Clerics Challenge Glemp’s Insistence That Convent Accord Be Renegotiated
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Clerics Challenge Glemp’s Insistence That Convent Accord Be Renegotiated

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The bitter controversy over a Carmelite convent on the grounds of the former Auschwitz death camp has suddenly pitted the Polish primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, against prominent members of the European Catholic clergy.

Glemp, who only a week ago infuriated Jews with an anti-Semitic polemic on the issue, drew sharp responses from his peers over the weekend, after calling on the church to renegotiate an agreement it reached with Jewish leaders in Geneva more than two years ago to relocate the convent.

The agreement’s implementation has been blocked by the Polish Church, and Glemp contends now that the Catholic leaders who signed it were not “competent” to do so.

Cardinal Albert Decourtray, the archbishop of Lyon, dismissed Glemp’s charges Sunday as “pure nonsense.”

“I am shocked, I am wounded” by Glemp’s declarations, Decourtray told a news conference in Lyon.

“I do not understand Cardinal Glemp’s remarks, and I do not accept them. Keeping the Carmelites within the site of the former Auschwitz concentration camp would break international law,” he said.

Decourtray headed the delegation of four European cardinals who signed the agreement with world Jewish leaders on Feb. 22, 1987, in Geneva.

Two of the other three, Cardinal Jean Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris, and Cardinal God-fried Daneels, archbishop of Brussels, joined Decourtray in joint statement released here, which said that “the signed commitments should be upheld.”


Theo Klein, who headed the Jewish delegation to Geneva, also had a reply for Glemp. “Passions have reached a new pitch, and for us Jews, it is impossible to take another step,” he said, ruling out renegotiation.

Klein, a former president of the European Jewish Congress and of CRIF, the Representative Council of Jewish Organizations in France, told the daily newspaper Le Monde, “I fail to see who could resume negotiations with Cardinal Glemp, as he has denied the authority of both the Catholic and the Jewish personalities who negotiated the Geneva agreement.

“I can’t imagine that others would be ready to replace us,” he said.

The fourth signatory of the Geneva agreement, Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, has angered Jews by his dilatory tactics.

Macharski, who is archbishop of Krakow has direct jurisdiction over the convent, although he is Glemp’s subordinate. Last month, he ordered construction suspended on a ecumenical prayer center off the Auschwitz grounds, where the 17 Carmelite sisters living in the convent were to be relocated.

He said at the time that he was driven by anger at Jewish groups who demonstrated outside the convent, protesting the church’s failure to honor its deadline.

Glemp, interviewed Saturday by the Rome dailies La Repubblica and II Messaggero, said the prayer center would cost too much to build.

“I think that Macharski signed the agreement because things were done a little too fast,” he said, implying possibly that the Jews had not given the cardinals time to reflect.


Glemp, who is archbishop of Warsaw, stated flatly that the idea of moving the convent offended him, “because it is an irrational gesture.”

He asked Domenico del Rio, Vatican correspondent of La Repubblica: “Suppose that I come into your house and say you have to move that dresser. You justifiably would respond, ‘Stupid, this is my property.'”

When del Rio pointed out that the Geneva accord was signed “by eminent clergymen,” Glemp replied, “No, by Cardinal Macharski and a group of people who are not competent.”

He added, “I want the agreement renegotiated. It has to be done by competent persons and not by any cardinal who doesn’t understand things.”

Glemp explained he meant persons “who didn’t understand the mentality of the Polish people.”

In Brussels, Cardinal Daneels, who heads the Catholic Church in Belgium, took strong exception. He said that if Glemp means the signatories of the Geneva agreement had no specific mandate from Pope John Paul II, that was true.

But “if Glemp means that we didn’t know anything about the situation in Poland, that’s not true, because we knew it quite well,” Daneels said.

Glemp insisted, however, that “everything has to be renegotiated calmly, through dialogue, as I propose. It has to be looked over, but with competent people. And the Poles must not be excluded.”

Glemp added that “the archbishop of Krakow (Macharski) only represents the Church of Krakow. The problem is much greater.”


Glemp said he thought it was “a scandal” to ask that the nuns be removed from the Auschwitz convent. “What are we supposed to do, put the nuns in tents?” he asked.

He said he did not understand why anyone was “offended by nuns staying there and praying next to the wall of the concentration camp. The land on which they are is also the place where Catholics, or let us say Christians, have been martyred.

“It is the Jews who have to understand that to consecrate a life to prayer near the place where Christians have been martyred should not offend their sensibilities,” he said.

Glemp was defended by Msgr. Adrian Simonis, the archbishop of Utrecht, who is the highest-ranking Catholic in the Netherlands.

Simonis charged Friday that the climate surrounding the convent controversy has been exacerbated “by very fanatical Jews.”

Addressing a meeting of the diocesan pastoral council in Utrecht, he accused American Jewish demonstrators at Auschwitz of trying to remove a 23-foot-high cross erected in front of the convent.

“If one touches the cross, one touches the soul of the Polish people,” Simonis said.

(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Edwin Eytan in Paris, Ruth E. Gruber in Rome, Yossi Lempkowicz in Brussels and Henrietta Boas in Amsterdam.)

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