ROME (Jun. 23)
Austrian President Kurt Waldheim will be extended all honors laid down by diplomatic protocol for a visiting head of state when he arrives at the Vatican Thursday morning for an audience with Pope John Paul II.
This includes a reception for the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See at which the United States will be represented, though not at the highest level. Frank Lattanzi, First Secretary of the U.S. Embassy at the Vatican, confirmed Tuesday that he would represent the U.S. instead of Ambassador Frank Shakespeare, who will be out of the country Wednesday and Thursday.
The U.S. Department of Justice has placed Waldheim on its “watch list” of undesirable foreigners barred from admission to the U.S. because of his alleged complicity in Nazi atrocities during World War II. He has been avoided by top-ranking American officials, including Secretary of State George Shultz, since his election in July 1986.
The Pope’s decision to receive him in audience has been denounced by Jewish leaders and others all over the world. His visit to the Vatican will be his first trip abroad since taking office. Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican Secretary of State, announced that the visit will last two hours including a 30-minute audience with the Pope.
Waldheim, accompanied by Austrian Foreign Minister Alois Mock, will arrive at St. Peter’s Square at 11 a.m. local time. The Vatican band will play the Austrian and Vatican anthems and the Swiss Guard, in full dress, will present arms.
Following the audience, Waldheim and Mock will confer with Casaroli for an hour and then attend the diplomatic reception.
American Jewish activists plan to demonstrate on Waldheim’s arrival. Rabbi Avi Weiss of New York said his group of four members of the “Coalition of Concern” will “demonstrate wherever Waldheim will go and wherever we will be able to follow him” inside or outside the Vatican precincts. They will wear the uniforms of concentration camp inmates.
The Arab League representative in Rome Mhanna Durra, condemned the Jewish protests as “a gross confusion between religion and politics with racist undertones.” The Palestine Liberation Organization representative, Nemmer Hammad, complained that the Pope’s decision to meet Waldheim “gave another occasion to Zionist racist circles to attack the Palestinian people, the PLO and its chairman, Yasir Arafat.”
Pope John Paul II met with Arafat in Rome in 1982.
Meanwhile, Hans Rudolf Kurz, a professor of military history at the University of Bern, confirmed Monday that he has agreed to head a special commission that will investigate Waldheim’s wartime activities. He said he would select commission members from Belgium, Britain,-Greece, West Germany, Israel, Yugoslavia and the U.S.
Jewish leaders in the U.S. continued to protest the Pope’s meeting with Waldheim. Burton Levinson, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, sent a cable to the Pontiff Monday urging him to use his audience with Waldheim “to speak to the world about the responsibility of all people, and especially those in high office, to confront evil in whatever form it may appear.”
Levinson pointed out that “the Jewish world is deeply troubled” by his decision to receive Waldheim.
“We have studied carefully the reasons given by the Holy See for the visit, none of which suggest that any of the fundamental issues and concerns expressed by Jews — and Christians– will be addressed. And so we remain distressed,” the cable said.
Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said Monday that Vatican policy did not require the Pope to grant Waldheim an audience and that contradictory explanations were given as to why it was granted.
“We are now told by the Vatican that the audience was granted only after repeated and insistent requests by Waldheim. This contradicts the earlier assertion by Vatican spokesmen that such requests are always honored and therefore Pope John Paul II had no choice in the matter,” Siegman said.
“It now turns out that the Vatican can and does exercise its own judgement about the appropriateness of such audiences,” Siegman said.
He claimed Waldheim’s persistence in seeking an audience was an attempt “to sanitize his Nazi past.”
In Montreal, the Canadian Jewish Congress expressed dismay that the Pope will see Waldheim “when most world leaders have seen fit to place him in virtual diplomatic isolation.” CJC president Dorothy Reitman said, “We find it beyond understanding that his first official visit will be to the Vatican.”