Study Shows Majority of U.S. Largest Papers Criticized Pope’s Meeting with Waldheim

Pope John Paul II’s recent meeting with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim was criticized by the vast majority of America’s largest circulation newspapers that commented on the controversial Vatican visit, according to the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. The ADL also said that most newspaper columnists and cartoonists reacted negatively to the June 25 meeting.

In making public the ADL’s “Big 50″ survey of the nation’s leading dailies, Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director, said 19 of the 50 largest circulation newspapers commented editorially on the Pope-Waldheim meeting in a total of 24 editorials on the subject (some newspapers commented more than once).

Most said the meeting reflected poor judgment with 15 expressing dismay that it might strain Catholic-Jewish relations. Some, however, suggested that the visit could be used positively.

Eight editorials — including those in The New York Times, Boston Sunday Globe, Atlanta Constitution and New York Newsday — noted that the Pope missed an important opportunity to condemn Waldheim for his involvement in Nazi atrocities and raise public awareness of the Holocaust.

Three — in the Hartford Courant, Chicago Sun-Times and Los Angeles Herald Examiner–while in general agreement that an important opportunity had been missed, said the Pope had the right to meet with whomever he wished. Two newspapers — The Seattle Times and The Milwaukee Journal — were concerned that the Pope’s action would clear the way for Waldheim to meet with other international figures and dignitaries.

The survey included the following sampling of press comment: The Miami Herald said that Pope John Paul II “disappointed and offended a large segment of the world population” by receiving Waldheim, adding that “Catholics and Jews, especially, find repugnant the Pope’s praise of Mr. Waldheim…”

The New York Times assailed the Pope’s “praise for (Waldheim’s) past good work and not as much as a frown about the darker past that the Austrian President has struggled to hide.” The Times said the “effect is to slight all victims of Hitler’s war.”

The Atlanta Journal questioned the Pope’s intentions, saying “even if the Pope’s original decision to accept the visit were forgivable, his florid and unfettered praise of the man was not. We would hate to see any repetitions of this sad and sorry scene in any more world capitals.”

The ADL’s survey of “Big 50″ columnists disclosed almost unanimous criticism of the Vatican meeting. Of 22 columns, only four did not find the meeting completely objectionable. The rest were strongly critical of the Pope’s decision to welcome Waldheim without acknowledging his Nazi past. Some columnists said the meeting was antagonistic to the Jewish community and harmful to relations between Jews and Catholics.

Ten “Big 50″ newspapers — New York Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Pittsburgh Press, the Seattle Times, The San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, The Kansas City Times, The Miami Herald, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, The Houston Post — published editorial cartoons critical of the Waldheim-Pope meeting.

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