IMAGE: Father Tadeusz Rydzyk.
Reuters file
Father Tadeusz Rydzyk conducts a mass at a church in Chicago in this April 15, photo.
updated 7/30/2007 6:49:08 PM ET 2007-07-30T22:49:08

Israel is urging Polish and Roman Catholic authorities to condemn a prominent priest over reported anti-Jewish comments, which its ambassador described Monday as the worst case of anti-Semitic speech in Poland in decades.

The Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk, who runs a conservative media empire that includes the Catholic station Radio Maryja, was allegedly caught on tape suggesting that Jews are greedy and Polish President Lech Kaczynski is subservient to Jewish lobbies.

The remarks allegedly were made in the spring, but they surfaced only this month in the weekly magazine Wprost. Rydzyk himself has rejected accusations of anti-Semitism and said he “didn’t intend to offend anyone.”

Israel’s ambassador to Poland, David Peleg, said the statements mark a setback in the progress Poland has made toward Jewish-Catholic reconciliation and in fighting anti-Semitism since the fall of communism. He said extensive diplomatic efforts were under way to persuade Warsaw to condemn the priest.

“I think that this is the strongest anti-Semitic remark here in Poland since 1968,” Peleg told The Associated Press. “We hope that the government, on one hand, and the Catholic Church, on the other hand, will make a statement condemning this anti-Semitic remark.”

Peleg has asked the office of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, as well as the foreign and justice ministries, to take action.

“I definitely think that one of the aims of Father Rydzyk is to damage the very important dialogue which Catholics and Jews have developed,” Peleg said, adding that he would also meet Tuesday with a bishop in Lublin in charge of Jewish-Catholic dialogue.

Authenticity of tapes questioned
So far, Poland’s leaders have withheld comment, saying they were waiting to see if the tapes were authentic.

But the Rome-based Redemptorists — the missionary order to which Rydzyk belongs — supported him last week in Nasz Dziennik, a daily newspaper that belongs to Rydzyk’s media empire.

“Concerning the content of the ‘tapes,’ which bear signs of compilation, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk does not confirm the anti-Semitic attitude ascribed to him. And as his brothers who know him, we know that such an attitude is alien to him,” the order’s chief representative in Poland, the Rev. Zdzislaw Klafka, wrote in a statement printed on the paper’s front page.

Klafka also called Wprost’s report a “serious provocation” and said it has a history of offending Catholics.

The tapes also allegedly called the nation’s first lady, Maria Kaczynska, a “witch” for supporting abortion rights and say she should be euthanized for that stance.

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