The unique character of Israel - Holy See relations
First parameter - the asymmetry in scope of representation
Second parameter - intertwining theological and political mode of action
Third parameter - intertwining freedom of religion and security
The religious dimension
Bilateral relations under John Paul II
Bilateral relations under Benedict XVI
The formal dialogue between the Vatican and the Jews
Under John Paul II
Under Benedict XVI
Christian concerns regarding the State of Israel
Christian interest in the Holy Land
The Vatican and Zionism
Jerusalem and the holy places
Attitudes within Jewish society as a factor in Holy See-Israel relations
Jewish aversion to Christianity through the ages
Judaism and religious dialogue in history
Post Conciliar attitudes
Jews and Christians in the State of Israel
The Special Synod for Middle East Bishops
Vatican policy regarding the peace process under John Paul II
Vatican attitude towards the peace process under Benedict XVI
A history of relations between Israel & the Holy See
John Paul I
John Paul II
Relations since 1993
The Papal visit of 2000
Beatification of Pope Pius XII
The Society of St. Pius X & the Bishop Williamson affair
The Covenant and Mission Controversy
The Papal visit of 2009
Diplomatic relations between Holy See and Israel were established with the opening of the Vatican Embassy (Nunciature) in Israel, the opening of an Israeli embassy in Rome and the appointment of Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo (previously the Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine) as the first Apostolic Nuncio to Israel on 19 January 1994. Israel's first ambassador to the Holy See, Shmuel Hadas, presented his credentials in September of that year. This followed the adoption of the Fundamental Accord by the two States on 30 December 1993. Prior to the establishment of diplomatic relations, the interests of the Catholic Church in Israel were looked after by the Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Custodian of the Holy Land.
The deliberations of the juridical sub-committee resulted in a supplementary agreement signed on 10 December 10, 1997, in which Israel recognised the juridical personality and the authority of canon law within the Catholic Church and its institutions, as well as those of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchates and their respective dioceses in the territory of Israel, and their recognition of prevailing Israeli law in civil and criminal matters.
Diplomatic tensions often arise due to the non-resolution of the accords relating to property rights and tax exemptions for the Church in Israel, the political activism of clergy in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and the interplay between Israel-Vatican relations - on one hand - and the Jewish-Catholic inter-religious dialogue - on the other. The main concerns of the Vatican in Israel is the protection of the Latin Rite Catholic churches, its properties and assets, and of the Holy places. Israel, for its part, has often taken offense at matters perceived by the church to be internal, but of religious/historical consequence by the Israel and Jews around the world (eg. the beatification of Pope Pius XII, the pardoning of a Holocaust-denying priest, the subordination of inter-religious dialogue to evangelical aims, etc.).
The present Nuncio to Israel is Antonio Franco, who was appointed in 2006. He follows Pietro Sambi, who was appointed in 1998, and the first Nuncio to Israel, Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo.
The present Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See is Mordechay Lewy, who was appointed on 12 May 2008. The previous Israeli Ambassadors were Shmuel Hadas (from September 1994), Aharon Lopez (from April 1997), Yosef Neville Lamdan (from September 2000) and Oded Ben-Hur (from June 2003)
The most important characteristics of Israel – Holy See relations are that they are practically maintained on two levels: the political and the theological, since the Pope is not only the head of a universal church but also that of a sovereign state. Vatican diplomacy, on the other hand, maintains that an Israeli ambassador is not a representative of the Jewish people, pointing out that he does not have such a mandate. Indeed, his letter of accreditation is issued by the State of Israel and not by an unrecognized global Jewish representational entity. He may accompany religious delegation to a papal audience, provided the Jewish religious leaders present are Israeli citizens. Any similar delegation composed of non-Israeli Jews would be accompanied by the respective national ambassador. For Israel, as with most states, the ability to assess diplomatic relations with a state that is lacking economic relations, cannot be quantifiable. Furthermore, since the Vatican is not a full member of any international organisation but only an observer and since official Vatican statements are phrased in extremely nuanced language, much public diplomacy amounts to interpreting papal. Thus, In order to understand this unique relationship, traditional parameters must be replaced with a framework that employs a totally different set of parameters:
The nuncio, as the Ambassador of the Holy See is, at the same time, a high ecclesiastical dignitary with the title of archbishop. He may perform his religious office, but he must care about the well-being of all the Catholics in his host country, including intervention on their behalf with the authorities. On the other hand, he will not participate in the Presidential New Year reception in honour of the Jewish non-religious leadership. He would rather prefer to participate in the annual reception for the diplomatic corps. By doing so, he underlines the quality of the Vatican as a full-fledged member of the international community as a sovereign state.
The theological and political levels of performing the duties of a Nuncio are intertwined. When he requests to enter an area of restricted accessibility for the purpose of holding mass, he is making a request in the name of religious freedom. Once his request is respected, it is regarded as a political gesture, meeting the expectations of religious freedom, but also in order to maintain friendly bilateral relations. If, however, he speaks to the media about his visit upon his return, it may be seen as a political and not as a spiritual act. This interplay enables using political tools to ease theological tensions that cannot be solved without one side or the other disavowing his faith.
The opposite case would involve, for example, the issuance of Visas one acceptable gauge of measuring relations between states, which should ideally be a transparent process. Extending visa permits to Catholic clergy is, for the Vatican, a matter of exercising freedom of religion. If, however, a clergy holds passports from states that are at war with, or do not recognize Israel, the matter is regarded by Israeli authorities rather as a security issue. The result of one side's existential caution may be seen by the other side as an infringement upon freedom of religion.
