Thirteen Austrian bishops were barred from praying at Jerusalem's Western Wall last week by Jewish religious authorities when they refused to take off their crosses, according to Austrian officials.
On a planned visit on Thursday to the wall the bishops were given an ultimatum by the rabbi of the site: Either remove the crosses or stand behind a fence several meters (yards) from the site. The bishops refused the request and watched people praying from behind the fence, according to an Austrian official.
"They were a bit disappointed they were not let into the wall," said Arad Benko, spokesman for the Austrian embassy. He said the bishops were not informed before the visit that wearing the crosses would be a problem.
Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, said that while the site is open to all religions, worshippers are expected not to offend the sensitivities of Jews.
"Appearing like that at the wall plaza and at a meeting with me is insulting and provocative," Rabinowitz told the Israeli daily Maariv. "I told them that the pope didn't show up at the wall with a cross, but hid it."
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