At a meeting held of an international committee for liaison between Jews and Catholics, held at the Vatican this week, the Jewish group suggested a deeper study of the Holocaust. But Cardinal Edward Cassidy responded with the suggestion that a mixed committee of Christians and Jews might profitably study the historical materials that are already available, before embarking on further research.
Cardinal Cassidy, the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter- Religious Dialogue, made his intervention in answer to persistent criticisms of the recent Vatican document on the Holocaust. He insisted on the distinction-- preserved carefully in that document-- between the official teachings of the Church and the misdeeds of "her sons and daughters." All Catholics are included in that term, he pointed out, including members of the hierarchy; nevertheless it is important to distinguish the sins of the people from the incorruptibility of the Body of Christ.
Cardinal Cassidy also replied to Jewish demands for an opening of the secret Vatican archives related to World War II. He pointed out that traditionally the Holy See-- like most world governments-- keeps such archives closed for several decades. And he observed that at the request of Pope Paul VI, Jesuit scholars prepared a special 12- volume compilation of the material in those archives pertaining to the Holocaust. Rather than opening the secret archives, he suggested, Jewish and Catholic scholars together could discuss the material already available in those public volumes.
Dr. Gerhart Riegner, the vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, had provoked the cardinal's reaction by expressing his displeasure with the latest Vatican document. He complained that the document had "avoided a clear position on the direct relation between the teaching of contempt and the political and cultural climate that made the Shoah possible." The Jewish leader also voiced some doubts about the accuracy of the historical analysis in the Vatican document.
At the close of the meeting, Pope John Paul II received the members of the mixed commission. In his brief remarks, the Holy Father expressed the hope that the meeting had afforded both sides an opportunity to "discover ever more effective ways to know and appreciate Catholicism and Judaism in turn," and called for further steps to bring the faithful of the two religions closer together.
In a related story of Jewish pressure, Poland's chief rabbi on Wednesday asked the government and the Catholic Church to remove a cross near the former Auschwitz concentration camp, because it offends relatives of Jews who died there.
Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Joskowicz, an Auschwitz survivor, said in an interview with Poland's leading Polish private radio station, Radio Zet, "It disturbs my prayers. How did I sin that I cannot pray in the holy place where my family died, where my nation died?" The government had originally agreed to replace the 26-foot cross commemorating a 1979 Mass by Pope John Paul II, but Catholic officials were reluctant to remove it because so many Catholics also died in the Nazi camps.
Poland's primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, said in a sermon Sunday that the status of the cross is non-negotiable. "Many have not liked the Eiffel Tower, but it is not the reason to move it or tinker with it," he said. "We simply like that cross." Earlier this month, Carmelite nuns, who had moved out of a convent near the camp, turned the land where the cross stands over to the government. Suggestions that the cross should be removed have drawn protests from war veterans and politicians, including former President Lech Walesa.