Beliefnet
VATICAN CITY, Dec. 12 (AP) - A leading Jewish interfaith organization has joined critics of Pope John Paul II's planned meeting Saturday with Austrian right-wing political leader Joerg Haider.

Haider, the former head of the right wing Freedom Party, is expected at the Vatican as part of an Austrian delegation presenting the Christmas tree that will decorate St. Peter's Square. The tree was donated by Austria's Carinthia region, of which Haider is governor.

Seymour Reich, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), said he wrote Monday to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano taking issue with Sodano's statement that the Holy See is ``open to everyone.''

Reich said decisions on papal meetings are made ``with considerable care and discrimination.''

``We hope the Holy See will recognize the significance of a meeting with Haider and move to scratch it from John Paul II's appointment book,'' Reich said.

IJCIC is the Jewish community's representative in dialogue with the Vatican.

The Israeli government and other groups have condemned Haider's planned visit. Haider has been criticized for past remarks sympathetic toward aspects of Hitler's Nazi regime.

The Vatican declined to comment on Reich's letter.

Monday, the Anti-Defamation League expressed its disappointment at the Vatican's planned meeting with Haider.

"We are concerned and disappointed with the prospect of the PopeJohn Paul II accepting a gift from a man with known xenophobic and racistattitudes," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Jewish defense organization.

"Granting Haider,whose past includes statements insensitive to the Holocaust, an audiencewith the Pope would give undue legitimacy to his message of hate andintolerance," said Foxman.

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