Catholic-Jewish Relations Pioneer Named By Pope To Receive Highest Church Honor
New York, New York, March 26, 2007…Rabbi Leon Klenicki, Director Emeritus of Interfaith Affairs of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), has been named a Papal Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope Benedict XVI, for his historic contributions in improving the relationship between Catholics and Jews. The Papal Order of Saint Gregory is the highest honor the Catholic Church confers on a layperson, in recognition of "Outstanding Services Rendered to the Welfare of Society and the Church". This Pontifical Honor of Knighthood is conferred by the Holy Father on his own initiative and at the recommendation of diocesan bishops who present worthy candidates to the Holy Father.
Rabbi Klenicki becomes the second ADL interfaith official to receive papal knighthood. In 1986, the late Dr. Joseph L. Lichten became the first American Jew to receive the honor when Pope John Paul II named him a knight commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great. Rabbi Klenicki, a renowned scholar and theologian, now joins a select group of living Jews, and only a handful of rabbis, who have been so honored by the Vatican.
"We are extremely proud that Rabbi Klenicki's decades of work to help reconcile the Catholic and Jewish faiths have been recognized by Pope Benedict XVI with this unique papal honor," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "We can think of no one more deserving of this honor than Rabbi Leon Klenicki," who has worked tirelessly and passionately to bring about mutual understanding and respect between the two faiths."
Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who will present a scroll from the Holy See as a formal recognition of Knighthood, and the medallion and sword which are the insignia of the Order, said, " Rabbi Klenicki has been a pioneer in Jewish-Catholic relations for decades. His own personal experiences of anti-Semitism led the Rabbi to be a passionate advocate for education as means of dispelling religious prejudice and promoting inter-religious collaboration. Rabbi Leon Klenicki's life has been the source of blessings for all of us, we are deeply grateful for his witness and his work."
A native of Argentina, Klenicki received his rabbinical degree from Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati in 1967 and returned to Buenos Aires as Director of the Latin American Office of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. In that position he helped develop Reform Judaism in Latin America.
Since his days as a student growing up in Argentina, Rabbi Klenicki has been interested in inter-religious dialogue. In 1968, he delivered the major paper representing the Jewish community at the first Latin American meeting of Jews and Catholics in Bogota, Colombia. This historic meeting, organized by ADL and CELAM (Latin American Episcopal Conference), occurred during the visit of Pope Paul VI to Colombia. It was the first time that Jews and Catholics met in Latin America on a continental basis, and it paved the way for future dialogues and inter-religious work.
Rabbi Klenicki was authorized by CELAM and the Argentine Council of Jews and Christians to undertake a study of catechisms and Catholic religious texts, the first of its kind to be done in South America. His final recommendations were presented to the Bishops Conference in Argentina for a revision of how Jews and Judaism were portrayed in Catholic texts. He traveled to Rome on behalf of the Council of Jews and Christians for study sessions at the Vatican. He also served as an advisor on interfaith affairs for the DAIA, the main Jewish organization in Argentina. He served as spiritual leader of Congregation Emanu-El in Buenos Aires.
In 1973 he moved to New York to become head of ADL's Jewish-Catholic Relations Department and in was named ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs Co-Liaison to the Vatican in 1984, positions he held until his retirement in 2001.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recommended to all US bishops and cardinals to observe Holocaust Day by using as a liturgy the service prepared by Rabbi Klenicki and Dr. Eugene J. Fisher, Associate Director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, USCCB.
A lecturer at Catholic and Jewish universities and seminaries, Rabbi Klenicki was the first Hugo Gryn Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Jewish Christian Relations at Cambridge University, England; one of the first two Scholars-at-Large for the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute in New York; and a visiting professor at Leuven Catholic University in Belgium.
A prolific writer and editor on inter-religious issues for American and international publications, Rabbi Klenicki is the recipient of many awards and honors.
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.