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Jews troubled by Pontifical Institute's closure

A pontifical institute in Jerusalem will be shut down for two years for what Catholic Church officials say is a reorganisation, but Jewish teachers fear the closure is a sign of the Church's distancing itself from Israel.

The Ratisbonne Institute, a Christian centre for Jewish studies, was officially made a pontifical institute in 1998. Its nine Jewish faculty members learned only recently -- when they received letters of dismissal -- that it is to close.

In a letter to Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect for the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education and president of the institute, the Jewish teachers said they are concerned the school may not reopen, the Post said.

They also questioned what connection there might be between the current political situation in Israel and the closure, the newspaper reported.

"Even if those who made the decision did not intend this, the decision is bound to be perceived so by many in light of current political pressure," the letter warned.

In response, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio, said it is wrong to see any connection between what he stressed is a temporary closure and the political developments.

"It is absolutely out of reality," he said. "People are quick to see everything in the light of the political situation, but it is not true."