updated 1/13/2009 6:12:36 PM ET 2009-01-13T23:12:36

Italy's rabbis said Tuesday they were pulling out of the Italian Catholic Church's annual celebration of Judaism, saying recent decisions by Pope Benedict XVI were negating 50 years of interfaith progress.

The chief rabbi of Venice, Elia Enrico Richetti, cited the pope's decision to restore a prayer deemed offensive to Jews in Easter Week services of the old Latin Mass.

In an article published Tuesday in the Italian Jesuit magazine Popoli, Richetti said the Assembly of Italian rabbis felt the prayer, and subsequent comments by church officials about the controversy, showed a lack of respect that was necessary for dialogue to continue.

"If we add to this the recent positions taken by the pope about dialogue, said to be useless because the superiority of the Christian faith is proven anyway, then it's evident that we're heading toward the cancellation of the last 50 years of Church history," he wrote.

The Vatican official in charge of relations with Jews, Cardinal Walter Kasper, declined to comment when reached at home late Tuesday.

In 2007, Benedict relaxed restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass, also known as the Tridentine rite, which was celebrated before the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s paved the way for the New Mass used widely today in local languages.

Controversial prayer
In doing so, Benedict restored to prominence a prayer for the conversion of Jews that is recited during Good Friday services of Easter Week. Jewish groups had long criticized the prayer, and they expressed dismay that the pope's decree would allow it to be celebrated more broadly.

In a bid to stem the criticism, the Vatican issued a new prayer last year. But Jewish groups said the changes were equally disappointing since the language still suggested that they needed to convert to Christianity to find salvation.

While Jews have no intention of telling Catholics how to pray, "it's clear that to dialogue means to respect the right of the other to be himself," Richetti wrote in announcing that Italian rabbis wouldn't participate in the Italian Catholic Church's annual celebration of Judaism on Jan. 17.

Benedict, and before him Pope John Paul II, has made improving relations with Jews a priority. But there have been occasional tensions, most recently after a senior Vatican official, Cardinal Renato Martino, said Gaza under the Israeli military offensive resembled a "big concentration camp."

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