NEW YORK (Aug. 31)
Controversy continued to swirl Thursday around the escalating crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations regarding both the convent at Auschwitz and recent anti-Semitic remarks by Poland’s Cardinal Jozef Glemp.
A consensus appeared to be developing among American Catholic leadership in favor of relocating the Auschwitz convent, as the archbishops of the cities of Los Angeles and Boston joined New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor in asking that the convent be moved quickly.
The Los Angeles archbishop also agreed that Glemp’s comments were “harmful and distressing.”
Both Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Archbishop Roger Mahony of Los Angeles made their pleas to the Polish Catholic leadership and the Auschwitz nuns, in the interest of Christian-Jewish harmony.
At the same time, New York Rabbi Avraham Weiss was pursuing a more confrontational strategy in dealing with the strains with the Polish Catholic Church.
Weiss has retained renowned attorney Alan Dershowitz to investigate what legal action can be taken against Glemp both in Polish and American courtrooms.
It was Weiss and his six companions who climbed over the fence surrounding the Carmelite convent on July 14, in a protest that sparked the present round of controversy. The group was subsequently drenched with water, beaten and dragged off of the convent grounds by workers.
In remarks made at a Polish feast Saturday, Glemp referred to “a squad of seven Jews from New York” who “launched attacks on the convent at Oswiecim (Auschwitz). In fact, it did not happen that the sisters were killed or the convent destroyed, because they were apprehended. But do not call the attackers heroes.”
In the same speech, Glemp implied that Jews were directing the international media against Poland and implied that Jewish activism over the convent issue was working to destroy Poland’s sovereignty.
SLANDERED AND DEFAMED
“The cardinal clearly slandered and defamed Weiss and the other protestors who went in a Martin Luther King manner of non-violence to the convent,” Dershowitz told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Dershowitz said that Glemp’s words were slanderous “under Polish, American and Vatican law.” He said the Polish primate had “a long history of racism, which we will document.”
He accused Glemp of being a life-long supporter of an anti-Semitic political party and claimed that Glemp vetoed the Solidarity party’s first choice for prime minister because he was born Jewish.
Weiss said he is not regarding this action as “a personal issue,” but that he viewed Glemp’s comments “as a slap in the face to the entire Jewish community, so it’s my responsibility to pursue it, using any legal recourse.”
Weiss and Dershowitz may soon have the opportunity to pursue the matter in the United States. Glemp is scheduled to arrive in the United States in late September on a visit to the Chicago and Milwaukee Polish Catholic communities.
“If he steps one foot in this country, we are going to serve him a summons and subpoena on a slander charge,” Dershowitz said.
Said Weiss, “If he’s going to be in Chicago, I’m going to be in Chicago. Wherever he will be, I will be. I will confront him face to face.”
The Chicago Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith has already received an invitation for an ecumenical prayer service and reception honoring Glemp on Sept. 25.
“As of this moment, if there is no apology and retraction by Cardinal Glemp, we do not plan to attend,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director.
But if Glemp chooses to cancel his visit here, Weiss and Dershowitz still plan to follow the matter, both in Polish courts and with the Vatican.
“In the ecclesiastical forum, we plan to file a complaint with the Vatican,” said Dershowitz. “In the past, the Vatican has dismissed cardinals and taken disciplinary actions against cardinals. We want the Vatican to issue disciplinary sanctions against the cardinal.”
Dershowitz added that “when a cardinal libels someone, he doesn’t have the immunity of law. This isn’t the Middle Ages anymore.”
UPBEAT ON STATEMENTS
While Weiss planned his legal strategy, other Jewish leaders sounded upbeat Thursday about the statements issued by the Boston and Los Angeles archbishops.
Cardinal Law of Boston published an open letter to the Carmelite nuns asking them to relocate.
In the letter, he expressed great sympathy for the nuns’ position, but requested that, in the interest of Christian-Jewish peace, they move from the site of the death camp.
“Unwittingly, you are at the center of a dispute which threatens Catholic-Jewish relations and which casts an unmerited shadow on the great Polish people at a pivotal point in their history,” Law wrote.
“St. Paul reminds us that even if there is no objective cause for offense to be taken, we should still avoid the act which others deem offensive,” he said.
“In the name of Christ’s reconciling love,” Law wrote, “I hope you will find it possible to move from your present site.”
In Los Angeles, Archbishop Mahony said he would “publicly associate” himself with O’Connor’s remarks on Tuesday, which asked “Polish church officials to get on with their formal commitment to relocate the convent.”
O’Connor also said he had been “shocked” by Glemp’s remarks, and that Glemp was transferring the blame for the failure of Polish Catholic leaders to honor the agreement to move the convent.
Weiss said he was very pleased with O’Connor’s statement. “It took courage for him to stand up and tell Glemp that what he said is outrageous.”
Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, called Law’s letter “a very positive statement from a very important leader,” and said Mahony’s remarks were “extremely important and significant.”
Rudin, who is also chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, said he was pleased that “we are beginning to see reactions from the American leadership” of the Catholic Church.
He said the remarks signaled that the Auschwitz convent issue was moving away from being strictly a Jewish-Catholic question, and was now becoming a topic of debate “inside the Catholic community.”
(JTA staff intern Elena Neuman in New York contributed to this report.)