NEW YORK (Feb. 23)
— International Jewish groups expressed their disappointment this week over the failure of the Roman Catholic Church to meet an agreed-upon deadline to move a convent of Carmelite nuns out of their home at the Auschwitz death camp.
This failure has further postponed an inter-religious conference that was planned on the history of Church anti-Semitism, the Jewish representatives say.
On Thursday, members of IJCIC, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, met in New York to discuss the passing of the Feb. 22 deadline for the nuns’ move.
Following several recent church statements admitting an alternative site to the camp was not ready, IJCIC noted “with deep regret that the commitment undertaken by leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to representatives of the Jewish communities in Europe and solemnly spelled out in the ‘Geneva II’ accord of Feb. 22, 1987, remain unfulfilled.”
“We gave them the full time allowed them according to the agreement they signed two years ago,” Rabbi A. James Rudin, chairman of IJCIC, said Thursday. “We waited till a full two years had expired.”
Reports from Europe on Thursday said that one of the agreement’s signators, the archbishop of Krakow, had sent a pastoral letter indicating the nuns would move. He gave no date for the move, the problem the Jewish leaders have been citing all along.
The nuns were supposed to have been relocated by Wednesday to another site away from the camp, according to the agreement signed exactly two years ago in Geneva by nine European Jewish officials and nine Catholic officials, including four cardinals.
“We are profoundly disappointed that the promised closing of the Carmelite convent at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and the construction of a study and research center which would also accommodate the Carmelite sisters, has not taken place within the agreed-upon two-year period,” the IJCIC statement said.
Lionel Kopelowitz, president of the European Jewish Congress and a member of the British Board of Jewish Deputies, issued a statement from Brussels expressing “profound disappointment at the failure of the Roman Catholic Church” to honor the agreement.
Rudin emphasized that not a spade had been struck in the ground to build the new site for the approximately 10 nuns in the last two years.
But in a more encouraging vein, Rudin, who is director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said “the full and speedy implementation of ‘Geneva II’ will ensure a mutually satisfactory solution to this problem.
“Once this is achieved,” he said, “my IJCIC colleagues and I look forward to the renewal of our fruitful and important dialogue with the Vatican.”
The signed agreement said “there will be no permanent Catholic place of prayer on the site of the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps. Every person will be able to meditate as his heart, his religion and his faith may dictate.”
The IJCIC statement of Thursday acknowledged “with appreciation recent positive initiatives to resolve the problem on the part of Albert Cardinal Decourtray, archbishop of Lyon and the president of the French Bishops’ Conference,” who co-chaired the Geneva meetings.
Kopelowitz also acknowledged “positive initiatives on the part of high-ranking Catholic prelates.”
Said Rudin succinctly, “This is a problem that has a solution.”
IJCIC member organizations are the AJCommittee, B’nai B’rith International, Israel Interfaith Association, Synagogue Council of America and the World Jewish Congress.