Keeler's clarifying letter mollifies Jewish leaders

March 15, 1995|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

Several national Jewish leaders said yesterday that a clarifying letter from Cardinal William H. Keeler has defused a controversy over a recent ecumenical statement on Christian rights in Jerusalem.

A draft of the letter was being circulated among leaders of Jewry in New York, Chicago, Washington and Baltimore. The draft was prepared by the cardinal and his advisers after a hastily called meeting with the Jewish leaders Monday at his Baltimore residence.

The American Jewish Committee had attacked the March 6 statement, which sought a greater Christian role in determining the future of Jerusalem, as "seriously flawed and incomplete." B'nai B'rith, the world's largest Jewish organization, called the statement -- issued by the cardinal and seven other churchmen -- an "ill-conceived appeal."

Last night, the Jewish spokesmen who attended Monday's meeting and had seen the draft of the clarifying letter said it eased their concerns.

Referring to the draft's reaffirmations of progress in Jewish-Roman Catholic understanding -- including Catholic leaders' condemnation of "terrorist attacks against Israelis" -- New York Rabbi Leon Klenicki said, "The letter recognizes the bravery of Israel and the commitment of Israel to the peace process. Why wasn't this included in the original statement?"

Rabbi Klenicki is director of interfaith affairs for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.

Michael C. Kotzin, director of Chicago's Jewish Community Relations Council, who also met with the cardinal Monday in the Basilica rectory, said the letter "captures the tone and thrust of the meeting."

Dr. Kotzin added, "Even so, that original [March 6] document is still out there, and some people will be citing it. Jewish-Christian relations are in a far better position than two days ago, but worse than they were two weeks ago."

Eugene J. Fisher, chief adviser to the U.S. Catholic Conference in Washington on Jewish-Christian relations, was one of the four Catholic representatives at Monday's meeting. He said that Cardinal Keeler's follow-up "letter to Jewish leaders" makes clear that the original March 6 document had a limited focus -- "the concerns being expressed by Christian people in Jerusalem."

Dr. Fisher said the letter would probably be made public today.

Rabbi Klenicki said he was particularly gratified that the draft letter reaffirmed a 1989 statement on the Middle East by the U.S. Catholic Conference. Cardinal Keeler had said that was the proper context for the March 6 statement signed by him, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning, Lutheran Bishop Herbert W. Chilstrom, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos and other Christian leaders.

"The commitment of Israel to the peace process and the risks it takes to pursue peace are to be acknowledged," the cardinal wrote in the draft letter. "The terrorist attacks against Israelis, designed to disrupt the peace process, are to be condemned.

"The respect Israel has shown over the years for the religiously pluralistic nature of its citizenry, Jewish, Christian and Muslim . . . is to be praised."

Cardinal Keeler, referring to one of the principal concerns of Jewish leaders, said, "The intent of the statement was not to suggest that the negotiators, in this instance the Israelis and the Palestinians, should change their agreed schedule as to when the issue of [the governance of] Jerusalem will be formally addressed."

The March 6 statement had called on the Clinton administration to "press Israel to stop seizing land and constructing settlements zTC in the Jerusalem area." It added, "We fear that if issues centering on Jerusalem are not dealt with openly and directly by all affected parties, they have a potential to derail the peace process."

In his clarification, Cardinal Keeler said that signers of the statement simply wanted Jerusalem's Christians to participate in discussions about their rights and needs.

Jerome Chanes, who helped arrange Monday's meeting, said one of his chief concerns was the lack of consultation with Jewish leaders before the March 6 statement was released.

The cardinal has shown himself committed to such consultation, said Mr. Chanes of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council in New York.

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