Bilateral relations between Israel and the Holy See are marked by an inherent asymmetry in a sense that almost all requests on behalf of the Vatican are within the realm of Israeli domestic policy. In 2002, the Ministry of Interior introduced a rather restricted policy on permits for stays longer than 3 months. Although its policy is not aimed at being discriminatory, it affects Christian clergy. Before, these clergy members were used to receiving permits in uncontrolled numbers and for practically indefinite periods, since the state authorities did not enforce their own provisions. Thus, the shift was not a consequence of policy, but practically the end of the loss of state control.
After the Twin Tower attack in 2001 and due to the second Intifada, awareness to domestic security increased. As a consequence, all previous permits were revoked and a restrictive policy, which limited the number of permits and their duration, was implemented. This policy takes into account Israel's security needs. Israel believes it cannot risk the entry of citizens from Muslim countries who are at war or do not have any diplomatic relations with Israel, without prior security check; and past experiences lends credence to the view of the security establishment, which authorizes visas and sees clerics from such countries as residents of a hostile state, rather than the Vatican view, which sees them primarily as Christian clergy. Luckily, the numbers involved allow for each case to be examined on its own merits.
The longstanding negotiations of fiscal and property issues related to Catholic institutions in Israel have also proven to be complex: after a long break, negotiations were resumed in 2004, and since then, considerable progress has been achieved. Upon a Vatican suggestion, the dissemination of public statements is restricted to joint communiqués according to the principle that "nothing is agreed unless everything is agreed."
The subject to be negotiated is which tax and what is the degree of exemption that Catholic Church institutions should enjoy. Another issue to be dealt is which ecclesiastical property should enjoy what degree of immunity of expropriation. A sovereign state like Israel may well decide about present exemptions and immunities.
The Catholic Church however has an interest in safeguarding its presence and property until eternity by alleviating itself from any future financial burdens. These are highly complex issues in which, not only the Holy See is represented at the table, but also different local Catholic churches and institutions. Along the Israeli side of the table, four ministries are represented in the negotiations: Justice, Finance, Interior and Foreign Affairs. The latter leads the negotiations on behalf of the Israeli government. Some Israelis criticise the negotiations. It seems to them that Israel conducts an unfortunate ‘give and give’ equation and not a ‘give and take’ formula. Others see the benefit of speedy conclusion of the negotiations, as the relations might develop additional political dimensions.
As a consequence of the visit of Pope John Paul II, the framework of an inter-religious dialogue between the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the respective Pontifical Council has been established. The dialogue has taken place on an annual basis since 2003, meeting in Jerusalem and in the Vatican respectively. It does not touch doctrinal matters of faith, as both sides recognise and respect the basic gap between the religions that cannot be bridged, if one remains faithful to one's own belief. But there are many common ‘soft’ issues to be discussed as they cause concern on both sides. As such soft issues, one may consider bioethics, environmental problems, brain and clinical death, but also matters pertaining religious tolerance and violence.
This annual meeting upgraded Israel's relations with the Holy See, as it gave the necessary theological symmetry to the formal diplomatic relations. This catholic – rabbinical dialogue has proven itself in times of crisis as a safety net, as this channel has been essential in removing misunderstandings that cause theological tensions.
Israel’s bilateral requests are limited by nature and do not touch upon any internal political issue of the Vatican. Even in the case of Pius XII’s possible beatification, Israeli policy is to refrain from interfering in internal ecclesiastical affairs. It does, however, reserve its right to express its opinion on Pacelli’s historical performance. With regard to this latter, Cardinal Walter Kasper mentioned the issue in his remarkable speech "Recent Developments in Jewish-Christian Relations," which he held at Hope University in Liverpool on May 24th, 2010:
“In the case that it proceeds [i.e. beatification process], it will not be an historical assessment but a spiritual discernment, whether this Pope in his situation followed his personal conscience and did the will of God as he understood it in his situation. So an eventual beatification would not preclude further historical research and interpretation nor would it exclude the assessment that other people with a different character may have come to different conclusions and may have acted in a different way."
According to its own statements, the Holy See is already acting diligently in order to open its Secret Archive (i.e. the papal private archive) for the period of Pius XII’s pontificate (1939-1958), probably in the next 5 years. Many issues to be raised on the bilateral agenda are seen by the Holy See also as theological matters: anti-Judaism, combating racism and anti-Semitism and Shoa revisionism and denial. The last issue gained momentum with the Williamson affair, as it became clear to the wider public that many members of the Fraternity of Pius X adhere to revisionist and blunt anti-Semitic ideas. This brotherhood was not readmitted to the Catholic Church, as most of them still resist the teaching of the Vatican II Council, including reorientation towards the Jewish people.
On the other hand, and as described above, diplomatic efforts can be used to offset religious tensions. In January 2010, following the declaration of Pius XII's heroic virtues – a step that would precede the beatification of Pius XII to which Roman Jews vehemently object, vocal elements within the Roman Jewish community called for the cancellation of the Papal visit to their Great Synagogue. The Jewish leadership were faced with a resentful public, on one hand, and the realization that the cancellation of the visit would have dramatic import upon Jewish-Catholic relations. Thus, Israeli diplomatic channels were mobilized to lend the necessary support from Israel by increasing the scope of and upgrading the Israeli presence. The deputy Prime Minister was present, as was a high-level delegation of the Chief Rabbinate, and the opposition was greatly diffused.
At the beginnig of John Paul II's Pontificate, no relations were established with the Israeli government. In 1985, the State of Israel was first mentioned in a public Vatican document.
