Jewish Leaders Praise Archbishop’s Concern over Anti-jewish Backlash After Criticism of Vatican Meet
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Jewish Leaders Praise Archbishop’s Concern over Anti-jewish Backlash After Criticism of Vatican Meet

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Repercussions over worldwide Jewish protests against Pope John Paul II’s meeting with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim at the Vatican Thursday spread to the United States over the weekend.

John Cardinal O’Connor, the Archbishop of New York, said he feared an anti-Jewish backlash by Catholics angered by criticism of the Pope for receiving Waldheim, a man accused of complicity in Nazi atrocities when he was an intelligence officer in the German army in the Balkans during World War II.

At a mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral here Sunday morning and later in an appearance on the WNBC-TV “News Forum” program, O’Connor warned that Catholic recriminations against Jews could be “disastrous” for relations between the two faiths.

“I remind all Catholics of the sin of anti-Semitism. Let no Catholics believe they are honoring our Holy Father or defending our faith if they engage in verbal attacks on our Jewish brothers and sisters,” the Cardinal told communicants at St. Patrick’s. He had copies of his mass distributed to the media.


O’Connor, who has emerged as the principal spokesman for the Vatican in the U.S. since the conflict over the papal audience with Waldheim began two week ago, offered a suggestion to heal the Catholic-Jewish breach.

He proposed, in a three-page message read from his pulpit, that “Perhaps it would be appropriate for a group of Jews and Catholics to meet soon here at St. Patrick’s Cathedral or in a synagogue simply to pray quietly together …for increased mutual understanding and a peaceful resolution of a regrettable difference.”

He drew a positive response from Rabbi Mare Tanenbaum, international affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, long active in efforts to improve Jewish-Catholic relations. One of the most vocal critics of the Pope’s decision to receive Waldheim, Tanenbaum said he favored a joint prayer service “that respects both of our traditions.”

However, Tanenbaum added, it “cannot be a substitute for dealing with the fundamental issues that have been raised by the morally incredible visit between Mr. Waldheim and the Pope.”


Several Jewish leaders complimented Cardinal O’Connor for his sensitivity toward the future of Catholic-Jewish relations. Kenneth Bialkin, chairman of the international affairs section of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and a national Jewish figure, said the dispute, “may be a setback, but not a cause for a schism” between Catholics and Jews.

Rabbi Mordechai Waxman, director of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, said “It would be a sad reflection on what have been great advances in Catholic-Jewish relations if Jewish concern and Jewish statements about their feelings should result in a backlash of anti-Semitism. I applaud Cardinal O’Connor’s desire to reject this backlash.”

O’Connor said that some Catholics had been calling the Archdiocese to express anger at Jewish criticism of the Pope and to complain that he has not been sufficiently forceful in defending the Pontiff.


O’Connor has pointed out that the Pope repeatedly denounces Nazi war crimes and warns against the sin of anti-Semitism. O’Connor also defended the Vatican’s actions during the Nazi era, saying it was responsible for saving 850,000 Jews. He said he would gladly sponsor a forum to examine that record.

In that connection, O’Connor attacked as “inflammatory” an open letter to the Pope by the American Jewish Congress — which appeared in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times Friday — suggesting that Waldheim’s “forgetfulness” of his Nazi past “may echo, however distant…the Church’s forgetfulness as well.”

In another development, Abraham Foxman, associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, cabled Austrian Foreign Minister Alois Mock last week to express distress over his reference to “the hatred emerging from protests of Jewish organizations.”

Mock, who accompanied Waldheim to the Vatican, was asked by the ADL whether his comment was “an effort to blame the victims” of the Holocaust. “Hatred came from the Nazis. Hatred comes from those who refuse to denounce the Nazis and those who helped them,” Foxman’s cable said.

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