Mourning the Passing of Cardinal Keeler
CIU Mourns the Passing of Cardinal William Henry Keeler: A True Friend to the Jewish People and Pioneer in Interfaith Understanding
A pioneer in interreligious dialogue for the Catholic Church and former Archbishop of Baltimore, Cardinal William Henry Keeler died March 23, 2017 at the age of 86.
Upon learning of the death of his dear friend, CIU Director Rabbi Jack Bemporad said, “I cannot think of anyone who better exemplified the greatest teachings of the prophets and of Catholic heritage. He was one of the truly outstanding Catholic leaders of our generation. He combined a profound sense of compassion and caring and love for everyone he met, with a brilliant capacity to work together to achieve concrete and worthwhile results.”
CIU’s Chair Angelica Berrie said, “Cardinal Keeler’s home was always open to the Jewish community. I remember the precious times my husband and I were guests in his home. He was always loving and gracious to us.”
Cardinal Keeler had been Baltimore’s archbishop for 17 years, retiring in 2007 after an international career that impacted the Church’s direction, especially in its relations with the Jews. He was elevated to Cardinal in 1994 and Rabbi Bemporad acknowledged, “He was all too generous in asking me to speak at the dinner when he was elevated to Cardinal in Rome.”
Rabbi Bemporad first worked with Bishop Keeler in 1987, when the rabbi became Chairman of the Interreligious Affairs Committee of the Synagogue Council, and Bishop Keeler headed the Conference of Catholic Bishops. “I was extraordinarily fortunate to work with him then, because Cardinal Keeler made sure that the Jewish Community had input in all of the major issues confronting the Bishops’ Conference,” Rabbi Bemporad remembered.
In 1992, the two clerics together led a study-tour to Auschwitz with Bishop Murphy (then Monsignor Murphy), joined by Cardinals from Poland and Jewish lay leaders. “It was one of the very first interreligious discovery tours to Auschwitz,” Rabbi Bemporad said. “Our CIU has built upon this important initiative by expanding it and hosting two such trips with Imams.”
In many ways, Rabbi Bemporad owes his 17-years of teaching at the Vatican’s St. Thomas Aquinas University (The Angelicum) to Cardinal Keeler. When Cardinal Keeler was head of the North American College, he asked Monsignor Timothy Dolan Dolan – now New York’s Cardinal Dolan- who was Rector, to allow him to teach Bible there. “It was this experience many years ago that led to my now teaching at the Angelicum and heading the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue there,” Rabbi Bemporad recalled.
“Cardinal Keeler combined a profound sense of compassion and caring and love for everyone he met, with a brilliant capacity to work together to achieve concrete and worthwhile results,” Rabbi Bemporad explained. “I will miss his kindness, great intelligence, experience and wisdom greatly, but most of all, I will miss his friendship,” he added.