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Jewish Leader May Go to Vatican to Smooth Way for Consultation

The group that formally represents world Jewry in its dealings with the Vatican has authorized its chairman to travel to Rome to smooth the way for an impending meeting between high-level Catholic and Jewish leaders.

Rabbi James Rudin, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, said there is “a strong possibility” that a trip to Rome will be necessary, in order to finalize plans for a meeting between an IJCIC delegation and top Vatican officials, notably Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican secretary of state.

IJCIC first requested the urgent meeting with Casaroli last month, in the midst of the continuing controversy over the presence of the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz.

The request for the consultation came after the archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, announced he was canceling a 1987 agreement between Catholic and Jewish leaders to relocate the nuns to an interreligious center to be built off the grounds of the death camp.

Since then, remarks by the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, have further heightened tensions between Catholics and Jews.

Glemp offended Jews with statements Aug. 26 widely seen as anti-Semitic and a call at the end of last week for a renegotiation of the agreement to relocate the convent.

MEETING MAY BE PUSHED BACK

Rudin said he has been in constant touch with Vatican officials trying to finalize the arrangements for the meeting, which IJCIC originally requested for Sept. 12. But he said there is a strong likelihood that the date of the consultation will now be closer to the end of September.

Rudin said his first priority is not the timing of the meeting, but the ability of the IJCIC delegation to meet with the proper officials, in particular Casaroli.

“To go to Rome without meeting with the principal players makes no sense,” he said.

At an IJCIC meeting Thursday, members voted to authorize Rudin “to pursue all contacts with the Vatican vigorously,” including the option of going to the Vatican.

Publicly, the Vatican has said it will not take sides in the convent dispute.

On Monday, a Vatican spokesperson in Rome maintained that the pope considers the convent a local problem. The Vatican “has taken no side in the discussion now, and it did not four years ago when the issue arose,” the spokesperson said.

An official from the World Jewish Congress has taken issue with that statement, pointing to a speech that Pope John Paul II delivered to Austrian Jews in June 1988.

In the speech, the pope said that “among the many modern initiatives which are being undertaken to further the dialogue between Jews and Christians” was “the center of information education, friendship and prayer which is being established in Poland.”

At the time, the pope gave the interfaith center his blessing, wishing that “its work be fruitful and may it serve as an example for other nations.”

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