Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Manning has "clarified" a controversial letter he wrote on behalf of Andrija Artukovic and said he simply meant that the alleged Nazi war criminal should be allowed to return to his family while his guilt or innocence is being determined in court, a prominent Los Angeles rabbi said Wednesday.
Manning's written denial to Rabbi Alfred Wolf of Wilshire Boulevard Temple that he was trying to pass judgment did not do anything, however, to ease the mind of Harvey B. Schechter, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.
Schechter had expressed "shock and sadness" after it became known that Manning wrote to Radoslav Artukovic, the accused man's son, to say he hoped "your cherished father will merit the indulgence of the court and be returned to the care of his family."
Manning's letter of explanation to Wolf "changes absolutely nothing," insisted Schechter, who said he and other Anti-Defamation League leaders still intend to meet with the cardinal as scheduled on Jan. 31 to make clear the national organization's distress over the Manning letter.
Msgr. Clement Connolly, spokesman for the cardinal, said the meeting would take place.
The 85-year-old Artukovic, a Seal Beach resident since 1949, has long resisted efforts to return him to Yugoslavia, where he has been indicted for allegedly ordering mass executions of hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies while minister of the interior and minister of justice for the Nazi puppet government of Croatia during World War II.
He remains in custody at Long Beach Naval Hospital while defense and government attorneys argue over his mental competence to face an extradition hearing.
Wolf said that after he learned confidentially of Manning's letter to Radoslav Artukovic, before it became public, "I took the opportunity of contacting the cardinal and informing him what that letter might do. I assumed he had never been informed of the seriousness of the charges against Mr. Artukovic."
The cardinal assured him, Wolf said, that the brief letter to Artukovic's son had "only been a matter of clemency, and that he had not intended any judgment of guilt or innocence."
In the letter Wolf received from Manning early this week, the cardinal declared that he had only told the son he hoped "that his father would merit the compassion of the court and be allowed to return to his family pending the ultimate judgment of the court."
Wolf cited a long list of projects and interreligious activities in which he and the cardinal had been associated, adding: "You're dealing with matters of very deep emotion to anyone who, like myself, has lost family in the Holocaust. I can only say I know the cardinal and that he has no malice, so I have no malice toward him."
Schechter, however, pointed out that in the original letter to Artukovic's son, Manning did not include the words "pending the ultimate judgment of the court" and that he suggested that the accused man's return to his family "would coincide with the judgment of innocence already given on Jan. 15, 1959" (when a U.S. commissioner ruled that there were no grounds to deport Artukovic to Yugoslavia).
Schechter also took issue with Manning's statement in the letter to Wolf that it was unnecessary "to file this with the United States court, since my original letter was not addressed to the magistrate."
How could he have failed to know that the letter to the son would be used to influence the court? Schechter wanted to know.
"I think the cardinal is a very outstanding individual with a long record of cooperation with the Jewish community," Schechter said, "and this action defies understanding on our part."
Neil Sandberg, western regional director of the American Jewish Committee, said his organization believes "the cardinal has made every effort to clarify what he said."
Manning's letter to the younger Artukovic was "just a pastoral letter to the family and not an attempt to influence the court," Sandberg said.
"We wish he had not written that letter," Sandberg continued. "In the Jewish community, we have very strong feelings about Mr. Artukovic. But it's time to accept the cardinal's statement and move on."