Two West Coast Jewish opinion makers called the attempt at rapprochement by Pope John Paul II and Jewish leaders in Italy a "disappointment" Tuesday, while a prominent rabbi said the meeting promised "a new understanding."
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the 360,000-member Simon Wiesenthal Center, based in Los Angeles, said the "central issues remain unresolved"--namely, the apparent stalemate on the Kurt Waldheim controversy that prompted the historic meeting and the Vatican's refusal to recognize the state of Israel.
Editor Michael Lerner of Tikkun, an 18-month-old journal with 40,000 subscribers, said in his Oakland office that "nothing of substance emerged" from the encounter at the Pope's summer home at Castel Gondolfo.
A Los Angeles rabbi active in interfaith dialogue said Tuesday, however, that initial reports from the meeting please him. "We have the beginnings of new understanding, and we've got to be hopeful about that. We'd be in much worse position if the doors were closed," said Rabbi Harvey Fields, interreligious chairman for the Southern California Board of Rabbis.
The lack of progress on the Israel and Waldheim issues "does not surprise me," Fields said. "Those matters have to be ground out in dialogue," said Fields, senior rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
Official reactions by various Jewish groups in Los Angeles may not be formed until Thursday. Successive meetings are scheduled that day for the Board of Rabbis' executive committee, an ad hoc group of 10 Jewish organizations invited to a Los Angeles meeting with the Pope on Sept. 16 and the board of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles.
Officials of the Wiesenthal Center, which also has offices in three other U.S. cities and in Toronto and Jerusalem, expect to meet either late Thursday or early Friday to discuss the import of the Tuesday meeting. The center has two invitations, as yet unaccepted, to the Sept. 16 interfaith meeting with the Pope in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo district.
Hier has said repeatedly that the center wants concrete advances. The center bought full-page ads in three newspapers this week--the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune--citing 250,000 signatures by its members on petitions urging the Vatican to extend diplomatic recognition to Israel.
Lerner said Tuesday that he will organize a protest demonstration outside San Francisco's St. Mary's Cathedral Sept. 17, when the Pope is there. "I want a serious dialogue with the Catholics, not a charade meant to legitimize their continued insensitivity," he said.