NEW YORK -- For 90 minutes on Tuesday, six U.S. Jewish leaders and Pope John Paul II will sit down in an unusual "heart-to heart" meeting that could decide how Jews react to the pontiff's visit to the United States.
There is no formal agenda for the unprecedented discussion at the pope's Castelgandolfo summer residence. Catholic and Jewish leaders hope it will bring reconciliation to the two groups whose history has long been tangled and tortured.
In an indication of its importance, the pope is interrupting his vacation and scheduled the meeting at a residence outsiders rarely see, allocating more time for it than even American presidents receive in papal audiences.
The meeting comes as a direct result of the outcry over the pope's audience last June with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, a man derided by Jewish leaders as "an unrepentant Nazi" who covered up his wartime past in the German army.
Jews have threatened to boycott a largely ceremonial audience with the pope set for Sept. 11 in Miami, an event that would force the pontiff to start his nine-day U.S. tour on a sour note.
Relations between American Catholics and Jews, according to spokesmen for both groups, are unusually strong, with Jews often major contributors to Catholic causes, including the papal visit.
"The outcry was sincere and very loud. Unfortunate things were said on both sides. A number of things need to be cleared up," said Eugene Fisher, executive secretary of the U.S. Bishops Conference's Secretariat on Catholic-Jewish relations.
"The whole notion of the pope's relations with Jews got distorted. This pope has spoken more powerfully about Catholic-Jewish relations than any other," he added.
A confidential agenda prepared by Jewish leaders who will be meeting the pope, obtained by Reuters, says they plan to confront the pontiff with what they see as his effort to revise the history of the Holocaust by minimizing Jewish suffering under the Nazis.
The agenda chides the pope for visiting the Majdanek concentration camp in his native Poland in May and mentioning 14 nationalities who died there but not the hundreds of thousands of Jews murdered there as well.
The Polish-born pope, who himself lived under Nazi terror, attempted to defuse that criticism. He sent an emotion-laden letter to American Archbishop John May of St. Louis last week in which he declared, "There is no doubt that the sufferings endured by the Jews are also for the Catholic Church a motive of sincere sorrow."
Of the Waldheim visit, the agenda asks: "How was it possible to receive with honors a former Nazi officer, who lied about and denied his Nazi involvement, and not make a single reference to that horrific past?
"Is it not possible that such silence is a message to the world that the Nazi Holocaust is so trivial and irrelevant that it was not worthy of a mention? Inevitably, Waldheim appeared to be absolved of sin without ever confessing a single evil deed against human life."
Waldheim has denied repeatedly having been a Nazi or taking part in war crimes.
The U.S. Jewish leaders say they also plan to bring up what they describe as an outburst of anti-Semitism in largely Catholic Austria, Catholic theology on Jews and the Vatican's refusal to recognize Israel even though the Jewish state has been in existence for almost 40 years.
A delegation of 10 U.S. Jewish leaders is going to Rome and six will be chosen to talk to the Pope.
For some of the Jewish leaders involved in the meeting, the question of Vatican recognition of Israel is of prime importance.
They hope to win the pope's agreement to "some forward movement" that eventually would lead to recognition of the Jewish state.
The Vatican, according to Fisher, refuses to grant Jordan or Israel de jure recognition because it does not recognize their territorial claims, especially claims to the holy city of Jerusalem, which the Vatican wants internationalized.
But Jewish leaders say the real reason is Vatican fear of reprisals against Christians in Arab lands if it sends an ambassador to Israel.
Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum, one of the Jewish leaders expected to see the pope next week, warned Jews not to have "inflated expectations" about the meeting.
"It won't bring the Messiah before His time. But it is highly unusual, a symbol for the good."