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Three of Four Cardinal Signatories Say Convent Should Be Moved

Three Roman Catholic cardinals who signed the agreement two years ago to remove a Carmelite nunnery from the grounds of Auschwitz have sharply taken to task the fourth signatory, who now refuses to honor their commitment.

Cardinal Albert Decourtray of Lyon declared here Friday that the agreement made with representatives of world Jewry in Geneva on Feb. 22, 1987, “is mandatory and binding on those who signed it. Its decisions cannot be reexamined.”

Decourtray was supported by two other signatories, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris, and Cardinal Godfried Danneels, head of the Catholic Church in Belgium.

Decourtray’s statement, issued in the form of an official communique by the Lyon See, which he heads, responded to the announcement Thursday by Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, the archbishop of Krakow, that he was scrapping plans to construct a prayer and information center off the Auschwitz grounds to house the nuns.

Under the Geneva agreement, which Macharski signed along with the French and Belgian cardinals, the convent was to have been relocated no later than Feb. 22, 1989.

The Polish prelate attributed his change of plans to a “violent campaign of accusations and slanders and outrageous aggression” against the convent.

Macharski was referring to the July 14 demonstration by seven American Jews, led by Rabbi Avraham Weiss of New York, as well as other demonstrations by European Jews.

Decourtray’s statement noted that “the recent demonstrations, as regrettable as they might be, do not count when compared to the cause which the (Geneva) agreement of Feb. 22, 1987, aimed at defending.”

He was referring apparently to the cause of Catholic-Jewish amity and dialogue.

The statement added that “We shall do whatever we can to continue the dialogue started under the Geneva agreement and we need mutual respect so as not to hurt the memory of Auschwitz.”

GENEVA PACT MUST BE RESPECTED

In Brussels, Cardinal Danneels was quoted as saying he concurs fully with his French colleagues, Decourtray and Lustiger, that the Geneva pact must be fully respected.

Theo Klein, the French Jewish leader who headed the Jewish delegation to Geneva in 1987, said he hoped Macharski’s decision would prove to be “only a temporary impediment” and would be overcome in the near future.

Stanislav Musial, secretary of the Polish Church Committee for Dialogue with the Jews, said Macharski’s decision not to honor the 1987 agreement “is a strictly personal decision which has not been approved or even discussed either by the Vatican or by the other (signatory) cardinals.”

Meanwhile, the Brussels-based European Union of Jewish Students expressed outrage and “deep concern” over Macharski’s announcement and accused the Catholic hierarchy of anti-Semitism.

“It appears that the Catholic Church is very good at making high sounding proclamations about Catholic-Jewish relations, but when it comes to the reality of the situation, the many years of official Catholic anti-Semitism still control the actions of the Catholic hierarchy,” the EUJS’s statement said.

The Jewish Central Consistory, which represents the Jewish religious community in Belgium, declared that Macharski’s “unilateral decision not to respect the given word and the signed accord discredits the Church authority which scoffs at the signatures of its prelates and hurts the Jewish community.”

In New York, Rabbi Joel Zaiman, president of the Synagogue Council of American, said Macharski’s announcement “only exacerbates already heightened tensions between the Jewish community and the Catholic Church, both of whom have been trying to make progress toward the resolution of this difficult problem.”

Zaiman said, however, that he was “encouraged by the latest statement by Cardinal Decourtray.”

(JTA Brussels correspondent Yossi Lempkowicz contributed to this report.)

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