Pope Benedict XVI (r) meets the Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk during a meeting at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo on August 5, 2007.
The pope met with Rydzyk at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, on Sunday. The controversial priest is head of a media empire that includes the powerful right-wing radio station Radio Maryja. The unannounced private audience came to light when photos showing the pope with Rydzyk and two other Polish priests were published in Polish newspapers Tuesday. The Vatican has not commented on the meeting.
'An Appearance of Legitimacy'
German and international Jewish organizations were furious that the pope had met the alleged anti-Semite. A clearly angry Dieter Graumann, vice-president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told SPIEGEL ONLINE the meeting was "outrageous and appalling." "One would expect more sensitivity, particularly from a German pope," he said Thursday. "One would expect the Vatican to clearly distance itself from Rydzyk and 'Radio Race-Hate.' Instead, they are lending it an appearance of legitimacy. It is a disastrous mistake from someone in a very important position, and the Vatican should act swiftly to correct the error."
Other Jewish leaders also condemned the meeting. "You have unfortunately lent him the priceless credibility of your office and integrity in the eyes of the world," said Abraham Foxman of the US-based Anti-Defamation League Wednesday, while the European Jewish Congress said it was "shocked" by the meeting, adding that the pope had effectively given "his blessing (to) a man and an institution that have tarnished the image of the Polish Church."
Shimon Samuels, who heads the Simon Wiesenthal Center's European office in Paris, told Reuters that he expected "greater sensitivity" from the pope on such issues, adding that he had asked the pope to condemn statements from Radio Maryja even before the meeting. "Nothing has come out," he said.
"There should be no place in the Church for someone who spreads anti-Semitism," Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, told the Associated Press. "Unless it was to discipline Father Rydzyk, having him in the company of the pope is an embarrassment."
'Goebbels with a Collar'
In remarks to the New York Times in mid-July after the alleged anti-Semitic recordings were made public, Hier said he had written to the head of the Warsaw bishops' conference and to the head of Rydzyk's religious order at the Vatican, demanding that the priest -- who he described, in a reference to Hitler's notorious propaganda minister, as "a Goebbels with a collar" -- be punished. Israel's ambassador to Poland has also urged Polish and Roman Catholic authorities to condemn Rydzyk.
Both the Polish and German Bishops' Conferences declined to comment on the pope's meeting with Rydzyk when contacted by SPIEGEL ONLINE. However the Rev. Josef Kloch, spokesman for the Polish Bishops' Conference, said that it was "very possible" the conference would discuss the issue at a meeting later in August in a bid to reach a common position on Radio Maryja. In 2006, the Polish Bishops' Conference wrote a letter to Radio Maryja urging it to stay out of politics.
In the remarks that were caught on tape earlier this year, Rydzyk allegedly said that Jews were greedy and that Polish President Lech Kaczynski was "in the pockets of the Jewish lobbies." The remarks were published in July in the Polish weekly Wprost, which insists the tapes are genuine. Rydzyk has claimed that the tapes were doctored. However, Polish public prosecutors announced Thursday that they are analyzing the audio tapes before deciding whether to launch a criminal investigation.
Radio Maryja is hugely popular in Poland and its support is thought to have been crucial in getting Kaczynski's Law and Justice party elected in 2005. It has been criticized for xenophobic, nationalist and anti-Semitic broadcasting, with Catholic leaders in Poland among the critics.
German-born Benedict XVI has been criticized in the past for not doing enough to reach out to the Jewish community, despite a high-profile visit to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz in 2006. His predecessor, John Paul II, was acclaimed for his efforts to build ties to Jews.