(JTA) – A World War II-era Polish cardinal who was hostile to Jews was recognized by Pope Francis as having “heroic virtues,” the first step to sainthood.
Cardinal August Hlond was one of 12 sainthood cases to be advanced last week by the pope. In a letter to the Vatican, the American Jewish Committee warned that putting Hlond on the track toward sainthood “will be perceived within the Jewish community and beyond as an expression of approval of Cardinal Hlond’s extremely negative approach towards the Jewish community.” Rabbi David Rosen, the AJC’s director of international inter-religious affairs, wrote the letter.
In his 1936 pastoral letter, Hlond condemned Judaism and called for a boycott of Jewish businesses. “It is good to prefer your own kind when shopping, to avoid Jewish stores and Jewish stalls in the marketplace,” the letter said. It went on to say, “One should stay away from the harmful moral influence of Jews, keep away from their anti-Christian culture, and especially boycott the Jewish press and demoralizing Jewish publications.” Hlond refused to meet with Polish Jewish leaders 10 years later over concerns about the accusations of ritual murder ahead of Passover and the danger of pogroms.
The community’s fears came true on July 4, 1946, when a mob attacked the building of the Jewish Committee in Kielce, leaving 42 Jews dead and more than 40 wounded. A week later, the AJC letter said, “Cardinal Hlond held a press conference but he did not condemn the pogrom nor urge Poles to stop murdering Jews. Rather, he pointed out that the Jews were all communists or supporters of communism and that the pogrom was their own fault.”
Hlond was the highest ranking church official in Poland from 1926 to 1948, and is credited with keeping the church strong and protecting its autonomy during the Nazi occupation and postwar communism.
The Vatican must still confirm a miracle attributed to his intercession for Hlond to be beatified, and a second one for him to be canonized.
CAP: Polish Cardinal August Hlond standing and holding book. (Photo by Tony Linck/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)