LONDON (Sep. 20)
Cardinal Jozef Glemp of Poland said Tuesday that he would oppose any forced removal of the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz.
But at the same time, he said he had secured funds to help relocate the nuns away from the site of the former death camp.
The Polish primate, speaking in Bristol, did not say when or to where the move might take place.
But he said he had obtained a pledge of financial assistance from a Jewish charitable trust headed by Zygmunt Nissenbaum, a Warsaw Ghetto survivor who became a millionaire businessman and lives in West Germany. The two met last week in Warsaw.
However, his remarks hinting at a resolution of the convent dispute were upstaged by the Vatican, which itself offered Tuesday to help fund an interfaith prayer center away from Auschwitz, where the nuns would be moved.
Breaking its long silence on the issue, which has roiled Catholic-Jewish relations most of this year, the Vatican also endorsed for the first time the 1987 agreement between Catholic and Jewish leaders to remove the convent from Auschwitz within two years.
Glemp insisted only last week that the agreement be renegotiated, on the grounds that the four European cardinals who signed it lacked the competence to make such a commitment.
Apparently out of touch with the Vatican, he repeated his criticism of the accord here Tuesday. He said it was “an act of wishful thinking” to expect the convent to have been moved by February 1989.
‘NOT FOR THE JEWS TO DECIDE’
Later, in an interview with Ted Koppel on the ABC News “Nightline” program, Glemp said he would oppose any forced relocation of the nuns and said he would “defend their rights when these rights are infringed upon.”
He also told Koppel he failed to understand “why the presence of the Carmelite sisters insults the Jews.”
In his remarks here, Glemp moderated his recent criticism of Jewish protesters at Auschwitz. But he said they “had touched upon the dignity of the nuns,” adding that “it was just not for the Jews to decide.”
In a sermon on Aug. 26, Glemp accused one group of protesters, headed by Rabbi Avraham Weiss of New York, of trying to break into the convent and harm the nuns.
He claimed Jews controlled the international news media and were using it to vilify Poland.
In New York, Weiss issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the Vatican statement for failing to condemn Glemp for his “outrageous anti-Semitic canards of Aug. 26.”
But in Bristol, Glemp claimed his remarks were incorrectly reported and distorted by the news media.
News that the Nissenbaum Foundation had offered to help build a center for dialogue and prayer near Auschwitz, where the Carmelite nuns would be housed, were reported last week by the official Polish news agency PAP.
The Nissenbaum Foundation’s brochure lists its headquarters in Constance, West Germany, and mentions an office in Warsaw. According to the brochure, the foundation was established in 1985″to rescue the cultural heritage of the Jews of Poland.”
The brochure claims that as early as 1987, Nissenbaum submitted plans to Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, the archbishop of Krakow, for a Jewish-Christian prayer center outside the Auschwitz camp, to contain a synagogue and a convent.
The brochure says Nissenbaum’s foundation offered to pay for the project, which awaits official approval.