Vatican, Israel talk finance - at last

After a series of delays, the Holy See and Israel have resumed high-level negotiations aimed at resolving a series of disputes over property, taxes and the legal status of the Church in Israel.

Following the first such meeting in five years, both sides, in a joint statement, praised an atmosphere of "great cordiality, mutual understanding and goodwill" that produced "important progress" in resolving long-standing issues, the LA Times reports.

Members of the delegations, however, said serious disagreement remained.

"Today we achieved a significant bit, but there is a lot, lot more work to be done," said Fr David-Maria Jaeger, an Israeli-born Franciscan friar who has served as one of the Vatican's key negotiators.

Israel and the Holy See established formal diplomatic ties in 1994, based on a "fundamental agreement" signed the previous year, after centuries of bad blood and ignorance between the Catholic and Jewish faiths.

Relations improved considerably under the pontificate of the late John Paul II, who became the first pope on record to have visited a synagogue and who stressed the importance of Jewish-Catholic dialogue.

But the 1993 treaty that led to formal ties left open crucial details in the legal and financial arrangements between the state of Israel and the Catholic Church - which more than 13 years of on-again, off-again negotiation have failed to resolve.

Saying it wishes to ensure the liberty and security of its institutions, the Vatican is seeking to retain tax exemptions for a large collection of property, including churches, monasteries, cemeteries and other religious shrines. Tax exemptions for these properties were in place years before the state of Israel was created in 1948.

Israel, generally, wants the church to pay taxes.

The Vatican also wants disputes over church property, some of it occupied or seized, to be aired in courts under an application of due process, rather than through a political judgment, as is often the case. Church officials contend their property is often vulnerable to politically connected real estate developers, a charge that the Israeli government rejects.

Dealings between the two parties are further complicated because of disagreement over whether Israeli law or the Vatican treaty should prevail.

Vatican, Israel resume financial discussions (LA Times, 22/5/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Israel apologises over cancelled Vatican meeting (CathNews, 30/3/07)
"Incredulity" at Israel cancellation of Vatican meeting (CathNews, 28/3/07)
Benedict receives Israeli PM at Vatican (CathNews, 15/12/06)
Israel in surprise reopening of Holy See negotiations (CathNews, 29/11/06)

23 May 2007