Jewish leaders continued to express shock and anger Thursday over the decision by Pope John Paul II to grant an audience to President Kurt Waldheim of Austria, whose alleged complicity in Nazi atrocities during World War II has made him unwelcome in most of the world.
In Rome, Tullia Zevi, president of the Federation of Italian Jewish Communities, said the meeting “could have negative consequences on relations between Catholics and Jews.”
Chief Rabbi Rene Sirat of France called it an “intolerable” insult to the memory of Nazi victims. In New York, Theodore Mann, president of the American Jewish Congress, urged the Pope to reconsider.
The Vatican announced Wednesday that the Pope will receive Waldheim there on June 25. Waldheim, a practicing Catholic, will be accompanied by Austrian Foreign Minister Alois Mock on what will be Waldheim’s first trip abroad since his controversial election last July.
A spokesman for the Italian government said Thursday that President Pietro Cossiga will not meet with the Austrian President “because of the internal political situation.” But Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti will confer with Mock while he is in Rome, the spokesman said. He added that Waldheim would be greeted at the airport with “all the courtesy due a foreign President.”
The only reaction from Israel was a brief statement by a Foreign Ministry spokesman who said the Vatican’s invitation “surprised the Jewish world and the State of Israel.” He added, “We wonder what were its motives and we condemn the decision.”
CALLS FOR CANCELLATIONS
Reactions were especially strong in the United States, where the Justice Department recently placed Waldheim on its “watch list” of undesirable foreigners barred from entering the country. Several American Jewish groups hinted that it could affect Jewish attitudes toward the Pope when he visits the U.S. next September.
Mann said the Pontiff’s meeting with Waldheim “would temper the enthusiasm with which leadership anticipates the Pope’s forthcoming visit to the United States.” The Synagogue Council of America, which represents the rabbinic and congregational organizations of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, warned that “These developments cast a dark cloud on Jewish-Vatican relations and on the scheduled meeting of the Pope with leaders of the American Jewish community in Miami on September 11.”
Theodore Ellenoff, president of the American Jewish Committee, said the Pope’s decision to receive Waldheim “with full ‘state honors’ is morally and politically incomprehensible.” Ellenoff observed that, “It would be altogether a matter of personal conscience were the Pope to receive Dr. Waldheim as a private Catholic communicant seeking pastoral solace” but “for the Supreme Pontiff as head of the Holy See to receive Kurt Waldheim as President of a state makes a mockery of truth and justice.”
In urging the Pope to reconsider, Mann pointed to “the revulsion felt by the rest of the world over Waldheim’s past Nazi associations and activities” which “is reflected in the decision of leading nations, including our own, to ban, or at least discourage visits by Waldheim.”
In Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, declined to comment on the forthcoming meeting, but noted that the Pope “traditionally never refuses a meeting with a foreign chief of state.” The same explanation was offered by Vatican Radio Wednesday.