ROME (Sep. 14)
The Vatican has reacted with unprecedented anger to charges by an un-named senior Israeli official that the Pope and the Catholic Church had remained silent while the Nazis exterminated European Jews during World War II.
A statement released by the Vatican Press Office yesterday and published in the official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, called the charges "an outrage against truth" and an insult to the person of the Pope.
The remarks in Jerusalem Sunday by the unidentified official were made in the context of reports that Pope John Paul II would receive Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat in an audience this week. Arafat, due here tomorrow, will attend the 69th Inter-parliamentary Union conference as an observer.
The Vatican announced over the weekend that the Pope "is disposed to meet Yasir Arafat regarding the sufferings and rights of the Palestinian people of which the Pope spoke recently."
It is still not clear whether Arafat will be received privately by the Pope or in the context of a general audience to be held tomorrow for the delegates from 98 countries, including Israel, who will attend the Inter-parliamentary Union conference.
STORM OF PROTEST
Nevertheless, the impending meeting aroused a storm of protest from the Israel government and Jewish organizations and leaders here and abroad. (See separate story.) On Sunday, a person in Jerusalem identified only as a senior official, denounced the Roman Catholic Church which he said failed to speak out against the German annihilation of Jews in Europe or the killings of Christians in Lebanon and had now agreed to meet Arafat "who wants to destroy Israel and thus complete the work of the Nazis."
Those remarks were broadcast after the Israeli Cabinet’s Sunday session at which the Pope’s reported readiness to meet Arafat was roundly condemned.
STATEMENT BY THE VATICAN
The Vatican statement said: "The declaration by an authoritative Israeli government official yesterday in Jerusalem contains words that are more than surprising, almost incredible. They make us believe that they have forgotten, albeit in an emotional context, with, however, very little objective justification, how much the Pope, the Holy See, the Catholic Church with its pastors and its organizations in various countries did–in the consciousness of fulfilling a highest Christian human duty–to protect and save thousands and thousands of Jews before and during the second World War.
"These are the facts which should be well known and of which so many Jews who now live in Israel and in the world were the beneficiaries or witnesses.
"Without wishing to boast, one must nevertheless remind those who have forgotten because one cannot leave without reply such an outrage against truth, encouched, moreover, in language with so little respect for the personality of a Pope of whom one cannot pretend to ignore the words spoken on numerous occasions and particularly during his visit to Auschwitz, in condemning and execrating the genocide of the Nazis against the Jewish people and not only against them."
ITALIAN JEWISH COMMUNITY PROTESTS
The organized Italian Jewish community, meanwhile, has directed its protests to the Italian government. Arafat is expected to be received here by President Sandro Pertini of Italy and Foreign Minister Emilio Colombo.
The Assembly of Italian Rabbis sent a telegram to Pertini expressing its "most indignant protest for this incongruous and offensive attribution of representation of the Palestinian people to a terrorist organization among whose fundamental objectives is the violent suppression of the State of Israel."
The Union of Italian Jewish Communities released a statement expressing its "painful amazement" that the "highest Italian authorities" will receive an "exponent of an organization whose collaboration with Italian terrorism has been amply documented and whose constitution still proposes the destruction of a State recognized by Italy."
The Union demanded that Italy, "in the light of a negotiated solution of the Middle East conflict, condemn terrorism on all sides and firmly insist on the revision of the PLO constitution during the coming encounters."