Chairman of Vatican Dialogue Group Resigns over Disunity on Glemp Visit
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Chairman of Vatican Dialogue Group Resigns over Disunity on Glemp Visit

The chairman of the group charged with representing the world Jewish community in contacts with the Vatican unexpectedly resigned Monday, just three days before Polish Cardinal Jozef Glemp’s visit to the United States was scheduled to begin.

Seymour Reich said he was resigning as chairman of IJCIC, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, to protest “the organization’s failure to reach a consensus on meeting with the cardinal,” whose past remarks about Jews have angered many in the Jewish community.

Reich said he was leaving the post “in sorrow more than anger.” He said he felt a deep sense of frustration at being unable to coordinate a unified Jewish response to the Polish primate’s 18-day visit, which begins Thursday.

Jewish organizational and religious leaders have been at odds about whether to meet with Glemp, who head the Catholic Church in Poland.

Some, who feel the cardinal has not gone far enough in apologizing for his past remarks, have turned down invitations to see him. But a number of others will meet with Glemp on Friday, at the headquarters of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

Reich said he had hoped that IJCIC could reach consensus on whether or not the American Jewish leadership should meet with Glemp.

He said he had tried to convene a meeting last week of the organization’s constituent groups to discuss the issue, but that he was thwarted in his attempt by IJCIC members who did not want the discussion to take place.

The group now plans to hold an emergency meeting Thursday morning to discuss Reich’s resignation. At least one IJCIC member said he would ask Reich to rescind his decision.

“This is not the time to show divisiveness within the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, co-chair of the interreligious affairs committee of the Synagogue Council of America, which represents Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews and is a member agency of IJCIC.


IJCIC members remain deeply divided on the issue of meeting with Glemp, who insulted Jews and Judaism in his now-infamous homily of Aug. 26, 1989, in Czestochowa, Poland.

In that homily, the cardinal accused Jews of “getting peasants drunk,” “spreading communism” and acting “from a position of a people raised above all others.”

He also said that a group of Jewish activists, led by New York Rabbi Avi Weiss, had intended to kill the nuns at the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz during a July 1989 demonstration there.

Glemp backed away from some of those remarks in a letter he sent Aug. 12 to Archbishop Arthur Maida of Detroit, later made public.

He admitted that the Jewish activists “did not intend to kill the sisters or to destroy the convent” and he expressed regret over past “misunderstandings” with the world Jewish community.

He also called anti-Semitism “evil and contrary to the spirit of the Gospel.” But he did not give the explicit apology for his past remarks that many Jewish leaders had hoped for.

As a result, Weiss is going ahead with plans to sue Glemp for libel and defamation. He and Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz intend to serve the cardinal with court papers once he lands on American soil.

Schonfeld of IJCIC agreed with that position, calling Glemp’s letter a “cop-out. If I insult somebody, I apologize to them directly, not by saying it to somebody else,” he said.

Schonfeld said he had turned down an invitation to meet with Glemp extended by the Catholic bishops conference.

But others have accepted their invitations, which were extended to individual Jewish leaders who work on interreligious dialogue. While not entirely pleased with Glemp’s letter, they feel it is a positive step.

One of them is Rabbi Jack Bemporad, who chairs the Synagogue Council panel that Schonfeld co-chairs.

Glemp “is moving in the direction of reconciliation with the Jewish community,” Bemporad said. “This is a first step in the direction of what I think will be a much fuller statement” at the meeting Friday.

“It’s only appropriate that the Jewish community listen to what he has to say.”

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