ROME — A leading Jewish organization has criticized the Vatican’s decision to move World War II-era Cardinal August Hlond along the path to possible sainthood, saying the Polish primate was “extremely” hostile to Jews and failed to condemn a 1946 pogrom.
In a letter to top Vatican officials released Wednesday, the American Jewish Committee said it was “profoundly” concerned that Pope Francis approved a decree recognizing Hlond’s “heroic virtues,” the first main step in the sainthood process.
AJC’s director of interreligious affairs, Rabbi David Rosen, cited a 1936 pastoral letter Hlond wrote in which he urged Poles to stay away from the “harmful moral influence of Jews” and to boycott Jewish media.
“It is a fact that the Jews are fighting against the Catholic Church, persisting in free thinking, and are the vanguard of godlessness, Bolshevism and subversion,” Hlond wrote in the letter, which frequently has been cited as evidence of the Catholic Church’s institutional anti-Semitism prior to the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
Hlond, who was the highest ranking Church official in Poland during 1926-48, remains highly respected in the overwhelmingly Catholic country for having kept the faith strong and protected the Church’s independence during the German Nazi occupation and the first years of post-war communism.
His initiatives safeguarded Poland’s Church from the kind of persecution and subjugation that took place in nearby nations,
While living in exile during World War II, Hlond used his influence and personal contacts to speak to the world about Poland’s plight under Nazi occupation. When the Germans arrested him, he refused an offer to form a collaborative government.
His devotion to the Catholic faith laid the foundations for the emergence of such key figures in Poland’s church as Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II, now a saint.
Francis’s decree that Hlond lived a life of heroic virtue came after investigators compiled a full study of his life, writings and works to determine their theological soundness. The Vatican must still confirm a miracle attributed to his intercession for him to be beatified, and a second one for him to be made a saint.
AP writers Monika Scislowska and Vanessa Gera contributed from Warsaw, Poland.