Diplomatic incidents occurred as John Paul II met PLO chairman Arafat several times, against the protests of the Israeli government and some Jewish organizations. In 1987, the Pope met Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, an action protested by the Israeli government due to revelations about Waldheim's wartime past. Another incident occurred in January 1987, when Cardinal John J. O'Connor, Archbishop of New York, visited Israel and refused to meet Israeli President Chaim Herzog in Jerusalem, in protest of Israeli control over East Jerusalem.
On July 29, 1992, a bilateral working commission titled Permanent Bilateral Working Commission between Israel and the Holy See was established to resolve issues of relations between the Israeli government and the Vatican.
The Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel, concluded on 30 December 1993, led to the opening of the Vatican Embassy (Nunciature) in Israel in 1994. The first Israeli Ambassador to the Vatican presented his credentials on September 29, 1994.
However, the agreement did not settle all issues between the Vatican and the Israeli government. Many historical church buildings and other properties in Israel were either devastated in 1948 and not allowed to rebuild or seized by the Israeli government without being restored to the Catholic Church. In addition, Israel's character as a Jewish state and the prominent position given to Jewish Orthodox circles is social and state affairs, led to a policy of social discrimination against the local Catholic, part of them being Israeli Arabs, the others being members of mixed families who came to Israel under the Law of Return or even local Jews who converted within Israel. Article 10 of the agreement provided for a comprehensive agreement to be reached in future negotiations under the auspices of the joint commission established in 1992. Fr. David-Maria A. Jaeger, one of the Vatican negotiators for the Fundamental Agreement, explained in a 2007 interview as for the reasons for concluding the agreement with Israel without first resolving all outstanding issues in the following words:
It was believed best to to go ahead, and demonstrate, right at the start, with magnanimity, the Church's own good faith, and with it, unreserved trust in the other Party to carry out its own obligations under international law. There was the hope-full expectation that magnanimity and trust on the part of the Church would call forth corresponding trust and magnanimity on the part of the other side. It was a courageously generous decision by the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, and I, for my part, continue to pray and hope that he will be proved to have been right all along.
The first Apostolic Nuncio to Israel was Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, who had been Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine since 1990, who served from 1994 until 1998; then replaced by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who served until 2006.
An additional aspect of Vatican policy towards Israel following the establishment of diplomatic relations was the beginning of interest in the internal problems of Israeli society. This can be seen in the words of the Pope to the Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See on April 10, 1997:
we are speaking here of an important step in helping all the people of Israel, regardless of religious faith or cultural differences, to work together as equal partners in the building up of Israeli society.
This interest in Israeli society led to the reference to Israeli security concerns in his message to the Palestinian people made on September 22, 1997. Now, he began to address also the public in both Israeli and Palestinian societies, as seen from his message to young Israelis and Palestinians, delivered on September 22, 1999.
On November 10, 1997, a supplementary agreement was signed between the two parties, which recognized the various Catholic organs in Israel as legal personalities under Israeli law.
Following the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000, Israeli-Vatican relations cooled down, and many joint projects, such as planned exhibitions on Jewish history in Vatican museums and joint scholarly conferences, were put on hold by the Pope and other Vatican officials. The Israel government decided to work for improving relations through back channels, and this led to the creation in December 2001 of the Cardinal Bea Center for Judaic Studies within the Gregorian University, which held many Israeli-Vatican events under its auspices rather than the Vatican Secretariat of State.
The joint commission established in 1992 and charged with formulating a comprehensive agreement on all issues, met briefly in 1994, and then no meeting were held until 2004. No progress was made on issues in question.
Under Benedict XVI, the Holy See and the Israeli government continued negotiations about a comprehensive Vatican-Israel agreement.
In early 2006, Benedict XVI appointed Antonio Franco Apostolic Nuncio to Israel, to replace Pietro Sambi.
A major progress in relations between the Vatican and Israeli Rabbis took place in October 2008, when Rabbi Shear Yashuv Hacohen became the first ever Rabbi to speak before a Synod of Bishops at the Vatican.
In early 2009, the Holy See officially protested about a TV program by Israeli comedian Lior Shlein, who claimed that Mary wasn't really a virgin and that Jesus did not walk on water.
Throughout 2009, the Permanent Bilateral Working Commission between Israel and the Holy See held several rounds of talks in order to reach a comprehensive agreement on legal and financial matters, but on December 10, talks broke down, and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon stated they reached a crisis. A major stumbling block in that round of talks was the room of the Last Supper on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, which is being held by the Israeli government. The Holy See sought to gain official Catholic control over this room, a demand refused by the Israeli government. Ayalon stated this was an issue of sovereignty over Jerusalem.
In May 2010 it was reported that Israeli-Vatican negotiations have been held in order to conclude a comprehensive agreement between the parties. On September 21, the Permanent Bilateral Working Commission between Israel and the Holy See met again In Israel for further negotiations on that issue. Fr. David-Maria Jaeger, who took part in the Vatican delegation, reported progress on these issues. Further progress was reported after another meeting in mid November.
In October 2010, the Vatican held a Synod of Bishops on the Middle East. The Synod concluded with a message of criticism for the Israeli government regarding the situation in the Palestinian territories. The Synod also treated issues regarding Israeli society not addressed previously. One of the speakers at the synod was Jesuit Father David Neuhaus - a Jewish convert himself - who spoke about Hebrew as the language of Christianity in the Middle East, and called for cooperation of Hebrew and Arabic speaking Catholics in Israel. Some criticism of the Israeli education system was made by Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, who spoke favorably about recommendations made to revise Israeli and Palestinian textbooks in a manner that will eliminate prejudice.
