by Vivienne Hewitt in Rome ITALIAN Bishops have called a special later this week to formulate a reply to charges by Rome's Rabbi that the Vatican not only encourages anti-semitic attacks in the Catholic Press, but also finances them. The Vatican has already expressed "dismay" at Rabbi Toaff's allegations that the Church "was up front in a new wave of anti-semitism in Italy".
The Holy See also admits it was taken by surprise by his remarks, published last week in an interview with the Jerusalem Daily, Yediot Ahronot. Two years ago Rabbi Toaff made religious history by inviting Pope John Paul II to Rome's synagogue. The Pope in return has received the Rabbi at the Vatican and often refers to him as "my great friend".
Unofficial sources said the Church hierarchy was particularly upset by the Rabbi's outburst because it came when the Pope was absent from Rome on his South American trip.
Rabbi Toaff has said bluntly: "The ecclesiastic authorities abstain from openly condemning Israel. They prefer to do so via the Catholic media. The Vatican is not only behind these publications hostile to the people of Israel, but there are those who direct money to this end." He cited what he called "attacks" in such popular Vatican weeklies as Christian Family. Its next issue will carry a reply pointing out that criticism of the state of Israel on the Palestinian question is not necessarily criticism of all Jewish people.
On Friday the secretariat of Italy's episcopal conference will meet to debate the unexpected rift in the Vatican's relations with Rome's Jewish community. The president of the Italian Hebrew communities, Tullia Levi, has been informed of the meeting, and in welcoming it she sought to moderate the Rabbi's remarks. "The new wave of anti-semitism is not only the responsibility of Catholics", she stressed.
The Rabbi himself has refused to discuss his controversial interview.
A month ago in l urin, a nre bomb destroyed 2,000 volumes in the Jewish section of a bookshop, and the Israeli Embassy in Rome reports a daily barrage of menacing phone calls and letters protesting at Israel's treatment of Palestinian refugees.
But the worst anti-semitic attack ever in Italy was a hand grenade raid by a young Palestinian extremist five years ago as worshippers left Rome's I iber-side synagogue after Saturday service. A two year old boy died, and scores were injured.