Jewish groups ask Vatican to punish Polish priest

VICTOR L. SIMPSON - Associated Press
FILE - In this Aug. 5, 2007 file picture made available by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI shakes hands with Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk in Castel Gandolfo on the hills overlooking Rome. Rydzyk, a controversial Polish priest and media mogul has sparked an uproar in Poland by calling the country a "totalitarian state" that "hasn't been ruled by Poles since 1939", a statement many interpret as code for saying Jews are secretly running the country. The priest, who has been accused in the past of fomenting anti-Semitism through his politically influential, ultra-Catholic radio station Radio Maryja, made the comments at the European Parliament last week. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, File)  EDITORIAL USE ONLY
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FILE - In this Aug. 5, 2007 file picture made available by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI shakes hands with Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk in Castel Gandolfo on the hills overlooking Rome. Rydzyk, a controversial Polish priest and media mogul has sparked an uproar in Poland by calling the country a "totalitarian state" that "hasn't been ruled by Poles since 1939", a statement many interpret as code for saying Jews are secretly running the country. The priest, who has been accused in the past of fomenting anti-Semitism through his politically influential, ultra-Catholic radio station Radio Maryja, made the comments at the European Parliament last week. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, File) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

VATICAN CITY (AP) — International Jewish groups have called on the Vatican to sanction a prominent Polish priest who they say uses his media empire to foment anti-Semitism.

They acted after the Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk caused uproar in Poland by calling his country a totalitarian state that "hasn't been ruled by Poles since 1939."

Though he did not mention Jews by name, his language echoed that of anti-Semites who claim that Jews hold excessive power in Poland and that Polish Jews are not "real Poles" with Polish interests at heart.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, took the church's distance Monday, saying Rydzyk must assume responsibility for his own remarks. But he did not raise the possibility of punishment.

The World Jewish Congress called on the Vatican Tuesday to expel Rydzyk from his order of priests. The Simon Wiesenthal Center said he should be excommunicated.

Rydzyk made the comments last week at the European Parliament, days before Poland takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union, which Warsaw sees as a chance to improve its image on the European stage.

Poland's Foreign Ministry took the unusual step of sending a diplomatic note to the Vatican accusing the priest of "harming the image of Poland abroad."

Rydzyk runs a conservative media empire that includes the Catholic station Radio Maryja and the television station Trwam, both popular among some conservative, nationalist Poles. He has come under fire in the past from international Jewish organizations.

"The tragedy of Poland is that Poland hasn't been ruled by Poles since 1939," Rydzyk said, according to Polish media reports on the speech. He added that, "this isn't an issue of blood or affiliation," but that those who rule Poland today "do not love in a Polish way, do not have a Polish heart."

He also said Poland today is a totalitarian and "uncivilized country."

The number of Jews in Poland today is tiny. There were 3.5 million Jews in Poland before World War II, but most were murdered by Germany during the Holocaust and many of those who survived fled anti-Semitic violence and prejudice when they returned to their homes after the war.

Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, called the views vile.

"Rydzyk's comments were the same chilling words of hate we heard from the virulent anti-Semites in pre-war Poland where more than three million of our people were murdered during the Holocaust. They are a vile offense not only to the memory of the victims of the wartime slaughter of Polish Jewry but were also an insult to all citizens of modern Poland," said Steinberg.

Rydzyk apologized in an interview published Tuesday in the Nasz Dziennik daily for some of his remarks, but not those seen as anti-Semitic.

"I did not say in the European Parliament that we have a totalitarian system in Poland. If someone misunderstood me, I apologize," Rydzyk said.

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AP writer Monika Scislowska contributed from Warsaw