Representatives of the major U.S. Jewish groups, expressing "profound shock and dismay" over Pope John Paul II's plans to receive Austria President Kurt Waldheim next week, threatened yesterday to boycott a ceremonial meeting with the pontiff in Miami in September.
They called for a substantive meeting with the pope before his U.S. tour to discuss his decision to meet with Waldheim or for changes in the format of the Miami meeting.
"Clearly, now, the planned ceremonial meeting with the pope . . . Sept. 11 is an inappropriate forum to discuss this and other urgent issues of Catholic-Jewish relations," leaders of eight groups said in a joint statement after a three-hour meeting in New York yesterday morning.
The Vatican and the Austrian government announced Wednesday that Waldheim, who is suspected of complicity in Nazi war crimes, will pay an official visit at the Vatican Thursday.
Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum of the American Jewish Committee said yesterday that "the depth of feeling" at the strategy session of some 30 Jewish leaders "was so profound that no one was prepared to go through the ceremonial meeting in Miami without going into the substantive issues."
Tanenbaum, whose has been involved for decades in Christian-Jewish dialogues, said he has initiated efforts to meet next week with Archbishop Pio Laghi, the pope's personal U.S. representative, to try to set up a "substantive" meeting with the pope.
The hour-long Miami meeting, scheduled on the first full day of the pope's 10-day visit to this country, is characterized by Roman Catholic officials as a "limited dialogue." The pontiff and Rabbi Gilbert Klapperman, president of the Synagogue Council of America, each will read prepared papers to an audience of some 200 persons, nearly one-fourth of them Catholic dignitaries.
The structure of the meeting and pool news media coverage will preclude serious discussion of issues that troubled the Jewish community even before the Waldheim affair. Those include the Vatican's failure to recognize the state of Israel, anti-Semitism and theological considerations relating to Israel.
Archbishop Thomas Kelly of Louisville, chairman of the papal visit committee, expressed sympathy with the Jewish leaders' concerns but said that the pope "doesn't have the command of English" to permit a more informal, give-and-take discussion.
Participants in yesterday's meeting were the Synagogue Council of America, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, B'nai B'rith, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, the World Jewish Congress and representatives of the Jewish community in Miami.
Tanenbaum called the group's action "a unified Jewish concensus . . . communal groups, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform -- that's no small achievement."