Jewish communal leaders are seeking the Vatican’s support in a campaign to have national bishops’ conferences around the world endorse a papal denunciation of antisemitism as a sin.
The issue was to figure prominently in a meeting in Rome slated for this Thursday between Pope John Paul II and World Jewish Congress leaders Edgar Bronfman and Israel Singer. Singer is also the chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation, a coalition that represents Jewish communities in interfaith contacts. After a private meeting between the pope, Bronfman and Singer, a dozen senior Jewish officials and Vatican officials were to join in.
Singer, chairman of WJC, has publicly called on the bishops’ conferences to endorse landmark papal declarations on antisemitism or the Holocaust to help the message trickle down to the masses. The Vatican’s 1993 declaration that antisemitism is a sin against God and humanity has thus far been formally endorsed by only the French and German bishops’ conferences.
Bronfman, president of WJC, told the Forward through a spokesman: “We expect to be speaking with every national bishops’ conference, including the United States’.”
Singer recently met Washington’s Cardinal Theodore MacCarrick of the American bishops’ conference to press the group to endorse the declaration at its next meeting, in June in St. Louis.
Calls to MacCarrick’s office by the Forward were not returned by press time. Arthur Kennedy, executive director of the bishops’ conference’s ecumenical affairs, said there was nothing on the agenda of the conference’s June meeting about the declaration on antisemitism.
“It’s not that they oppose [the declaration], but they were busy with other issues,” a Jewish official said. “But we need to push this now, and having the pope on our side is a definite help.”
Singer also lobbied the Argentine and Brazilian church leaders, as well as European leaders.
He has found a listening ear with Cardinal Mejia, a top Vatican official from Argentina. Speaking in March at a Jewish-Catholic conference on antisemitism that was held in Paris, Mejia stressed the need by both faiths to step up efforts to make sure the statements and actions at the top of the hierarchy are echoed in the pulpits.
This week’s meeting with the pope was slated to touch upon another sensitive subject: World War II-era archives.
Jewish groups complain that the Vatican has denied full access to the archives, and that because of this denial, historians have not been able to assess the attitude of Pope Pius XII, whom the Church is planning to beatify. The Vatican has bitterly claimed that Jewish organizations have been waging a defamatory campaign, but it nevertheless announced that the archives would eventually be opened once they can be organized.
Singer has for months been urging top Church officials to have the Vatican make a public pledge that the archives will be fully opened within three years.
A phased opening of the archives could be a fair compromise for both sides, Singer believes. However, the Vatican has still not made the pledge, which requires approval from the pope, whose poor health is slowing the handling of Vatican affairs.
“The incremental process is what we are seeking,” the Jewish official said. “Singer wants to move on to other things.”
One example of the initiatives Singer is keenly interested in pursuing is a joint program, started in Argentina a few months ago, to provide relief to the poor. The Tzedek-Tzedaka initiative pools Jewish and Catholic funds to finance relief projects in the crisis-stricken country. Singer will discuss with the pope and other top Vatican officials the possibility of replicating the initiative elsewhere.
The Jewish official said other countries had inquired about the program. He declined to elaborate.
“We expect this to be a new era in the dialogue, one of practical nature working together to solve the problems of hunger, ignorance and economic depravation,” Singer told the Forward through a spokesman.