NEW YORK (Jan. 5)
Pope John Paul II will meet with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim during a visit to Austria scheduled for June 23 to 27, according to unconfirmed news reports from the Vatican Tuesday.
The pope also will meet, on June 24, with Austrian Jewish leaders who protested his controversial audience at the Vatican with Waldheim last summer, the reports said.
Arrangements for the visit were apparently made during Waldheim’s audience at the Vatican last June. John Paul II first visited Austria as pope in 1983.
Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) and director of international relations for the American Jewish Committee, said Tuesday evening that a papal meeting with Waldheim is not certain, because Waldheim may face pressure to resign from office before June.
An international commission of historians is studying Waldheim’s activities as a lieutenant in the German Army during World War II, when he allegedly was involved in deportations of Greek Jews to Auschwitz, among other crimes.
Waldheim has repeatedly denied that he was involved in war crimes.
“If Waldheim still remains in office, then clearly the Austrian government would expect (the pope) to meet with him,” Tannenbaum said.
The Jewish leader said IJCIC will meet Thursday to discuss alternative proposals to a papal-Waldheim meeting, which the group will transmit to Vatican officials.
“We don’t want a repetition of the tumultuous events of the summer,” he said.
Regarding the upcoming visit, Morris Abram, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, suggested in a statement that the pope use the visit to “give public expression to his views on the Holocaust and its dreadful and continuing lessons to all mankind.”
In a separate statement, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said he hoped the pope would “not repeat the overly lavish praise for Mr. Waldheim when they met last summer, and which appeared to absolve the former U.N. official of the charges that have been made against him.”
Waldheim is a former secretary general of the United Nations.
Schindler called for a meeting of Austrian Catholic clergy to discuss anti-Semitism. He also said the “best suggestion of all” would be for Waldheim to resign the presidency before the pope arrives, and thus “spare the Austrian people and the pope himself the embarrassment of another meeting” with Waldheim.
In April, the U.S. Justice Department formally barred Waldheim from visiting the United States as a private citizen, saying it had sufficient evidence to suspect him of involvement in Nazi war crimes.