The appointment of a Roman Cathlic prelate of Jewish birth to be archbishop of Paris has stirred guarded expressions of reserve in French church circles and a number of wry press comments.
Bishop Jean-Marie Lustiger, who converted to Catholicism when he was was a teenager, was named by Pope John Paul II yesterday to head the most prestigious diocese in France. He had formerly been bishop of Orleans, another important French Cathlic dioceses.
Although Lustiger's theology and politics are frequently called "unclassifiable," he has described himself as an advocate of the thinking of Pope John Paul II, the former Karol Wojtyla.
"I am Wojtylian," said Lustiger, "to the extent that this pope is the symbol of a church not limited to the Western world, to the Latin trilogy of France-Spain-Italy. His references are resolutely modern -- a concrete experience of Marxism linked to a profound knowledge of the culture of this century."
The archbishop of Paris, by tradition, is almost automatically named a cardinal, and the newspaper Le Quotidien noted that while there have been many cardinals of Jewish origin, Lustiger would become the first since 1106 who was actually born Jewish. The last "Jewish cardinal" was Pietro Pierleoni, sent as papal legate to France. In 1130, he was elected anti-pope under the name of Anaclet II and excommunicated.
It is also the first time since 1516 that a native of Paris has been named to head the archdiocese, one of the most difficult and diverse in Europe. When an interviewer noted that protocol is important in a capital that is constantly being visited by foreign heads of state, Lustiger said, "In Paris there are not only foreign heads of state, there are Parisians. There are people who work, people who earn the mininum wage, people who take the subway."
Even after being baptized, Lustiger wore the yellow Star of David that the Nazi occupation forces insisted Jews have as identifying marks. His pre-baptismal name was Aaron. But, he says, "I'm a Jew. For me, the two religions are one, and I never betrayed that of my ancestors."
Some of his new parishioners were less than enthusiastic about Lustiger's appointment. A representative of Temoignage Chretien, the influential Catholic leftist weekly, said he would "wait and see." At the other end of the spectrum, Bishop Ducaud-Bourget, a follower of traditionalist rebel Msgr. Marcel Lefebvre, said he had never heard of Lustiger, "but if he's really converted, I'm delighted."
Lustiger drew a great deal of attention by his particularly strong condemnation of the bomb attack against the Reformed synagogue of the Rue Copernic in which four persons died in October. Wearing a Jewish skullcap, he mingled with the shocked members of the congregation after the explosion.
"When the Jewish people are targeted," he wrote, "when the people of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is aimed at, Christ is hit and Christians, too, if they are in truth Christians."
Much of the press comment included remarks to the effect that French anti-Semites would see the appointment as proof of the pre-World War II accusations that the Jews have infiltrated everywhere. The predominantly leftist Catholic daily Le Monde recalled the story of the anti-Semite visiting a military cemetery and finding a Jewish section. "They are everywhere," he exclaimed.
Lustiger is used to controversy surrounding his background. Named bishop of Orleans after years as a university student chaplain in Paris, he was the object of demonstrations as he preached. In Orleans, traditionalists invaded the church, shouting "Out with the Jew. We don't want a Jewish bishop in Orleans." The city south of Paris is a historical center of anti-Semitism in France.
Perhaps his cool handling of his opposition there was considered a plus for the Paris post, where the conflicting intellectual and political crosscurrents in the troubled French church come together.
One of the surprising factors in Lustiger's appointment to preside over the cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris is that he is so young and that he had been bishop of Orleans for only a year.
Other candidates, notably the outspoken Cardinal Roger Etchegaray of Marseilles, president of the French Council of Bishops, were considered more likely successors in Paris to the retiring Cardinal Andre Marty, 76. But Etchegaray was apparently reproached by the pope for having been too accommodating to the French government in secret negotiations over the law legalizing abortion and to have managed in the process to alienate the government as well. The French government has veto power over the archbishop of Paris.
Lustiger, 54, was baptized in 1940 at the age of 14 in Orleans, where his Polish parents had sought refuge after the fall of France to the Nazis. Brought up before that in the picturesque Paris neighborhood of Montmartre, he told interviewers yesterday, "My Poland was the Paris subway." In 1943, his mother was deported and died at the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in Poland.
During the war he lived with a Catholic family in a Paris suburb. At that time, large numbers of Jewish children here were baptized to escape persecution.
Lustiger said that while his parents were nonreligious members of the Bund, the Jewish socialist movement of Poland and the Soviet Union, he had drawn crosses in the sand at the beach from the age of 6. He denied being a "Marano," a reference to the Spanish Jews who converted outwardly to escape the Inquisition. A number of them became clerics while secretly maintaining their attachment to Judaism. o