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Glemp Says Past Remarks About Jews Were ‘based on Mistaken Information’

Cardinal Jozef Glemp of Poland emerged from a meeting with a dozen Jewish leaders here Friday saying that “through dialogue” he now understands that statements he made in a homily two years ago “may have caused pain to the Jewish community and were seen as fostering stereotypes of Jews and Judaism.”

In the Aug. 26, 1989 homily, Glemp, who heads the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, accused Jews of getting peasants drunk, exerting control over the international news media and introducing communism to Poland.

In a statement Friday, the cardinal said those remarks “were, in many aspects, based on mistaken information.” He explained that they had been made during the “difficult and highly emotional events of the summer of 1989,” which centered on the dispute over the Carmelite convent at the Auschwitz death camp.

Most of the Jewish participants in the two-hour meeting with Glemp said they accepted his explanation as an apology, although the cardinal did not use the word “apologize” in his prepared statement or during the news conference that followed the meeting.

“The statement indicates he was in error. That indicates an apology,” said Rabbi Mordechai Waxman of Great Neck, N.Y., a congregational rabbi and representative of the Conservative movement on the Synagogue Council of America.

In a statement of their own, the Jewish participants described the meeting, which took place at the headquarters of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops here, as “forthright, open and, we believe, a constructive conversation.”

‘ENORMOUS STEP FORWARD’

But they did not say whether they believed the cardinal had adequately apologized for past remarks. And Jerome Chanes, co-director for domestic concerns of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, said that “in terms of substance, there were some serious questions that are as yet unresolved.”

Nevertheless, many of the participants felt Glemp’s position was significantly forthcoming.

Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, described Glemp’s statement after the meeting as a “clear and unambiguous acknowledgement that aspects of his statements in his homily were mistaken.”

That acknowledgement “constitutes an enormous step forward,” he said.

Rabbi Jack Bemporad of Lawrence, N.Y., who chairs the Synagogue Council’s interreligious affairs committee, called the change in Glemp’s attitude toward Jews “epochal.”

Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, a longtime player in the interreligious arena, said he believed that the remarks Glemp made during 1989, which inflamed Jews and Catholics all over the world, were made out of “his misunderstanding of history.”

Glemp “knows that he has made an egregious error that grew out of his lack of information and experience,” he said. He added that many Poles share the cardinal’s “difference in the perception of the role of Jews” in history.

During the meeting, the Polish primate said he had never met so many Jews at one time, participants reported.

The cardinal was subdued afterward during a news conference with a dozen American journalists and 10 Polish reporters, in contrast to what the Jewish participants in the dialogue called his animated and frank manner during their meeting with him.

“There was a vigorous spirit of give and take, and of candor” during the meeting, according to Rudin of AJCommittee. “I had a palpable sense that a door previously closed had been opened,” he said.

Rabbi Jerome Davidson, of Great Neck, N.Y., and president of the Synagogue Council, said some in the Jewish community had made “an idol out of the word ‘apologize,’ and were using it to justify their own reluctance to participate in dialogue.”

He was referring to several important participants in Jewish-Catholic dialogue who refused to meet with Glemp because he had not, before departing Poland on Sept. 18, specifically addressed the assertions he made in the 1989 homily about Jews and Judaism.

‘MANY MORE STEPS TO TAKE’

One of those who refused to meet with the cardinal was Seymour Reich, who resigned last week — three days before Glemp’s arrival — as chairman of IJCIC, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, which is charged with representing the world Jewish community in contacts with the Vatican.

Reich, who quit in frustration over IJCIC members’ inability to reach consensus on whether to meet with the cardinal, said in a telephone interview after Friday’s meeting that he was “still disappointed with Glemp’s failure to acknowledge the error of the homily, to retract the anti-Semitic statements and to understand the harm that his statements caused.”

“What was really missing was that he didn’t make any significant statement in Poland before he left,” said Reich.

“When he speaks without a script, like he did at the Warsaw airport, his guttural references come forth.”

Reich was referring to a Sept. 18 interview with the Polish press, in which Glemp appeared to justify the contentions in his 1989 homily, asserting that they were backed up by literature and sociological research.

Glemp “really has many more steps to take, and the Washington meeting may have been one of those steps,” he said.

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, went even further.

“Glemp demonstrated that he snookered the Jews. He emerged from the meeting to declare there is no anti-Semitism in Poland, just three days after the violent anti-Semitic attack on the Warsaw synagogue.”

He was referring to a Sept. 13 attack by six drunken teen-agers on the Warsaw synagogue, in which an elderly Jewish community staff member was badly beaten.

During the news conference, Glemp was asked if he would restate his position about Jews and Judaism after he returns to Poland on Oct. 7.

The prelate replied that Friday’s statement would be published in his home country. He also said, “We are looking for new forms of cooperation to work for the common good” of Jews and Poles in Poland.

SMALL PROTEST OUTSIDE MEETING

As the cardinal arrived Friday morning at the Bishops Conference for his meeting with the Jewish leaders, New York activist Rabbi Avi Weiss tried unsuccessfully to serve Glemp with papers related to the civil suit he has filed against the primate for defamation and libel.

In his August 1989 homily, Glemp accused Weiss and his followers of trying to destroy the convent at Auschwitz and to kill the nuns there during a protest they staged the month before.

The cardinal admitted, in a letter last month to Archbishop Adam Maida of Detroit, that the Jewish activists “did not intend to kill the sisters or to destroy the convent.” But Weiss called that statement inadequate.

On Friday, Weiss and about a dozen of his followers remained just outside the entrance to the building and demonstrated, carrying signs reading “Cardinal Glemp: Dialogue, Not Diatribe” and “Glemp: Apologize!”

Weiss said that his attorney, Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, had asked Glemp’s lawyer that they be able to serve the cardinal with the court papers “with dignity.”

“If he disagrees, we’ll have to surprise him,” Weiss said. He pledged to bring his “entire synagogue to Cardinal (John) O’Connor’s residence for a peaceful prayer vigil” when Glemp meets with the archbishop of New York on Oct. 6.

Some New York Jewish leaders are now discussing whether to seek a meeting with Glemp when he comes there. And Jewish leaders in Chicago are deciding whether to show up for an appearance the cardinal is scheduled to make at Spertus College of Judaica there.

The cardinal plans to make stops in 14 cities during his visit to the United States.

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