A diplomatic incident occurred during the synod, as the Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria Antonios Naguib, gave an interview in which he criticized the Israeli government for the proposed legislation by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to demand an oath of loyalty from all future naturalized citizens, and explicitly labeled Israeli policy as being racist towards the Arab minority in that country. Another diplomatic incident took place at the conclusion of the Synod, when Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, the Melkite Greek Catholic bishop of Newton, Massachusetts said in an interview that:
We Christians cannot speak of the "promised land" as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people - all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.
This statement was not included in the final report of the Synod. Official Vatican statement did not approve or disapprove of Bustros' statement, but stated that many individual statements made during the synod did not reflect official Vatican policy. Nevertheless, Bustros' remarks evoked angry reactions from the Israeli government and the American Jewish Committee. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon stated:
We call on the Vatican to distant themselves from Archbishop Boutros' comments which are a libel against the Jewish people and the State of Israel and should not be construed as the Vatican's official position. These outrageous comments should not cast a shadow over the important relationship between the Vatican, the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee stated:
We urge the Vatican to issue a clear repudiation of Archbishop Bustros' outrageous and regressive comments.
On December 9, 2010, another meeting of the Permanent Bilateral Working Commission between Israel and the Holy See took place in Israel, at which the Vatican representatives expressed sympathy with the Israeli casualties of the Carmel forest fire. The next meeting is scheduled for February 3, 2011.
Benedict XVI continued to cultivate the relations with the Hebrew Catholics in Israel, began under his predecessor. In December 2010, the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land held a joint symposium with the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, the Jerusalem Center for Jewish Christian Relations and the Interfaith Coordinating Council in Israel regarding the implications of the Synod on the Middle East held in October. In this symposium, most of the Catholic clergy present spoke in Hebrew, which was a sign of approach being made towards Israeli society.
The Catholic hierarchy in Israel began dealing more openly also with the pastoral needs of the Catholic foreign workers in Israel, and in August 2010, the Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal appointed Father Jayaseellan Pitchaimuthu as the particular person in charge of the care of Indian Catholic foreign workers in Israel.
John Paul II had many Jewish friends from his childhood in Poland, an issue emphasized by him on numerous occasions. He held a dialogue with Jewish organizations, both religious and Zionist. He also made some decisions that angered some Jewish organizations, such as his meeting with Arafat and his meeting with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim in 1987, after revelations were made about his wartime service.
On April 28, 1983, the Pope met a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles, whom he congratulated for their part in Catholic-Jewish dialogue. On March 2, 1984, he met a delegation from the Anti-Defamation League.
On 24 June 1985, the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews issued a document interpreting Nostra Aetate, titled "Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Teaching in the Roman Catholic Church" which was the first public document of the Catholic Church which mentioned the State of Israel by its proper name and not just as "the Holy Land". Some scholars view this as the actual turning point in Vatican readiness to recognize Israel.
In April 1986, the Pope visited the main Synagogue in Rome.
During the Jubilee visit to Israel in 2000, the Pope met the two Chief Rabbis of Israel on March 23. In his statement to them, he stated about the future of Jewish-Catholic cooperation:
We must work together to build a future in which there will be no more anti-Judaism among Christians or anti-Christian sentiment among Jews.
On the same day, he also visited Yad Vashem, where he stated:
I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and love and by no political considerations, is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place.
John Paul II also made a veiled criticism of Jewish exclusiveness shortly after his visit to Israel, when speaking to the Egyptian Ambassador to the Holy See on September 7, 2000. While the Pope criticized religious intolerance in general, he stated that such intolerance is made worse when religious identity coincides with ehnicity:
Especially when religious identity coincides with cultural and ethnic identity, it is a solemn duty of believers to ensure that religious sentiment is not used as an excuse for hatred and conflict.
The Pope also drew some criticism by Jewish organizations when in December 2000 he gave reception at the Vatican to an official delegation from Austria containing the then governor of Carinthia Jörg Haider, who made positive allusions to Hitler in some of his speeches.
In January 2004, he met the two Chief Rabbis of Israel at the Vatican.
Unlike his predecessor, Benedict XVI was viewed by many as a more reactionary Pope in relation with non-Christian religions, and for this reason his policies regarding Judaism drew criticism from Jewish organizations.
In 2008, he revised the Good Friday prayer in a way that criticizes the Jews for not accepting Jesus. This move drew criticism from Jewish circles which saw this as a move towards proselytizing the Jews.
Catholics often use the politically blurred term of ‘Holy Land’, which is politically, historically and geographically ill defined. For Israel, it is the Land of the Bible which comprises today’s State of Israel and the biblical landscape of Judea and Samaria. For some Christians, the Holy Land is confined to the extension of the jurisdiction of the Latin or Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem (i.e. Israel, Jordan and the PA). Others would understand ‘Holy Land’ as embracing all the areas in which the events mentioned in the New Testament took place, which may mean also Turkey and Egypt. What has gone almost unnoticed is that the border of the Latin Patriarchate is almost identical with the late Roman Imperial political delineation of Palestina Prima, Secunda and Tertia.
Jerusalem and the territory of present-day Israel was of religious significance to Christianity from the earliest Christian times. The first Christian communities, during the 1st century AD, existed in the Holy Land. Following the Arab conquest of the Holy Land in 638, Christian control in the land come to an end. However, Christians continued to have an interest in the region, and Christian pilgrims continued to visit the region. European rulers, such as Charlemagne, worked to reach agreements with Muslim rulers to allow pilgrims to visit Jerusalem and the holy places.
In 1099, the crusaders ruled in Jerusalem and established a Latin kingdom in the area. This kingdom was extinguished in 1291, but the Catholic church in Europe continued to look for ways to secure the control over the holy places. During the 14th century, the Papacy managed to secure from the Mamluk rulers permission to operate a Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land in Jerusalem.
