ADL’s Joseph L. Lichten: Vatican II Change Agent, Vatican Knight Defender of Talmud

ADL Dr. Joseph L. Lichten Award In Catholic-Jewish Relations

The Anti-Defamation League Dr. Joseph L. Lichten Award in Catholic-Jewish Relations was established in 2005 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, part of the Second Vatican Council’s reforms that changed the nature of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. The Award is named in honor of Joseph Lichten, ADL’s Director of Catholic-Jewish Relations, who was present throughout the deliberations of Vatican II and was one of the significant figures in the history of the Second Vatican Council.

Dr. Joseph Lichten, with a PhD in Catholic Canon Law, was born and educated in Poland. From 1941-1945 he served as a consultant and advisor on eastern European affairs to the embassy of the Polish government in exile. When the Communists took control of his native country, he left its diplomatic service and became an American citizen.

Dr. Lichten joined ADL in 1945. In 1953 he started the very first Catholic-Jewish dialogue in the United States. Over the years, he organized and participated in hundreds of ADL Catholic-Jewish interfaith conferences, workshops and colloquia with Catholic clergy, scholars and lay leaders.

As head of ADL’s Vatican Liaison Office, he was given the rare gift of an office in the Vatican itself and he continued to teach at the North American college, where only the finest young Americans studying for the priesthood are privileged to attend.

In 1986 Pope John Paul II named him a knight commander of the pontifical equestrian order of St. Gregory the Great, the first American Jew to be so honored “for conspicuous virtue and notable accomplishment on behalf of the Roman Catholic church and society.”

During the deliberations of the Second Vatican council, he gave every bishop a copy of an ADL-sponsored survey of American anti-Semitism which pointed out the influence of the deicide charge on American Catholics. The final council vote on Nostra Aetate showed the church’s special concern and Joe Lichten’s profound influence.

The first ADL Dr. Joseph L. Lichten Award in Catholic-Jewish Relations was presented to Walter Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and President of the Pontifical Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews, in Rome, on December 15, 2005.

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