Cardinal William H. Keeler received a standing ovation from a Jewish audience last night as he gave assurances that Baltimore's Roman Catholic archdiocese remains committed to Christian-Jewish cooperation and to "understanding Judaism as a living faith."
Addressing more than 300 supporters of Israel at a dinner-dance sponsored by Maryland's Israel Bonds organization, Cardinal Keeler said he joined with Catholic leaders around the world in apologizing for negative comments about Jews made in a sermon this month by Polish President Lech Walesa's parish priest.
At a Mass attended by Mr. Walesa, the Rev. Henryk Jankowski had equated the Jewish star of David as a symbol with the Nazi swastika and the Communist hammer and sickle. Reacting to a growing outcry over those remarks, the Polish president issued a statement Tuesday declaring that all anti-Semitism is despicable.
It is "painful to remember" that the loyalty of Jews was once more broadly questioned by Catholics than it is today, Cardinal Keeler told his Jewish listeners last night, adding that statements such as that made by the Polish priest "must be repudiated."
But the cardinal drew a sharp contrast between the Polish sermon and one on June 4 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen by the Rev. Heinrich J. Losemann Jr. A reference by Father Losemann to "the Jews, the people who killed Jesus," was criticized as "blatant anti-Semitism" in a protest to the cardinal by a Jewish woman who happened to be in the cathedral congregation.
"I am happy to say that [the] Baltimore [archdiocese] is a national pioneer in understanding Judaism as a living faith," Cardinal Keeler told last night's audience at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown, adding that "the young priest" whose sermon at the cathedral was criticized "is one who is very sensitive to this issue."
In a letter of apology and clarification to Penny Catzen, who complained to the cardinal about the priest's use of words, Father Losemann wrote, "The use of the term 'the Jews' is not meant to apply to the Jewish people as such, but to the people who sought Jesus' death."
He assured Mrs. Catzen that "the Catholic Church has officially repudiated the doctrine that the Jews as a people were responsible for Jesus' death."
Father Losemann also wrote, "I do not remember the exact words which I used, but I certainly did not intend to make any anti-Semitic statements or to offend anyone. I do appreciate your sensitivity to the issue, and the fact that it was brought to my attention. Please be assured that I will make every effort to be more careful in the wording of my homilies in the future."
Cardinal Keeler, in his address last night, said, "It is clearly understood" by the Catholic clergy of the Baltimore archdiocese "and is taught again and again that Jesus died not because of what you did but because of the whole human family. The good news is that our people are trying to live by this principle."