Following reforms made in the Ottoman empire throughout the 19th century, the Catholic church saw another opportunity to increase its presence in the area. European powers, most notably the French, acted on behalf of the Holy See in representing its interests with Ottoman authorities, sometimes known as the French Protectorate of Jerusalem or capitulations. In 1847, the Ottoman authorities allowed the Catholic church directly to establish a hierarchy, for the first time since the crusader period, under the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Vatican opposition to a Jewish homeland stemmed largely from theological doctrines regarding Judaism. In 1904, the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl obtained an audience with Pope Pius X in the hope of persuading the pontiff to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The pope's response was: "Non possumus"--"We cannot." In 1917, Pius X's successor, Pope Benedict XV, equally refused to support any concept for a Jewish state. Minerbi writes that when a League of Nations mandate were being proposed for Palestine, the Vatican was disturbed by the prospect of a (Protestant) British mandate over the Holy Land, but a Jewish state was anathema to it.
On June 22, 1943, Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, the Apostolic Delegate to Washington D.C. wrote to US President Franklin Roosevelt, asking him to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. His arguments against such plan were:
… Catholics rejoice in certain rights regarding these places and in justice their rights must be recognized, and respected. Repeated formal assurances that these rights will be respected are ever necessary and will again be required after the present war … Catholics the world over are piously devoted to this country … If the greater part of Palestine is given to the Jewish people, this would be a severe blow to the religious attachment of Catholics to this land. To have the Jewish people in the majority would be to interfere with the peaceful exercise of these rights …there is no axiom in history to substantiate the necessity of a people returning to a country they left nineteen centuries before.
On 11 February 1948, the Holy See created the office of Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine, with jurisdiction over Palestine, Transjordania, and Cyprus. In Vatican practice, an Apostolic Delegate is appointed to a country with which the Vatican has no diplomatic ties and which does not require accreditation to the government of the country.
Until 1993, the Vatican did not recognise the State of Israel, and did not make any international agreements with it. The first public document of the Catholic Church which mentioned the State of Israel by its official name and not just as "the Holy Land" or "Palestine" was a document titled "Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Teaching in the Roman Catholic Church" (Note 25) published by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews (24 June 1985).
The Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel was the first official act of recognition by the Vatican of the State of Israel. It was signed on 30 December 1993, during the papacy of John Paul II.
Already during the 19th century, the Holy See was concerned about the control over the holy places in Palestine, especially in Jerusalem. In 1887, Pope Leo XIII issued a motu propriotitled Domini et Salvatoris, in which he called for the establishment of a Catholic fund to maintain the holy places in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
The early Zionists sought to assure the Vatican of the sanctity of Christian holy places, but the Vatican was not satisfied with these assurances. The Vatican was not invited to attend the 1920 San Remo conference, which decided the fate of Palestine, and had to rely on France and Italy to represent its interests. The San Remo conference set aside a Protectorate of the Holy See. According to Minerbi, the Vatican's objectives were ultimately undermined by the Zionist Organization's support for a British Mandate.
But the Vatican did not give up on its objective of direct Catholic control of the Holy Land and the holy places. The Vatican's idea for an international commission to resolve claims on the holy places had been incorporated in article 95 of the Treaty of Sèvres, and was repeated as articles 13 and 14 of the Mandate. Britain assumed responsibility for the holy places under article 13 of the Mandate. However, Britain never created the International Commission on Holy Places to resolve the other claims in accordance with article 14 of the Mandate.
The Vatican's official position on the status of Jerusalem was in favour of an internationalization of Jerusalem, in order to keep the holy places away from either Israeli or Arab sovereignty.
At the time of the proposals that culminated in the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine of 1947, the Vatican, the Italian, and the French governments continued to press their own legal claims on the basis of the former Protectorate of the Holy See and the French Protectorate of Jerusalem. The proposal was also incorporated in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 in 1948. On 1 May 1948, just two weeks before end of the British Mandate, Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Auspicia Quaedam, expressing concern over the survival of the holy places in case of war. The Israeli Declaration of Independence of 14 May 1948 committed Israel to "guarantee freedom of religion ... [and to] safeguard the Holy Places of all religions". However, the Vatican's position on the holy places was repeated in encyclical In Multiplicibus Curis of 24 October 1948 which called for respect and protection of the holy places and called on the peace-makers to give Jerusalem and its outskirts "an international character" and to assure - "with international guarantees" - freedom of access and worship at the holy places scattered throughout Palestine. (#8) In encyclical Redemptoris Nostri Cruciatus of 15 April 1949, Pope Pius XII repeated his concern over the future of freedom of access to the holy places and his call for an "international status" as the best protection for the holy places.
Since its establishment, the Jewish State has exerted its sovereignty over all holy sites within Israel, a new situation that Catholicism has had to contend with since 1948. For decades, the Vatican has resented Israel's claims to effective authority by denying it diplomatic recognition. Even following the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1994, the Vatican continues to contest Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem .
The Holy See traditionally seeks to safeguard also the Catholic presence in Jerusalem. During the war in 1948, not only Muslims but also Christians were among the population who abandoned their homes. The size of the Christian community in Jerusalem under Israel jurisdiction before and after 1967, however, is not diminishing, but is remarkably stable.] Still, Catholic voices claim that the future of the Christian presence in the Holy City is at risk. This demographic trauma, real or imagined, is a constant trigger for the Holy See to remind the non-Christian parties who have ruled Jerusalem since 1948 (i.e. Israel and Jordan), that any political solution for the city should consider its special status – actually a catchword for considering also Christian interests in the city.
