Menu JTA Search

Jewish Leaders Insisting on Apology from Polish Cardinal Before U.S. Trip

Polish Cardinal Jozef Glemp will have to apologize explicitly for anti-Semitic remarks he made two years ago if he expects to meet with Jewish religious and organizational leaders during his planned visit to the United States next month.

That is the consensus that has emerged from discussions Jewish communal leaders have had about Glemp’s planned tour of 14 American cities, which is set to begin in Washington on Sept. 20 and end in New York on Oct. 7.

The cardinal, who heads the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, charged in a homily he delivered in Czestochowa on Aug. 26, 1989, that Jews “got peasants drunk,” “spread communism” and control the international media.

The resulting outcry from Jews and Catholics alike forced Glemp to cancel a trip he had planned to the United States shortly thereafter.

At the time, Catholic-Jewish relations were severely strained by a dispute over the presence of a group of Carmelite nuns in a convent on the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Relations have improved since construction began on a new convent away from the camp, where the nuns will eventually be relocated.

During his upcoming visit, Glemp reportedly wants to clear the air and shore up Catholic-Jewish ties.

Glemp is “a man of good will and has indicated a willingness to meet with Jewish groups,” said Dr. Eugene Fisher, director of Catholic-Jewish relations for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

We’ve “gotten the impression that he wants to issue a statement, wants to create a new chapter in Catholic-Jewish relations,” said Seymour Reich, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, or IJCIC, the Jewish body recognized by the Vatican as the vehicle for dialogue with the church.

A STATEMENT ‘FROM THE HEART’

If an improvement in the atmosphere is to happen, Reich said, Glemp must personally make a sincere statement of regret for his past remarks. “It must come from the heart and have a true ring,” he said.

In his now-infamous homily, Glemp also attacked Rabbi Avi Weiss of New York, who had led a demonstration to the convent at Auschwitz with six followers the month before. The cardinal accused Weiss of trying to kill the Polish nuns.

The rabbi has demanded that Glemp retract the comments and apologize, and is suing him for slander in the Polish courts.

If he does not issue an apology, Weiss’ lawyer, Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, plans to serve Glemp with court papers for defamation and libel when he arrives in the United States.

Jewish community leaders at national organizations, community relations councils and federations across the country are calling on Glemp to apologize for his remarks and condemn anti-Semitism before he comes to this country.

If he does not, they say, they will not meet with him.

“He has to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism, must apologize for his Czestochowa homily and explicitly state that Avi Weiss, during his demonstration, had no intention of harming the nuns,” according to one organizational head.

“He must also recognize the Jewish dimension of the Holocaust. Unless we feel confident these conditions will be met, he will not be received by American Jewish organizations,” the organizational leader added.

NOT SEEKING A ‘BROUHAHA’

The specifics of what the major national organizations of the American Jewry expect of the Polish primate were discussed at an IJCIC meeting last week.

Representatives of IJCIC member agencies, including the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai Brith International, the Synagogue Council of America and the World Jewish Congress, “were in agreement that Glemp would have to address certain issues,” Reich said.

“We’re trying to suggest things that would make Glemp’s trip a success rather than a brouhaha,” he said.

But Gunther Lawrence, a Synagogue Council of America representative who said he was “designated sole spokesman” for IJCIC on the matter, said no decision had been reached about what specifically to expect from Glemp.

IJCIC has “absolutely not conveyed to the Polish Episcopate any language. IJCIC has not done anything,” he said.

The Bishops Conference has considered input from Jewish leaders about the content of the statement they would like Glemp to make.

“We will be communicating to people in the Polish (Catholic) hierarchy what we heard” from Jewish communal leaders, said Fisher.

“That will include discussion of the Avi Weiss dispute, confirmation by Glemp of plans to relocate nuns (in the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz), all of the points raised,” he said.

There have been indications that Glemp has changed his attitude toward Jews since the 1989 homily.

He gave his imprimatur to a pastoral letter on Jews and Judaism, read in all of Poland’s Catholic churches last January. And he appears to have monitored progress on the construction of the new convent complex near Auschwitz.

ATONING FOR HIS ‘SIN’

But American Jews would like to see the changes in Glemp’s perspective made explicit, through a condemnation of anti-Semitism and a confirmation of the pledge that the new head of the Carmelite order made to have the nuns relocated by October 1992.

A positive attitude toward Jews and Judaism on Glemp’s part would not necessarily indicate that he underwent some philosophical transformation, say observers, but rather that he has finally endorsed a position that both the Vatican and Polish President Lech Walesa have recently articulated: that anti-Semitism is unacceptable.

“We are not asking for something out of this world, but simply for Glemp to reconfirm Vatican II documents,” Leon Klenicki, director of interfaith affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, said, referring to the 1965 documents that reshaped the church’s attitude toward Judaism.

American Jews expect Glemp to openly denounce anti-Semitism, “especially since his ‘landsman,’ the pope, called it a sin,’ Klenicki said.” So perhaps he is in a state of sin.

“Glemp has to do a ‘heshbon ha-nefesh,’ an accounting of his soul,” he added.

NEXT STORY