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French Catholic Clergyman Defends Polish Cardinal’s Speech on Convent

A ranking French Catholic clergyman who supports the Jewish position in the Auschwitz convent dispute has strongly defended Polish Cardinal Jozef Glemp against accusations of anti-Semitism.

Cardinal Albert Decourtray, the archbishop of Lyon, claimed Tuesday that the public has misunderstood a sermon by the Polish primate in which he charged, among other things, that Jews wield influence over the mass media and have been using it to defame Poland over the convent issue.

But in New York, Cardinal John O’Connor said at a news conference Tuesday that he was “shocked” by the Polish primate’s remarks.

Glemp, who is the highest-ranking Catholic official in Poland, has been sharply criticized by Catholics and Jews for remarks they saw as manifestations of classic Polish anti-Semitism.

Even the Solidarity newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, normally supportive of the church, found Glemp’s remarks offensive.

But Decourtray insisted that “it is inconceivable that Cardinal Glemp intended his words to have the meaning world public opinion gave them.”

Neither he nor the other Polish bishops can be accused of anti-Semitism, Decourtray said. “Glemp and the other Polish bishops condemn anti-Semitism.”

Glemp, in a sermon delivered Aug. 26 at the shrine of the Black Madonna, Poland’s most revered icon, in the city of Czestochowa, admonished Jews to stop protesting the presence of the convent at Auschwitz and to “not dictate conditions that are impossible to fulfill.”

He implied that the protests “offend the feelings of all Poles” and have infringed on Polish sovereignty.

GENEVA AGREEMENT STILL VALID

But Decourtray, while defending Glemp, reiterated in the strongest terms that a longstanding commitment by the Church to relocate the convent away from Auschwitz must be honored.

The Lyon archbishop headed a delegation of four European cardinals at a meeting with world Jewish leaders in Geneva on Feb. 22, 1987. They signed an agreement that the convent would be removed from Auschwitz no later than Feb. 22. 1989.

That deadline was not observed. In retaliation for Jewish protests that followed, work was ordered suspended on a ecumenical prayer center away from the Auschwitz grounds, where the Carmelite nuns were to have been relocated.

The order was given Aug. 8 by Cardinal Franscizek Macharski, the archbishop of Krakow, who has jurisdiction over the convent and was himself a signatory to the Geneva agreement.

He was promptly taken to task by Decourtray, who asserted in a statement issued Aug. 11 that the 1987 agreement “is mandatory and binding on those who signed it. Its decisions cannot be re-examined.”

The other two signatories, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris, and Cardinal Godfried Daneels, head of the Catholic Church in Belgium, concurred.

Decourtray insisted again Tuesday that the agreement to remove the convent from Auschwitz “has not been canceled” and remains valid.

ANGRY CALLS TO POLISH PAPER

Decourtray also implied criticism of the French news media for not sufficiently reporting “those Polish voices which show sensitivity to Jewish feelings and the Shoah tragedy.”

The “Polish voices” he referred to doubtlessly included the Solidarity newspaper.

It published an editorial signed by the prominent Polish Catholic intellectual, Krzystof Sliwinski, which took a swipe at Glemp.

Sliwinski warned, “One should not doubt the sincerity of Jewish feelings on this issue and see in their protests only a political or media manipulation.”

Editors of the newspaper reported they had many angry telephone calls Monday and Tuesday protesting Sliwinski’s editorial.

In New York, Cardinal O’Connor came out strongly against Glemp’s comments.

O’Connor, who is archbishop of New York, met Tuesday morning with Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, shortly after he first read of Glemp’s comments.

Siegman said that O’Connor appeared “visibly stunned” by the strong words of his fellow cardinal.

“One gets the impression that Cardinal Glemp is so distressed at the Jewish community, in particular, representatives of the Jewish community in New York, that one almost gets the impression that the blame is now being transferred to the Jewish community,” O’Connor said at his news conference.

The archbishop was more vocal than he has been to date in favor of the convent being moved.

He said that he wished that the Polish hierarchy “would get on with the formal commitment that was signed in Geneva.”

(JTA staff writer Allison Kaplan in New York contributed to this report.)

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