A powerful Vatican diplomatic effort succeeded to integrate the concept of international status for Jerusalem as corpus separatum into the partition plan of November 29th,1947 (UNGA 181). The Holy See tried to condition Israel’s UN membership in 1949 upon the demand that it should adhere to those concepts which were agreed in UN Resolution 181. This position has not been formally abandoned until today. A relic of it is visible every day in L’Osservatore Romano, when it reports about Israel from Tel Aviv and never from Jerusalem. Following theSix Day War, the Vatican modified its position on the holy places. In an address to the College of Cardinals in December 1967, Pope Paul VI called for a "special statute, internationally guaranteed" for Jerusalem and the holy places, thus changing the previous demand for the internationalization of Jerusalem. The concept of a special status for Jerusalem is still alive in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. One has only to read the Preamble to the Basic Agreement between the Holy See and the PLO from the 15th of February 2000. Article 4 therein affirmed Israel's "commitment to maintain and respect the 'Status quo' in the Christian Holy Places" and "guarantee of the freedom of Catholic worship".
Significantly, the Vatican has since assumed direct responsibility for the well-being of all local Catholic Churches within Israel's territorial jurisdiction. Alongside recognition, the Nuncio received an instrument enabling him to gain effective control and legal authority over all Catholic institutions and property in Israel – a very powerful and unparalleled tool he had hitherto never had, neither under Turkish domination nor Jordanian rule.
While not strictly related to diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See, Jewish attitudes towards Christianity are certainly part of that triangle of relations that envelops it, the diplomatic relations, and the formal Jewish-Catholic inter-religious dialogue.
A major factor overshadowing Holy See – Israel relations is an existing indifference within Israeli society to Christianity in general. Jews converting to Christianity are often considered traitors, due to historical sensitivities, and most Israeli Jews would refrain from sending their children to Christian schools, which is contrary to the perception amongst Muslim families in Israel who, not only do not object to their children attending Christian schools, but even consider it a mark of excellence.
The loaded relations began with the process of separation of the Early Christian community from the bonds of mainstream Judaism, which were accompanied by a vast corpus of polemical literature, in which Jews had their share as well. This animosity extended into the European Middle Ages, during which Jews lived as a minority under Christian domination. It was even ritualized in some Jewish and Christian prayers. Many Orthodox Jews would still neither enter a church nor like to be confronted with a crucifix.
During the exile, Jews lived in a hostile Christian environment, which never abandoned its religious zeal to convert Jews. In fact, most Jews perceive their history during the Diaspora as a traumatic battle of survival against constant Catholic efforts to convert them gently or, in most cases, coercively. Survival techniques included theological self-sufficiency and exclusivity; and Jewish proselytism became impossible once Christianity became the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire.
Notwithstanding, Medieval rabbinical sources show respect to other religions. And yet, Jewish Orthodoxy, pluralistic in its approach towards Christians in the distant past, seems since the Shoa to have resisted change. Of the three prevalent attitudes towards Christians, only the ultraorthodox Haredim are totally negative, guided by the Psak Halacha [halachic verdict] from 1967 of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895–1985). This verdict, published in Igrot Moshe, Yore Dea 3:43 prohibited any meetings with priests.
For now, Haredi attitudes, which even delegitimize other minded Orthodox Jews, will persist. The Orthodox mainstream attitude is expressed by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903–1993), the leading authority of Orthodoxy in America, in his programmatic article "Confrontation" – considered a response to pre-Nostrae Aetate deliberations. Although he denies the possibility of religious dialogue, he suggests a common platform of concerted action in the secular public sphere. Soloveitchik's parameters are:
1. Jewish-Christian scope of action for the common good is confined to the secular sphere, as God commanded mankind in Genesis 1:28: replenish the earth, and subdue it.
2. Respectful relations between religions require strict non-interference. One should refrain from suggesting to other faith changes in ritual or emendations of its texts.
As a result, only a few Jewish representatives are today actually engaged in the current dialogue with Catholics. As much as the ongoing dialogue is pursued on the highest possible official level between the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See, reluctance of the Orthodox mainstream persists. Reform and Conservative Judaism are more open to dialogue, primarily from the viewpoint of their American experience, where communal cohabitation among ethnic and religious groups is the lifeline of American society.
Soloweitchik, resented any inter-religious dialogue that leads to discussing principles of faith with Catholics. At the same time, he did not resent the dialogue on issues that could lead to improving the common good of ethnic cohabitation. Therefore, the dialogue with Catholics is limited to religious policy matters (bioethics, ecology, violence etc.) and rarely, if ever, "hardcore" issues, such as doctrinal principles of belief (the Trinity, the coming of Messiahs, Sacraments, etc.).
Forty years of Jewish-Catholic dialogue after Nostrae Aetate have been a period of mutual trial and error in which an own dynamism developed. Emerging modern Orthodoxy has gone beyond the confines which Soloveitchik delineated, becoming the hardcore of Jewish Orthodox currents, which carry the message of the present dialogue. One of their renowned speakers, Rabbi David Rosen, explains the rationales of dialoguing with Catholics thus:
1. Ignorance breeds prejudice and thus threatens communities’ well being, especially for a minority. Through dialoguing, barriers of prejudice and stereotypes are removed and mutual respect is promoted.
2. An ulterior basis for inter-religious relations is the perception of a “common agenda”, as no religion is an island. All religions in the West have become minorities in an overwhelmingly secular world.
3. Each religion is equal before God with its own truth. The claim of monopoly on truth amounts to limiting the encounter with the Divine.
4.. Christianity’s identity is uniquely bound up with Jewish history and revelation, despite our fundamental differences. As Judaism teaches that our obligation is to testify to God’s presence and sanctify his name in the world, we have an obligation to work together.
