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Catholic Church Leaders Ask Eshkol to Seek End to ‘unjust’ Criticism of Pontiff

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Prime Minister Levi Eshkol received a letter from Catholic Church leaders today asking him to intervene “to end this unjust campaign” of criticism of Pope Paul VI by some Israeli leaders in connection with the Dec. 28 Israeli reprisal raid on Beirut Airport. The Pope’s message of sympathy to President Charles Helou, of Lebanon, was taken by some as implied criticism of Israel’s raid without corresponding criticism of the Arab terrorist act that brought it about. The most vociferous critics of the Pope here were Dr. Zerah Warhaftig, the Minister for Religious Affairs, and the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Itzhak Nissim. The latter accused the Pontiff and the Vatican of waging an extensive campaign against the Jewish religion and people. Rabbi Nissim was rebuked by an unidentified Cabinet minister Sunday for making “too sweeping an accusation.”

Catholic Church leaders here were reported to be profoundly disturbed by the interpretation placed on Pope Paul’s letter to President Helou. However, a Dominican friar who lives in Jerusalem said on a radio interview Monday that when the Pope spoke ex cathedra he was subject to criticism like any other personality. The Latin Patriarch, Msgr. Alberto Gori, conducted a special mass here to express “filial affection” for the Pope. It was attended by the French and Spanish consuls general.

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