ADL Officials Cancel Audience with Pope Because of Convent

The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith backed off from a confrontation with Pope John Paul II Friday over the presence of a Carmelite convent on the grounds of the former Auschwitz death camp.

In a highly unusual and uncharacteristic move, the ADL canceled on Thursday afternoon an audience with the pontiff scheduled for the following day.

“It was mutually understood that some items on the ADL agenda had the potential for exacerbating tensions, and it was considered more productive to reschedule the meeting for a later time,” the ADL said in a statement released here by Burton Levinson, its national chairman, and Abraham Foxman, its national director.

Rabbi Leon Klenicki, head of interfaith affairs for the ADL, said, “It was evident to us that the pope was not comfortable in considering the question of the convent in Auschwitz.”

He stressed, however, that the matter should not be considered a setback in the Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

“The dialogue will continue. This is one event in our relationship. The Vatican knows of our friendship, and it is in the nature of friendship to be critical,” Klenicki said.

One purpose of the audience was to introduce Klenicki and Rabbi David Rosen to the pope as ADL’s new liaisons to the Vatican. Rosen is director of interreligious affairs in ADL’s Jerusalem office.

A ‘TRAGIC MISUNDERSTANDING’

Levinson had planned to read a statement urging the pope to involve himself in having the convent removed from the Auschwitz grounds.

Instead, he made the text of his statement available to the news media. It urged the pope to “find an effective reply to the tragic misunderstanding” over the convent.

“For the Jewish religious conscience, this defiled plot of land, where nearly half of the six million were murdered, is synonymous with the Shoah (Holocaust) and must cry out in stark silence to all future generations,” he said.

Auschwitz should be “inhabited only by memories,” he said.

Jewish groups all over the world are dismayed that the convent has not been relocated.

A February 1987 agreement, signed in Geneva by Jewish leaders and leading European cardinals, specified that the convent would be moved within two years.

Klenicki said that the canceled audience does not mean the ADL supports a boycott of the pontiff over the Auschwitz affair, which some Jewish leaders have advocated. He said that he and Rabbi Rosen would be in Rome for contacts with the Vatican every six months.

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