Since most Christians in Israel and the Palestinian Territories are of Arab ethnicity, Christian clergy is mostly involved in community work with Israeli Arabs or with residents of thePalestinian authority, but rarely with Israeli Jews – save Russian immigrants who declare themselves Jewish for immigration purposes but consider themselves Christian. Israeli Arabs who belong to the Christian religion are recognized as such under Israeli law, but Jews who have converted are in most cases still registered as Jewish, as the State is very reluctant to recognize such conversions, even though there is no law against it. Some changes in attitude have taken place, as Israeli society is becoming more accustomed to the presence of a variety of religious denominations. One such instance arose when on January 16, 2011 the Tel-Aviv municipality decided to name a Jewish residential area after Tabitha, a New Testament character.
Another sensitivity is regarding Christians of Jewish origin who still regard themselves as Jewish – Messianic Jews – considered by both Jews and Christians as a marginal cult.
Other difficulties are experienced by the Hebrew Catholic community in Israel – a group of Catholics who consider themselves full-fledged, Hebrew-speaking Israeli citizens. Permission to build chapels or religious schools, especially within Jewish cities has so-far been withheld. One exception is the House of St. Simeon and Anne in West Jerusalem, which was opened in December 2000 and is maintained by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
Another problem is the issue of proselytism. The Vatican demands that the freedom to spread its religious messages be recognized in official legislation and agreements. The Israeli government refuses to introduce such legislation, even though there are no explicit penalties for proselytism in Israeli law. As a result, any comprehensive agreement on freedom of activities for the Catholic Church in Israel cannot be reached, which leaves the issue unresolved. In addition, the Vatican demands several Catholic holidays be recognized as official holidays under law for local Catholics, a demand that the Israeli government refuses, in order not to antagonize Jewish religious circles.
Vatican attitudes towards Israeli Catholics of Jewish origin have also shifted. From 1955, unofficial communities began performing the mass in Hebrew with official Vatican endorsement. However, the Vatican has kept a low-key attitude towards this congregation, in order not to antagonize the Arab speaking Catholic community, which may not favor Catholics with pro-Jewish sentiments. The number of Israeli Catholics of non-Arab origin increased during the 1990s, due primarily to immigration from the former Soviet Union. As a result, the Vatican changed its policies in 2003, for the first time ordaining Jean-Baptiste Gourion as Auxiliary Bishop to overlook the Hebrew Catholic community in Israel. The appointment of Father David Neuhaus as vicar upon Gourionan's death in 2003, however,is not in conformity with the importance that the Holy See ostensibly attributes to the newly emerging community. On the other hand, Neuhaus did participate in the Synod for Middle Eastern clergy as a special invitee of the Pope, and Hebrew - for the first time ever - was one of the official languages in which Radio Vatican covered the event.
A significant aspect in Jewish-Christian and Jewish-Catholic relations in Israel is government policy. Ever since the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, Judaism has been used in government policy and legislation as a means to give the Israeli society a sense of identity. As a result, all matrimonial laws in Israel are religious, as no civil marriage can take place. Education is also segregated to a large degree between various religious denominations. As a result, a general social attitude of disrespect towards non-Jews has evolved within Israeli society, causing great difficulties to them to find employment or rent apartments in Jewish cities. These attitudes were increased following the Six Day War and the construction of settlements in the Palestinian Territories after 1967. The Settlers have become a new political force, and this led to a greater sense of animosity by Jews towards anything viewed by them as non-Jewish.
One factor mitigating the external appearances of that animosity was the spread of media coverage of Israeli society, which caused politicians as well as the general public to refrain from openly advocating violence against non-Jews in general. In addition, as the Israeli government is receiving considerable support from Evangelical Christians around the world, it must restrain some of the negative attitudes against Christians prevalent among many Jews. This was instrumental in 1997, when some Knesset members tried to pass a bill that would criminalize any proselytism by Christians in Israel, but the government under Netanyahu blocked their attempt. Nevertheless, social antagonism among Jews in Israel towards Christians is still prevalent, even though less visible on a daily basis. As a result, even though there is no law against Jews converting to Christianity or Christians living in Jewish cities, many Jews are very reluctant to visit in a church or enter into friendly relations with any Jewish convert to Christianity or any Christian - Israeli or foreign - who is trying to find employment or residence within the Jewish sector in Israel.
Both, the regional peace process, but especially the continuing Israeli–Palestinian conflict have had an influence on Vatican relations with Israel. After the outbreak of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Pope Pius XII adopted a partisan position for the Church. His encyclical In Multiplicibus Curis and Redemptoris Nostri Cruciatus are seen by some as a call for peace in the region; and yet the appeal for justice for Palestinian refugees only, and the use for the first time ever of the term concentration camps in this regard (a term never used by the Pope in reference to World War I) indicates a certain historical obtuseness. Pope John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in Terris on peace in the world has sometimes been re-read and re-interpreted by Christians in the context of politics in the Holy Land. On March 25, 1974, Pope Paul VI issued the Apostolic Exhortation Nobis in Animo on the social problems in the Holy Land.
At present, although the Vatican is genuinely interested in conflict resolution and in presenting itself as an entity that can restore peaceful co-existence among diverse ethnic and religious communities in the Middle East, it lacks the political clout of being a broker in the regional conflict. Furthermore, the Holy See must take into account the wellbeing of its own believers. These often contradict the interests of local churches:
A case in point was the Special Synod for Oriental Catholic Churches on Christianity in the Middle East, which was convened in Rome in October 2010. In this case, local churches went so far as to undermine any stated political stances of the Vatican.
