Jewish Leaders Arranging Meeting on Convent with Vatican Official

An emergency meeting between American Jewish religious leaders and a top adviser to Pope John Paul II has been tentatively arranged for mid-September.

The Carmelite convent at Auschwitz and the pope’s recent “problematic and troubling language” regarding the Jewish covenant with God are likely to be high on the agenda of the consultation, according to Rabbi A. James Rudin.

Rudin is chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, the primary channel for communication between the Vatican and the Jewish world.

IJCIC requested the meeting under a special agreement worked in 1987, when Jewish leaders protested the pope’s meeting with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, who has been at least indirectly linked to Nazi atrocities during World War II.

The agreement provided for urgent meetings between the Vatican and IJCIC, on issues of pressing concern to either party. Such sessions are to be arranged through the office of Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, the Vatican’s secretary of state for religious relations with the Jewish world.

Willebrands has not yet formally responded to the request. But in informal conversations, the meeting has been tentatively scheduled to begin Sept. 12, Rudin said.

Some IJCIC members are hoping that the consultation will include not only Vatican officials, but representatives from the Polish Catholic Church.

Relations between Polish Catholics and the Jewish world have been strained to the breaking point recently by the strife surrounding the continued presence of the convent at Auschwitz.

POPE’S REMARKS TO BE DISCUSSED

Relations reached a crisis point on Aug. 11, when Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, the archbishop of Krakow, announced cancellation of an agreement by Jewish and Catholic leaders to build an interfaith center, where the nuns in the convent would be relocated.

Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, an IJCIC member and former chairman of the group, said that he would like to see both Macharski and Bishop Henryk Muczyinski, chairman of the Polish Church’s commission on Catholic-Jewish relations, attend the September meeting.

“What is at stake here is making sure that Auschwitz is not lost to the Jewish people,” Tanenbaum said.

Another area of tension between Catholics and Jews has been remarks made by the pope over the past three weeks regarding the Jewish covenant with God. In homilies, the pope has made remarks implying that the Christian covenant was created because of Israel’s “infidelities” to God, and that the Jewish covenant is no longer in effect.

The remarks, Tanenbaum said “could very well be a symbolic act of reprisal” by the Vatican for demonstrations and statements by Jews surrounding the controversy over the convent.

He said that Catholics have been “enraged” by Jewish condemnation of the Church over the convent issue. They are particularly upset by a demonstration at the convent last month led by Rabbi Avraham Weiss of New York and six of his followers. The demonstrators entered the convent grounds and were physically attacked by Polish workers.

In addition to the convent and the pope’s remarks, issues the Jewish leaders hope to discuss with the Vatican are the evolving political scene in Eastern Europe, the plight of Lebanese Christians in Lebanon and the Palestinian uprising in Israel’s administered territories.

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