of comments. Rabbit hole and not relevant. Just leave it.

  16. robtbrown says:

    The Jews are definitely not pagans, but it’s not a good idea to let them use a Catholic Church.

  17. iudicame says:

    So, for the entire history of the Church, save the last 40 yr, the church is used pretty much exclusively for Catholic liturgy.

    This glacial pace of correcting heresy will be the ruin of many souls. At this rate we’ll have things straightened out by 2610. I hope the next pope is a young and vital reformer.

    Our Irish brothers took necessary action in 1916 and were vilified roundly. By 1922 they were saints.


  18. dominic1955 says:

    Regardless of what that directory of ecumenism states, I think it is absolutely ridiculous to let any other religion (Christian or not) use our churches for their services. It is just plain scandalous! Did the various martyrs (like the English Martyrs) die in order to have the descendants of the heretics that killed them offer their (objectively) sacrilegious ceremonies upon our consecrated altars, in our consecrated churches possibly over the relics of said martyrs? Or, even worse, use the same vessels that hold the Body and Blood of Christ to be used for their invalid “communion services”? Would this have ever happened before the Council? I doubt it. This is simply unacceptable.

    I remember having Protestants use our seminary (when I was in) chapel for their services and when some of us spoke against it, the faculty trotted out that ecumenical directory. They were legally right, but can any true Catholic believer tolerate such a thing? If they are going to be on our property as a formal group intent on practicing their ceremonies, dressed up like they were real clerics/religious (none of which I would tolerate anyway) why not offer them a big conference room or something? Its not like need our church to do their thing or a real altar as they don’t have the faith anyway.

  19. Larry R. says:

    I reported this on my blog (and I think the awesome Fr. Z used my e-mail on this story). You can see more here: http://veneremurcernui.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/austin-parish-hosting-strange-event/.

    This is not the first time the Jewish assembly has used this church – it is at least the 2nd year. The fact that the Rabbi, Alan Freedman, is a board member for Planned Parenthood is wide public knowledge: the subject was covered by the Austin American Statesman (see link at my blog) and a local Catholic deacon/blogger covered the subject, as well. There are other articles describing his role as a religious counselor for women getting abortions. The pastor of this church, Fr. Larry Covington, is friends with the Rabbi and they have served on discussion panels for end of life issues, before.

    I appreciate Fr. Z’s comments. I would be very gratified to read a canon law expert’s view on this – I may try to contact one independently.

    Holy Mary, pray for us.

  20. Leonius says:

    My wife was member of that parish last year, exact same thing happened then, Catholics were actually banned from entering their own church while the Jews were using it, as a result unity within the parish both between the priest and the laity and among one section of the laity and another was damaged, some i am tolod even stopped going to that parish, perhaps even stopped going to mass altogether.

    Many letters were written to the Auxilarly Bishop to complain and despite reassurances from him that permission was not given and the matter had been discussed with the priest nothing was seemingly done about it and now we see the same thing is done once more this year. Clearly Jews matter more to this priest than some of his children, he is like a father than neglects his children in favour of the children of another woman.

    This new canon law is but one example of how the Church herself has lost respect for the sacred and for God in favour of seeking to please men and win their favour, the current leaders of the Chruch are turning our Holy Mother into a harlot.

    Not so long ago Jews worshipping in a Catholic Chruch would have been considered by canonists to be an act of desecration now we read that desecration is ok as long as the Bishop says its ok, it is still wrong regardless of what Bishops say and will always be wrong it can never be right to encourage false worship and allow such worship to occur in a sacred space which is meant to be set aside only for the true worship of the one true God.

    “”Causes of Desecration. The law of the church recognizes four causes for the desecration or violation of a church:…
    (3) The impious and sordid use of the church. Approved canonists consider as impious: acts contrary to the virtue of religion, like the exercise of heretical or superstitious worship….” (pp. 33-34)” The Church Edifice and its Appointments by Monsignor Harold E. Collins

    You cannot complain about religious indifference for the Catholic Faith and the Church when the Church herself is indifferent when it seems expedient to do so, indeed the Church is teaching indifference and teaching that Jewish worship is equal to Catholic worship by doing things such as the above. Actions always speak louder than words and the actions above speak loud and clear that all religions are equal and the Church building is nothing more than a a protestant meeting hall that can be used for any purpose by anyone.

    So in short the permittance of false worship scandalises the faithful, causes schism within a parish, teaches erroneous ideas and attitudes to the faithful and desecrates the church it takes place in.

