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Glemp, in Dramatic Reversal, Urges Convent Be Moved ‘as Soon As Possible’

Cardinal Jozef Glemp of Poland, who publicly chastened Jews for their insistence that the convent at Auschwitz be relocated, has now unequivocally called for its removed to a site outside the grounds of the former death camp.

In a letter addressed to Sir Sigmund Sternberg, a prominent British Jewish leader, Glemp says that a 1987 accord to relocate the convent “should be implemented.”

The cardinal, who heads the Catholic Church in Poland, also speaks of his desire to clear up “ill feelings and misunderstanding.”

The letter is a dramatic reversal by the cardinal, whose comments last month about Jewish interference in the convent issue were construed by Jews and Catholics alike as anti-Semitic.

The letter was drafted in a hastily arranged private dinner meeting Wednesday, hosted by the Polish ambassador in the presence of Sternberg, a businessman who is a member of the British Board of Jewish Deputies.

Sternberg, who is also chairman of the International Council of Christians and Jews, said he regards the letter as “a good beginning.”

“The proof of the pudding will be in the eating,” he said.

Sternberg has written to the cardinal before on the matter of the convent.

Glemp writes that until he had received messages from Sternberg, he “was unaware of the moderating voices, therefore I was glad that some of the shrill voices do not reflect the feelings of world Jewry and aggression is not part of Jewish philosophy.”

WANTS TO FURTHER ‘FRIENDLY DIALOGUE’

Appealing to Jews to mend the broken fences, the cardinal says he is “keen to work on a friendly dialogue between Christians and Jews.”

Speaking of the 1987 agreement to relocate the convent, Glemp says, “We are a people of our word and we understand that the implementation of the declaration can only take place in a tranquil atmosphere.”

Earlier this month, the cardinal called the four cardinals who signed the accord “not competent” and said the declaration should be renegotiated.

Glemp’s letter was released a day after the Vatican issued a strong statement supporting the construction of an interfaith prayer center away from the Auschwitz grounds to house the convent.

When asked Tuesday to respond to the Vatican statement, the cardinal told reporters he would oppose any forced removal of the Auschwitz convent, although he said he had secured funds to construct a new convent at an interfaith center.

He also said it “was an act of wishful thinking” to expect the convent to have been moved by February 1989, the deadline set out by the accord.

That night, on the ABC News program “Nightline,” Glemp said he would oppose any forced relocation of the nuns and would “defend their rights when these rights are infringed upon”

In contrast, Glemp writes in his letter that “it is essential not only to move the convent outside the perimeter of the site, but also to set up the new cultural center. This will help us to continue the dialogue which is so dear to us.”

And he says that “the best solution to the dispute involving the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz would be for work to start as soon as possible.”

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