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French Jews Distressed over Catholic View of Touvier Case

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French Jewry is angry over the defense being given by some French Catholics regarding the sheltering of the country’s most wanted Nazi collaborator by a dissident branch of the church.

Paul Touvier, 74, who headed the French militia that worked for the Gestapo in Lyon during World War II, was arrested in Nice on May 24 and charged with crimes against humanity. Reports Monday said Touvier will plead not guilty.

Touvier had been given sanctuary at the Priory of St. Francis, which belongs to the excommunicated Roman Catholic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a fundamentalist diehard opposed to the Catholic-Jewish rapprochement mandated by Vatican Council II.

French Jews are shocked by the attitude of some Catholics, who justify the haven given Touvier by citing the actions of priests who hid Jews during the war.

“This comparison is totally unacceptable.” Emile Touati, president of the Paris Consistory, the body in charge of Jewish religious and cultural affairs, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Sunday.

“How can anyone put on the same level Touvier, a criminal trying to escape from justice, and the innocent Jews?” he asked.

Catholic-Jewish relations have been strained lately by the Church’s inability so far to honor an agreement signed with world Jewish leaders to remove a Carmelite convent built on the grounds of the Auschwitz death camp.

Jean Kahn, the newly elected president of CRIF, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, was more circumspect in his reaction to the defense in the harboring of Touvier.

The Catholic Church is not above criticism in the Touvier case, Kahn told JTA, “but we should not condemn the Catholic Church in its totality, for some priests, bishops and archbishops had a very courageous attitude during World War II,” he said.

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