WASHINGTON — The Jewish organization officially chartered to carry on a dialogue with the Vatican expressed dismay Wednesday over an announcement that Pope John Paul II will meet again with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, who is accused of participating in war crimes during World War II.
Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, called for an early meeting with Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican secretary of state, to "avoid another episode of public controversy which might strain severely our ongoing relationship."
Last June, a storm of protest broke out when the Pope received Waldheim, whom the U.S. Justice Department has barred from entry to the United States on grounds that he participated in war crimes in Greece and Yugoslavia while serving as a Nazi army officer.
Vatican radio gave the dates Tuesday night for a previously announced return visit by the Pope to Austria, during which he will confer with the Austrian president and accompany him to the site of the Mauthausen concentration camp.
Tanenbaum, noting that the announcement has caused "widespread and grave concern," said the meeting "could have the most serious implications for Vatican-Jewish relations." He recalled that the Vatican agreed last fall to seek to "avoid future misunderstandings" by informing Jewish leaders of actions affecting their relationship.
The message was sent on behalf of the committee's constituent organizations, the World Jewish Congress, Synagogue Council of America, the American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith and the Israel Interfaith Committee. It was addressed to Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, president of the Vatican Secretariat for Christian Unity.
In requesting a meeting with Casaroli, Tanenbaum added: "We feel the urgent need to discuss . . . the specific concerns that we believe the world Jewish community has about this possible papal meeting with Mr. Waldheim and the details of his Nazi past which we feel strongly must be taken fully into account."
The group last met at the Vatican on Aug. 31-Sept. 1 to air Jewish protests about the first session between Waldheim and the Pope in Rome. Jewish leaders later met with the Pope in Miami when he visited the United States in September and registered their "pain and distress" over the reception of Waldheim.