Walesa's priest apologises to Jews

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A prominent Polish priest who had blamed the Jews for Nazism as well as for Communism in a sermon a month ago, apologised for his remarks yesterday. "I was driven by emotions," Fr Henryk Jankowski wrote in a letter to his superior, Bishop Tadeusz Goclowski, published by Gazeta Wyborcza.

His original sermon, heard with apparent indifference by President Lech Walesa, said: "The star of David is implicated in the swastika as well as the hammer and sickle." About half of the Nazis' 6 million Jewish victims were killed on Polish soil; Polish anti-Semitism is still a sensitive area for many Jews.

Fr Jankowski's remarks were immediately criticised by other Catholics, Jewish organisations and Polish intellectuals. His immediate response was to strengthen them. A lot of human tragedies had resulted from "Jews' activities as bankers and financiers", he told journalists in an attempt to clarify his position.

However, yesterday's apology, which followed condemnation of his remarks by the Polish bishops' conference and the government, among others, went a great deal further. "During the sermon, as well as in later conversations with journalists, I did not hold my emotions," Fr Jankowski wrote. "But I understand that by evoking symbols sacred to the Jewish nation in the context of sinister ideologies of our century I hurt the Jews. It was a grave abuse, for which I am very sorry."

Fr Jankowski had been one of Mr Walesa's earliest advisers in the Solidarity movement, and his sermon was preached in the President's parish church in Gdansk. Originally, Mr Walesa claimed the remarks were misunderstood, but after the issue was raised by President Bill Clinton at their meeting at the 50th anniversary of the UN in San Francisco, Mr Walesa issued a statement distancing himself from Fr Jankowski's views. The priest has been banned from further public statements by Bishop Goclowski.

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