  21. Leonius says:

    Here was the reply received about his from last year, it was basicly a nice way of telling the laity who were troubled they they were not been very catholic to shut up and stop complaining:

    Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    I received word late yesterday afternoon that Fr. Larry Covington, pastor for St. Louis Church, is extending hospitality to the members of Temple Beth Shalom this weekend and next as they celebrate their holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Since the Jewish congregation does not have a space adequate to celebrate with the numbers that are expected, he invited them to celebrate at St. Louis Church in a spirit of the Church’s desire for interreligious dialogue and welcome. This was discussed in the Pastoral Council of the parish and has been publicized in parish newsletters.

    Several e-mails and phone calls have been received in our diocesan offices this morning regarding this. I have spoken with Fr. Covington to hear his explanation and understand the situation better. He and I have discussed the matter and agreed that in the future the bishop or diocesan administrator should be a part of these initiatives, so that the issues that are now surrounding peoples’ concerns can be avoided.

    I would ask that all who have expressed concern be assured that Fr. Covington and I are in agreement regarding the handling of future invitations. I am asking that all of us welcome our Jewish brothers and sisters in the same spirit manifested by both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. We should all make the effort to seek what unites us as the children of God and not what divides us.

    In Christ,

    Msgr. Michael Mulvey

  22. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    In my opinion, the only two things that bother me are
    1) that the Blessed Sacrament was presumably still reserved in the Tabernacle at the time
    2) that the Altar was used in the Jewish service.

    I do not mind that the actual space was used, especially if, as I might presume, there is some reason that precludes them from using the meeting hall others have mentioned the parish has.

    But to leave the Blessed Sacrament there, and to allow them to use an altar made holy by the sacrifice of the mass (not to mention any relics which may be embedded) seems too open to sacrilege.

  23. Tantum Ergo says:

    The real desecration comes from the association with Banned Parenthood (or is it Planned Barrenhood?)

  24. chcrix says:

    A major church on the campus of St. Louis University was used by the local Episcopal diocese for the consecration of their current bishop. The reason was they lacked any single church of a sufficient size for their ceremony. I believe this was under the authority of then Archbishop Rigalli. There should be no problem with allowing other christian groups to use a Catholic church – just make sure you know what they intend to do of course. Trust, but verify.

    As far as religious Jews of my acquaintence go, I would suspect most would prefer the parish hall to the actual church. Easier all round in my opinion.

  25. rhetoric57 says:

    It’s a two-way street…

    I have a fairly certain recall of family history that I was baptised at what was known as St Cohen’s in Kensington, London W8 sometime during the ‘Blitz in 1941, Yes, 70 years ago!

    Our Lady of Victories [fairly soon after it had been rebuilt] had been hit and destroyed and a local furniture shop volunteered their shop on Sundays. Must check with the parish. i now live a little bit north, but go to the SJs at Farm Street. [ am an-SJ-alumni…]

    But a shop is not the same as a synagogue!

    I then went to kindergarten at the Assumption’s convent school in Kensington Square, which is now Heythrop College and part of the University College of London. [and still keep up with a legal eagle now in Seattle who was also a pupil there!]

    Tim – aka rhetoric57

  26. muckemdanno says:

    Well, we’ve made some progress since about 20 yrs ago, when Abp Lefebvre made the observation that, in France (and elsewhere for sure) the Catholic Churches were made available for every religious service imaginable…the Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Protestant services were all allowed in the Catholic Churches. The only religious service that was prohibited in the Catholic Churches in France 20 yrs ago was the Tridentine Latin Mass.

    So, be thankful that some progress has been made and at least now the traditional Catholic mass is allowed in the Catholic Churches.

  27. jlmorrell says:

    I think it is a scandal to allow a Jewish (or any other non-catholic) group to use a Catholic Church for worship services. As someone else pointed out, why can’t they use the parish hall?

    It would be interesting to find out how many Catholic parishes would allow Jews or Protestants to use its Churches versus the Traditional Latin Mass.

  28. Athanasius says:

    Jewish Worship should not be conducted in a Catholic Church, because it is not pleasing to God objectively.

    JB Franzelin, a peritus at Vatican I, wrote in his classic work on Tradition (which received an impramatur from Pope Pius IX)

    “The legal rites and types [of the Mosaic law] were afterward fulfilled by Christ the antitype and are dead, moreover the Gospel being sufficiently propagated they are also death bringing.”
    (Ritus legales ac typicos post horum adimplementum per Christum antitypum iam mortuos et, Evangelio satis propagato, etiam mortiferos esse.) -De Traditione, Thesis I, b

    It is one thing to work with Jews charitably to bring them closer to our Blessed Redeemer, it is quite another to allow them worship in a place consecrated to Christ the King, whom their forefathers rejected.

