The director of a prominent Jewish organization expressed "shock and sadness" Friday on learning that Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Manning had called for compassion for accused Nazi war criminal Andrija Artukovich.
Harvey B. Schechter, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, said he has asked for a meeting with Manning to personally convey the national organization's distress over Manning's letter of support for Artukovich, 85, whom the government of Yugoslavia is attempting to extradite.
"The crimes for which he is charged are so ugly that I have no feeling of compassion," Schechter said in an interview.
Schechter said he sent a letter to Manning Friday, a day after he learned of the cardinal's letter, asking for the meeting and expressing his dismay at Manning's remarks.
Manning, leader of the archdiocese of Los Angeles, could not be reached for comment Friday. A spokesman, Msgr. Clement Connolly, said Manning's letter, written in November, reflected a belief that Artukovich was innocent until proven guilty. It was not a judgment about Artukovich's guilt or innocence, Connolly said.
Artukovich, a Croatian exile, has been described by federal officials as one of the highest-ranking Nazi war criminals still living in this country. On Nov. 14, he was seized at his Seal Beach home by Justice Department officials at the request of Yugoslavia, which wants to try Artukovich for the murders of 770,000 Serbs, Croatians, Jews, Gypsies and Orthodox Christians during World War II.
Federal officials allege that Artukovich entered the United States under a false passport after the war. He was ordered deported in 1952. But Artukovich denied the murder allegations and seven years later, a U.S. District Court turned down the extradition request.
Since his arrest, which federal officials said was prompted by new evidence, Artukovich has remained in custody without bail. Although physically feeble and suffering occasional memory loss and confusion, Artukovich was recently judged by a government psychiatrist to be mentally competent to undergo extradition proceedings. A hearing on his competence is scheduled for Tuesday.
Archdiocesan spokesman Connolly said Manning wrote the letter of support to Artukovich's son, Radoslav, at the younger Artukovich's request. The elder Artukovich is a member of the Croatian Roman Catholic Church, a smaller sect of the main church. Two Croatian church priests who know Artukovich also wrote letters of support. All three letters were entered into the federal court case file in December.
'Spirit of Compassion'
Manning's one-paragraph letter said in part: "For many years he (Artukovich) has earned the respect of priests of his church and they are deeply concerned for his welfare. In a spirit of compassion I write these words to you; hoping that your cherished father will merit the indulgence of the court and be returned to the care of his family."
Schechter said he was dismayed that Manning never mentioned the alleged crimes.
"What about the tens of thousands of cherished fathers whose lives were snuffed out thanks to the role Andrija Artukovich played in the wartime government in Croatia?" he alleged.
"This man entered the country illegally some 35 years ago and he should have been deported decades ago," Schechter said.