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Polish Cardinal Says Auschwitz Convent May Go

September 19, 1989

BRISTOL, England (AP) _ Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the Roman Catholic primate of Poland, said Tuesday the Carmelite convent near Auschwitz may be moved, but he complained that Jewish protests had ″touched the dignity″ of the nuns.

Glemp said he had not seen a Vatican announcement Tuesday saying the convent should be moved away from the former Nazi death camp and that the Vatican would help pay to build a new prayer center outside Auschwitz in Poland.

But when reporters described the announcement, he said it sounded like a ″forceful resolution of the problem, and I don’t think that would be a very positive way.″ He said that by ″forceful″ he meant ″an administrative enforcement of the transfer of the sisters, not their own expressed wish.″

Glemp, who was on a 24-hour visit to consecrate a Polish church in this southwestern city, said that building a prayer center away from the Nazi death camp would be a ″great step, we hope, in order to solve this problem.″

″I do think there is a possibility that the nuns could be moved elsewhere,″ added Glemp. ″But if they were to be moved this should be done with charity because ... that would be also crossing out their rights.″

Glemp’s remarks were in line with recent hints he has softened his position on the convent, which many Jews regard as an offensive intrusion.

At least 2.5 million Jews were among the 4 million people murdered by the Nazis at the World War II death camp.

The nuns were supposed to move to a prayer center away from the camp by Feb. 22 under a 1987 agreement between four European cardinals and an international Jewish delegation.

But the Catholic Church in Poland balked at honoring the accord and the deadline passed with no sign of a center or any move to relocate the nuns.

The cardinal, at the center of the dispute which has split the Catholic Church and revived charges of deep-rooted anti-Semitism in Poland, spent most of a 40-minute news conference defending his position.

Glemp had canceled plans to travel from Britain to the United States because of threats of Jewish protests.

″The great Jewish protests which developed around the problem of the Carmelite nuns in Auschwitz were very sad because they touched the dignity ... of the women who devote their lives to God,″ said Glemp. He spoke in Polish, and his remarks were translated into English by a fellow priest.

Glemp discussed plans for the prayer center last week with Zygmunt Nissenbaum, a German-Jewish financier who runs a philanthropic trust that restores Jewish memorials and who has offered assistance. Previously, he said, the prayer center was just ″wishful thinking.″

He did not say when construction might start, nor did he say explicitly that the nuns would move once the building was complete.

During the news conference, Glemp called repeatedly for Catholic-Jewish dialogue over the convent dispute.

He also acknowledged there was anti-Semitism in Poland, but he said Poles could not accept that Auschwitz was a purely Jewish memorial, because many Christians also died there.

During the summer, Glemp suggested repeatedly he wanted the convent, established in 1984, to remain and called the accord offensive.

Cardinals in the United States, France and Belgium have said the church should honor the 1987 agreement.

The controversy grew after seven Jewish protesters, led by a New York rabbi, tried to climb a fence surrounding the convent and were forced back by Polish workers in July.

In remarks that increased Jewish anger, Glemp suggested afterward that the protesters meant to attack the nuns and said that Jews had the media ″easily at your disposal in many countries.″

Y-09-19-89 1853EDT

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