Rabbis find faint praise for Vatican


Prague, Rome, Paris: Leading European rabbis meeting in Prague said yesterday that the Vatican declaration on the Holocaust was a "first step in the right direction". However, the standing committee of the European Conference of Rabbis expressed "disappointment that the Vatican did not accept their responsibility for the centuries of persecution of the Jewish people".

The Vatican's declaration on Monday, which apologised for individual Catholics who failed to help Jews persecuted by the Nazis, could not undo "the long centuries of oppression, the inquisition and the persecution which culminated with the Holocaust", the committee statement said. The full biannual conference, which meets in Milan in May, will deliberate on the full implications of the Vatican's declaration. The meeting brought together 17 rabbis from countries including Ukraine, Greece, Russia, Britain and Israel.

Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II, in his first public comment after many Jews had criticised the Vatican document, said yesterday that he hoped dialogue with Catholics would continue in trust. The Pope was addressing a joint American Catholic-Jewish delegation in Rome.

Vatican sources said the Pope was keen that differences over the document could be overcome quickly so a dialogue between the two religions, which has made tremendous strides in the past 35 years, could continue.

The Pope, who lived through the horrors of the Nazi occupation in his native Poland, has made improving relations with Jews a main goal of his pontificate. He was the first Pontiff to visit the sites of concentration camps, the first to enter and preach in a synagogue, and he guided the Vatican to diplomatic relations with Israel.

Some critics, including Ms Tullia Zevi, president of Italy's Jewish communities, said the document showed that the Pope was perhaps more advanced that his aides.

The French right-wing leader, Mr Jean Marie Le Pen, said yesterday he had no reason to follow the Vatican's call for Christians to repent for the Holocaust. Mr Le Pen, who once called the Nazi gas chambers a "mere detail" of history, said the issue of Christian responsibility for the massacre of six million Jews during the second World War was "the Pope's problem".

Mr Le Pen, whose anti-foreigner party claims to defend Christian values, has frequently clashed with the Catholic Church hierarchy when it disagrees with his nationalist views. He said an apology by French bishops last September for the Church's silence about the deportation of 76,000 Jews from France to Nazi death camps was "absolutely scandalous".