WASHINGTON (Aug. 31)
Members of Congress have turned up the volume of protest against the Vatican’s knighthood of Kurt Waldheim last month.
Led by U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), 30 House members have signed a letter urging the Vatican “in the strongest terms” to rescind Waldheim’s knighthood.
In a July 6 ceremony in Vienna, Waldheim was made a member of the Ordine Piano, an order of knights named directly by Pope John Paul II.
Waldheim, the former president of Austria and former secretary-general of the United Nations, is banned from the United States for his Nazi activities during World War II. As a Nazi intelligence officer stationed in the Balkans, Waldheim has been implicated in the deportations of Jews to forced labor camps and reprisal killings of Yugoslav partisans.
Granting Waldheim this knighthood “implies that the world can overlook the gas chamber, ignore the slave labor, and forget the millions of Jews and others who perished at the hands of Nazi terror,” the members of Congress wrote in their letter to Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, the Vatican’s envoy in Washington.
Following the award, the Israeli government as well as Jewish groups denounced the move.
They were further incensed at the news that Pope John Paul II later bestowed a similar honor on Waldheim’s 50th wedding anniversary.
The pope has “continued to insult the world Jewish community” with the recognition of Waldheim’s wife, said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Although Heir expressed regret for the decision to honor Elisabeth Waldheim, he said, “We do not feel the same disgust because there is no evidence that she committed any war crimes.”
Meanwhile, the Israeli government is still awaiting an explanation from the Vatican for its recent move.
On Aug. 4, Shmuel Hadas, Israel’s first ambassador to the Vatican, met with a Vatican official seeking an explanation.
“We have not yet received a response,” according to Avi Granot, counselor for church affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
Israel and the Vatican established diplomatic relations earlier this year.