Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, former chief rabbi of Israel, once told me about a conversation he had with Pope John Paul II (“Pope Oversaw Big Changes in Catholic-Jewish Relation,” April 8).
Lau told the pope of a story he had heard about a Polish woman bringing a boy to a young priest soon after World War II. She asked that the boy be baptized.
The priest asked about the boy’s genealogy. The woman said that the boy had been entrusted to her by his Jewish parents, who later perished during the Holocaust.
The priest asked if the parents had expressed their wishes for the boy’s future. Yes, she said, they had asked that the boy be returned to a Jewish family. The priest refused to baptize the boy, and instructed the woman to return him to a Jewish family.
“The rumor is,” Lau said to the pope, “that the priest’s name was Karol Wojtyla.”
The pope responded, “That boy’s name is Shachna Heller, and he lives with his family in Brooklyn.”
The story speaks to the extraordinary humanity, morality and decency of this remarkable man, and foreshadows the historic efforts he made as pope toward reconciliation between Catholics and Jews.
Rabbi Menachem Genack
Rabbinic Administrator, Kosher Division
New York, N.Y.
With all that Pope John Paul II did for Catholic-Jewish relations, one might have thought that the Forward’s editorial on his death would be overwhelmingly positive (“The Legacy of a Pope, April 8). Instead, we are told that whatever good he did in this area may be undermined by his “battles around the world for sexual repressiveness and against reproductive freedom.”
Sexual repressiveness? The Catholic Church teaches that sexual relations between a man and a woman in the institution of marriage is the only morally acceptable expression of sexuality. I thought that was what observant Jews believed, as well. Those who prefer a more libertine understanding of sexuality should be prepared to explain why the dramatic increase in sexually transmitted diseases has occurred at a time when the world has rejected the Catholic Church’s teachings on the virtue of sexual restraint.
And yes, the pope was against child abuse in the womb. Would that all Jews — the very people who have suffered the most — finally understand that a society that devalues life in some forms may be prepared to discard other segments of society, as well.
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
New York, N.Y.