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Carmelites Express Support for Moving Auschwitz Convent

September 23, 1989

ROME (AP) _ Leaders of the Roman Catholic Carmelite order said Saturday they support moving one of their convents from the former Auschwitz death camp in Poland as many Jewish groups have demanded.

The issue has strained relations between the Catholic Church and Jewish groups and opened a rift among some Catholic leaders. It also drew accusations of anti-Semitism against the leader of the Catholic Church in Poland.

The Rev. Anthony Morello, general counselor of the Carmeline order, said Saturday he gave his order’s assurances it supported moving the convent away from the Nazi death camp during a meeting with Sir Sigmund Sternberg, head of the International Council of Christians and Jews.

In his statement, Morello said he affirmed that all along the position of the general of the order, the Rev. Philip Sainz de Baranda, ″has been that agreements must be honored.″

The statement did not say exactly when the meeting was held.

Sternberg helped moderate the Auschwitz dispute when he announced Friday that the Polish Catholic primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, had assured him in a letter that the convent must be moved away from the site of the death camp.

Catholic and Jewish leaders agreed in Geneva in 1987 to move the Carmelite convent. The nuns were to be transferred to a nearby prayer center last February, but it was not erected and the nuns remain at a building bside the Auschwitz camp.

Glemp and other Polish church leaders later opposed moving the nuns. In defending the current site, Glemp made statements that some Jewish groups viewed as anti-Semitic.

Many Polish Catholics have supported keeping the convent where it is. They argue that the nuns are not harming anyone and that many Polish Catholics were killed at Auschwitz.

Jewish groups complained that the convent and its religious symbols are offensive at a site where 2.5 million Jews were killed as part of Adolf Hitler’s campaign to exterminate European Jews during World War II. A total of 4 million people were put to death at Auschwitz.

After a long silence on the issue, the Vatican said in a statement last week that it believed the nuns should be moved to an interfaith prayer center near Auschwitz as the Geneva agreement specified.

However, Saturday’s statement was the first by the Carmelite order’s headquarters in Rome.

While Morello said the Carmelites had always supported the Geneva agreement, the head of Polish Carmelite nuns, the Rev. Dominik Wider, was quoted as saying in July that the transfer of the nuns ″faces the opposition of the entire Polish society.″

Sternberg said in a telephone interview Saturday he would meet with the general of the Carmelite order Monday and was also holding talks in Rome with Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, head of a Vatican commission on relations with Jews.

″Willebrands is also concerned that we should repair the damage that has been caused through this unfortunate incident,″ he said.

The Carmelite statement said Sternberg gave Morello a copy of a letter he had received from Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki and one from Glemp pledging that the Geneva agreement would be carried out.

The statement said Morello expressed ″great satisfaction at the content of the letters.″

Sternberg, an English philanthropist, was accompanied to the meeting by a Catholic bishop, Gerald Mahon, the Carmelite statement said. Mahon is vice- chairman of the British Council of Christians and Jews.

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