Jewish leaders decry Rydzyk meeting

Vatican troubleshoots after Benedict's meeting with controversial Polish priest.

pope benedict 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
pope benedict 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Vatican scrambled Thursday to assure Jewish organizations that Pope Benedict XVI's Sunday meeting with an anti-Semitic Polish priest "did not imply any change in the Holy See's well-known position regarding relations between Catholics and Jews," as the Vatican said in a statement. The statement came after Jewish leaders worldwide expressed outrage at the meeting, which followed close on the heels of new reports of anti-Semitic statements by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk. Senior Israeli diplomatic officials told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday they were angered by the Polish government's lack of response over the most recent incident in which the charismatic Rydzyk, whose nationalist Radio Maryja is said to have some 1.5 million daily listeners, is heard complaining in an audio recording about Jews' greed and control over Polish President Lech Kaczynski. Early last month, the popular Polish weekly Wprost said it had an April tape recording of Rydzyk speaking about a meeting with Kaczynski in which they discussed Holocaust property restitution. According to Wprost, Rydzyk was heard in the recording saying: 'You know what this is about: Poland giving [the Jews] $65 billion. They will come to you and say, 'Give me your coat! Take off your trousers! Give me your shoes!" Rydzyk has claimed the tapes were tampered with, saying he "didn't intend to offend anyone" and was a victim of "media manipulation." Polish authorities in the city of Torun are analyzing the recording to determine the accuracy of the reports. "The most obvious thing that any charitable Jew would assume is that [the pope] met with [Rydzyk] to tell him off," said Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee and a member of the commission that negotiated the relations between Israel and the Vatican when the Vatican first recognized Israel in 1993. "I very much hope that's what he did," Rosen added, "since it would be very disturbing and totally out of character with Pope Benedict and his commitment to fighting anti-Semitism and promoting Catholic-Jewish relations for him not to hit [Rydzyk] on the head." Dieter Graumann, vice-president of the Zentralrat, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told Spiegel Online on Thursday the meeting was "outrageous and appalling. One would expect more sensitivity, particularly from a German pope. One would expect the Vatican to clearly distance itself from Rydzyk and 'Radio Race-Hate.' Instead, they are lending it an appearance of legitimacy. It is a disastrous mistake from someone in a very important position, and the Vatican should act swiftly to correct the error." The responses from American Jewry were similar. The Simon Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Marvin Hier said he hoped the pope used the meeting to rebuke Rydzyk. "Otherwise, I'm afraid the Vatican would be sullying its reputation by granting legitimacy to an unrepentant bigot who will claim that rather than being admonished, he was honored to receive the Pope's blessing." Rydzyk's radio station has hosted anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers, according to the center. The ADL's Abraham Foxman wrote to the pope: "You have unfortunately lent [Rydzyk] the priceless credibility of your office and integrity in the eyes of the world," and "we respectfully request that you publicly condemn the anti-Semitism that is being spouted by Father Rydzyk and other Catholic leaders in Poland." In two weeks, Polish bishops are scheduled to meet in Czestochowa, where Rydzyk's alleged comments will be on the agenda.