  29. DHippolito says:

    Well, having Jews borrowing Catholic churches for worship is a lot better than this:


  30. Jon says:

    Your good friend and distinguished Scripture scholar Father John Echert terms Judaism an “apostate religion.”

    ‘Nuff said.

  31. Andy F. says:

    Are we sure that the star of David over the son of david is actually wrong?

  32. kat says:

    “Religious Dialogue” means “dialogue.” And for a Catholic its purpose should be to explain DOCTRINE AND TRUTH to those who do not believe or understand. This action was not “religious dialogue.” I’m not claiming to be well-versed in any Canon Law, new or old, but I bet if something like this had happened in the past the church may have been closed until it was reconsecrated.

    I wonder what St. Thomas More, or St. Patrick, would have said?

  33. AJP says:

    Ironically Orthodox Jews are not allowed by the tenents of their religion to even *enter* a Catholic church, let alone worship there (I don’t know if that applies to Protestant churches and non-Jewish places of worship) So it seems like we have a bunch of Catholics who don’t take their religion very seriously and a bunch of Jews who don’t take theirs too seriously either.

    While it’s not ideal, I agree there are times when it is chartiable to allow non-Catholics to worship in a Catholic church (their building burns down, furnace breaks, etc). But the Blessed Sacrament must not be present and the altar must be treated appropriately as well. I was once at an “interfaith” charismatic prayer service held in a college chapel, with the Blessed Sacrament present. No one acknowledged Him – rather the focus was on whoever was wailing or babbling the most at the moment. It was beyond offensive, but hardly a surprise – it was *non-Catholic* worship after all. They weren’t trying to be offensive, they were simply following the practices of their religion. If one cannot worship according to his religion w/o at the same time disrespecting the Blessed Sacrament, then he should not be worshipping in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. This is really a no-brainer.

    And even if the tabernacle and altar are treated appropriately, it seems highly imprudent and scandalous to allow any and every non-Catholic community to worship in one’s church. In this case the Rabbi’s involvement with Planned Parenthood should have immediately disqualified his congregation. Basically religious groups that are not simply non-Catholic but go beyond that and promote doctrines and/or practices hostile to Catholicism should NEVER be allowed to worship in Catholic churches. A synagogue whose rabbi doesn’t involve himself with abortion advocacy? Fine. A synagogue with a rabbi on the board of PP? Heck no! A mainstream Methodist or Lutheran church? Fine. A fundamentalist church that teaches the Pope is the anti-Christ? Heck no!

    Enough with this wishy washy ecumenism, and in with some basic common sense. Differences between religions matter, and some differences matter much more than others.

  34. TravelerWithChrist says:

    AJP – you’re right on.

    When I learned of this my initial gut feel is that the altar, and the church, were desecrated. If the Jews don’t even believe in Jesus, they surely cannot respect Him.

    A previous commenter stated that people left the church over this; not too surprising as this sort of action can lead one to assume our religion is no better than any other (which to me is what the spirit of ecumenism is doing).

    I pray for a return to greater reverence for Jesus in the Eucharist, and a greater respect of the Mass. This would never have happened in older times; nobody would have dared to enter the sanctuary!

  35. Rouxfus says:

    According to a diocesan press release, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin has conferred with St. Louis parish pastor Fr. Covington and an agreement has been reached with Rabbi Freedman whereby the planned holy day services on the 17th and 18th instant will be cancelled. Here is Life Site News’ account of the release:


  36. DHippolito says:

    Jon, if Judaism is an “apostate religion,” then God Himself is an apostate because He has never broken His covenant with the Jews. His designation of them as a “chosen people” remains intact because God Himself does not lie! That doesn’t mean that their rejection of Jesus as Messiah isn’t serious. But I remind you that St. Paul himself said that God would bring the Gentiles to faith in His Son as a means to make the Jews “jealous” and encourage them to do likewise. Many have (they’re called “messianic Jews”).

    Again, I will ask this until the Second Coming: Why are Catholics as a whole so much more infatuated with Islam and pay Judaism, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy little mind?

    I truly believe that the Church’s dalliance with Islam not only will be judged by God, but also will cause it to forfeit God’s protection and trust (if the centuries-old clerical sex-abuse crisis hasn’t already done so). Remember the vision of Pope Leo XIII. Remember, also, Ezekiel 34 and Matthew 23.

Comments are closed.