ROME (Apr. 25)
An international controversy stirred by the French Episcopate’s declaration upholding the right of Jewish people to Statehood, is causing consternation in Vatican circles. The declaration was denounced by Arab circles as “pro-Zionist.” Aides of Pope Paul VI were described as being “alarmed” at the reaction and were said to be studying the issue.
The declaration, which was two years in preparation, was released in Paril April 16. In it the French Episcopate called on Catholics to revise their thinking on Judaism and recognize the “political existence” of the State of Israel. Several days later the Archbishop of Paris said that the document was a religious and not a political statement.
Arab commentators accused the Catholic Church of siding with Israel and hinted reprisals against Catholic missions in the Middle East. The Algerian newspaper, El Moudjahid, a semi-official organ of the Algiers government, warned that the attitude expressed by the French bishops might prompt a reappraisal of the “toleration that the Arab countries have shown so far toward the activities of Christian missions.” The Lebanese Embassy in the Vatican called the declaration “regrettable” and complained that the French church which always found open doors in Lebanon was now supporting Lebanon’s enemy.
The Vatican has refrained from commenting publicly on the declaration. Vatican press secretary Federico Allessandrini said in response to questions last night that he had nothing to add to repeated pronouncements by the Pope on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Pope Paul called again for peace in the Middle East in his Easter message last Sunday. Allessandrini remarked, however, that the Church’s position on Judaism “has been defined by Vatican II,” a possible implication that the French bishops’ declaration was gratuitous.