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Reaction Mixed to Statement of Regret from Polish Cardinal

August 26, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A conciliatory statement issued last week by Cardinal Jozef Glemp of Poland has been met in the American Jewish community by reactions ranging from warm and welcoming to openly disdainful.

In the statement, dated Aug. 12 but released only last Friday, Glemp expresses regret over “misunderstandings” with the Jewish community and appears to retract statements he made two years ago in a homily in Poland.

At that time, Glemp, who heads the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, suggested that seven Jewish activists who had demonstrated at a controversial convent located on the grounds of the former Auschwitz death camp had intended to destroy the convent and kill the Carmelite nuns living there.

In the statement released Friday, Glemp admits that the group, led by New York Rabbi Avi Weiss, “did not intend to kill the sisters or to destroy the convent.”

He also calls anti-Semitism “evil and contrary to the spirit of the Gospel.”

But the cardinal fails to address specifically the charges he made in his now-infamous homily of Aug. 26, 1989, that Jews were “getting peasants drunk,” “spreading communism” and acting “from a position of a people raised above all others.”

Outrage over Glemp’s comments from Jews and Catholics worldwide forced the prelate to cancel a visit to the United States that he had planned in the fall of 1989.

Glemp now plans to visit the United States next month at the invitation of Archbishop Arthur Maida of Detroit.

His statement, which took the form of a letter to Maida, is seen as an attempt to address American Jewish concern over the Polish primate’s past remarks.


But according to Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, Glemp’s letter does not go far enough.

“Glemp only retracted his statement about Rabbi Weiss in order to avoid a lawsuit,” said Dershowitz, who initiated lawsuits on behalf of Weiss in Poland and in the United States, accusing the Polish cardinal of slander and defamation.

“To me, the headline should be ‘Cardinal Cops a Plea,'” he said.

“Had it been a from-the-heart apology, he would have apologized for his outrageous statements on the Jews introducing communism to Poland.”

Dershowitz plans to wait two weeks before taking any further legal action, to see whether Glemp goes further in apologizing for his remarks about Weiss and his anti-Semitic statements.

Unofficially, Glemp’s new statement was called “cold and insufficient” by the head of one major American Jewish organization, who asked not to be identified.

“It was a grudging statement on the part of Glemp,” he said. “The whole reference to the Jewish community is in two sentences.”

While American bishops are eager to have Glemp come to this country “without too much of a crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations,” it does not appear that Glemp is ready to apologize for his past statements, the Jewish official said.

Officially, Jewish organizational leaders mostly welcomed Glemp’s statement, though many were cautious about it.


Seymour Reich, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, which represents world Jewry in official dealings with the Catholic Church, said that the organization “acknowledges the step taken” by Glemp “as an effort toward improving relations between the Catholic Church in Poland and the Jewish community.”

But, he said, “we expect that there will be further clarification from the cardinal while still in Poland and when he arrives in the U.S.”

The Synagogue Council of America, the body representing Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis and congregations, “welcomes this spirit of reconciliation,” said Rabbi Jack Bemporad, chairman of the group’s interreligious affairs committee.

“Cardinal Glemp’s statement clearly indicates that he seeks reconciliation and positive relations with the Jewish community,” Bemporad said.

Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said it is “unfortunate that Cardinal Glemp did not find it in his heart to acknowledge simply and directly the anti-Semitic implications of his homily.”

“Nevertheless, we are hopeful” that Glemp’s comments “presage a new and less troubled relationship,” he said. “There is much work yet to be done.”

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said, “We view this as the first step in a process in which he will clarify his untoward remarks of two years ago.”

“The next step should be a victory for decency,” he said.

The Anti-Defamation League, in a statement, suggested that Glemp “find an opportunity to address the issue of anti-Semitism in Poland in a homily that will forever erase the blemish of his 1989 remarks.”

Rabbi A. James Rudin, national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, received Glemp’s letter warmly, and stated that it “helps close a painful chapter in Catholic-Jewish relations.”


One of the elements requested by American Jewish leaders in the flurry of behind-the-scenes communication with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops that has taken place over the last several weeks was that the Polish primate make his statement public in Poland, in Polish.

The letter was made public in Poland on Friday, sources say, but it is not yet clear how far the Polish Episcopate, of which Glemp is president, has disseminated his statement.

American Jewish leaders are planning to meet with Glemp in Washington on Sept. 20, the day after he arrives in the United States, and again toward the end of his trip, on or about Oct. 7, in New York.

But one Jewish leader warned that unless Glemp addresses more expansively his remarks of two years ago, before he leaves Poland, he has “got to anticipate that he’s going to be faced with some tough questions when he meets with the Jewish community.”

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