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Roman Catholic Church Legally Recognized by Israel

Israel and the Vatican took a further step in strengthening relations yesterday when they signed an agreement recognising the legal status of Roman Catholic institutions in Israel.

Israel forges links with Vatican

Israel and the Vatican took a further step in strengthening relations yesterday when they signed an agreement recognising the legal status of Roman Catholic institutions in Israel.

The deal grants the Church a standing similar to that of a non-profit organisation and allows it to deal with internal matters autonomously. It was a new sign of normalisation after Israel and the Vatican established diplomatic relations in 1994, in a formal reconciliation between Roman Catholics and Jews after centuries of enmity and suspicion.

The legal agreement signed yesterday by the Foreign Minister, David Levy, and the Papal Nuncio, Andrea di Montezemolo, was completed 18 months ago, but the signing was apparently held up because of the change of government in Israel.

The sides will next negotiate issues of taxation and subsidies of Church groups. However, behind these seemingly technical agreements lie sensitive political issues. The Vatican is being granted formal recognition of its stake in the Holy Land, in exchange for its acceptance of Israel's sovereignty.

The improving relations are viewed with suspicion by many Palestinian Christians, who feel that the Vatican is ignoring their demand for independence.

The historic agreement signed yesterday in Jerusalem between Vatican and Israeli officials for the first time in 500 years leaves no question about the status of the Roman Catholic Church in Israel. The concordat, the outcome of an accord reached in 1993 which aimed at creating diplomatic ties, is seen as a guarantee of the presence and freedom of activity of the Catholic Church in Israel. It allows church organizations to be fully autonomous internally but places Israeli jurisdiction on outside activities. Previously, the church could not buy land or appear in Israeli courts.

Israeli Foreign Minister Levy said, "We have waited for this moment-a message of belief, cooperation, and understanding between religions." Vatican Archbishop Andrea Codero Lanza di Montezemolo said, "It marks a further important step in the process of normalization of relations between the Holy See and the state of Israel."

The Vatican still maintains that a special international status should be granted to the city of Jerusalem to protect religious and cultural diversity. Although the pope has said that he would like to visit Israel before the year 2,000, no plans have been made to date.

• November 11th, 1997 •

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