The title, "communion and testimony: The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul (At 4,32)” attested to the intent, namely "to enforce the communion of your churches with the successor of St.Peter and to examine together any problems of significant importance." The four main points to be discussed were ostensibly the growth of fundamentalism, Muslim-Christian dialogue, the oriental catholic patriarch in the universal church, and ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Kuwait and the Gulf.
The Vatican's purpose with this synod was to show solidarity with oriental Catholics who live under distress due to violent conflicts in the region. The Holy See is interested to see these churches verging closer to Rome and, where necessary, also to discipline them. However, these churches are not only Catholic but also national churches. Although the Holy See tried to prevent a politicised synod, Arab catholic dignitaries, who form the majority of the Synod, used the forums in order to display visible loyalty to their respective governments.
As part of the preparations for the Special Assembly of Bishops for the Middle East, the Synod of Bishops issued a working document criticizing religious settlers and their supporters from among the Evangelical Christians for using "Sacred Scripture to justify the political injustice imposed on the Palestinians." The final statement went on to say: "Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable". It was well received by Palestinian diplomats, and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri welcomed the Synod's statements; but Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that, "the synod was hijacked by an anti-Israel majority". The Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, in a press interview, claimed that the Synod resolutions were balanced and the criticism of Israel was rooted in the reality of the conflict.
Another element in the inability of the Vatican to play an effective role in the region is its apparent inability to adapt its foreign relations policy to the needs and requirements of the modern age, as described extensively by US State Department cables divulged by Wikileaks,
According to a cable from July 2001, the Vatican
”remains keenly interested in … aspects of the holy sites in the region (specifically Jerusalem). the Vatican maintains … (it has been) ignored by the USG (US Government) and the Israelis… GOI (The Government of Israel) for its part was concerned that the Pope left unanswered Bashir Assad's Anti-Semitic invective during the Pope's may 2001 Syria visit… (The Vatican) will continue to seek to play a role in the MEPP (Middle East Peace Process), while denying this intention. Embassy Vatican continues to recommend … encourag(ing) the Vatican to play a more constructive, or at least less unhelpful, role…”
... and often an uneven policy marked by changes of personnel.
The Pontificate of John Paul II began at a time when the Israeli and the Egyptian governments were engaged in peace negotiations, leading to the conclusion of the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty. He placed the issue of achieving peace in the Middle East a high priority on his international agenda; however, the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty did not receive Papal endorsement, and he refrained from mentioning it during a reception for a delegation of the Coptic church on June 23, 1979, or in his message of congratulation to US President Jimmy Carter, during his visit to the US in October 1979. He expressed a more conciliatory tone towards the Israeli-Egyptian treaty in his speech before the UN General Assembly on October 2, 1979, but conditioned his support on that treaty being the "first stone" to a comprehensive peace in the region. The following year, however, he did refer to the treaty at a reception he held at the Vatican for Carter, but only as a reminder of his interest in the internationalization of Jerusalem.
Following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, John Paul II expressed his concern about the future of the peace process in a message to US President Ronald Reagan on June 7, 1982, one day after the start of the war.
On February 19, 1985 the Pope gave an audience to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the first one since the meeting between Paul VI and Golda Meir in 1973. At the meeting, Peres rejected any territorial concessions in Jerusalem, stating it will always remain Israel's capital.
Following the outbreak of the first Intifada in December 1987, the Pope showed his sympathy for the Palestinian cause, having initiated a series of 12 meetings with PLO chairmanYasser Arafat five years earlier.
In 1992, following the Madrid talks between Israel and Palestinian representatives, the Holy See finally agreed to enter into talks with the Israeli government; and on July 29 of that year, a permanent bilateral commission was established to resolve legal and diplomatic issues.
John Paul II continued to cautiously support the peace process after diplomatic relations were established. The outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000 prompted a message to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. On May 1, 2002, the Pope appointed Cardinal Roger Etchegaray as his personal envoy to mediate between the Israeli government and the Palestinian forces in and around Bethlehem to prevent damage to the Church of the Nativity. These efforts led to ending the siege on the Nativity Church on May 10.
Benedict XVI's policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was put to the test in the very first months of his papacy. Following a terrorist attack in the Israeli city of Netanya in July 2005, many Jewish and Zionist organizations blamed the Vatican for not expressing concern over the loss of Israeli lives. The Holy See spokesperson responded to the accusation by condemning both Palestinian attacks, as well as Israeli military operations. The following year, during the 2006 Lebanon War, the Holy See called for an immediate cease-fire, and for humanitarian efforts for the reconstruction of Lebanon. And, during the Israeli-Gaza war of 2008-2009, the Holy See cexpressed its concerns for the region. The Gaza war saw another crisis in Vatican-Israeli relations, as the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace Renato Martino in a press interview referred to the Gaza Strip as a "big concentration camp", a statement that evoked angry reactions from Israeli government spokesmen.
Pius XII was Pope from 2 March 1939 to 9 October 1958, a period that straddled the Second World War period, which saw the destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust, and saw the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. He is noted for his rejection of any plan for the establishment of a State of Israel in the British Palestine territory, on religious, theological and racial grounds.
Perhaps more than any other, it was the papacy of Pius XII that shaped Holy See - Israel relations prior to 1993. David Ben Gurion is quoted having said in 1949 that, "There is a major religion in the world, which has to settle with us a historical reckoning.” The immediate context was the Vatican campaign behind the scenes in the UN to condition Israel's becoming a member state upon its respect for the provisions of returning Palestinian refugees to the newly created Jewish State and committing itself to respecting the holy sites.
Zionism had traditionally been associated with atheist Soviet Communism. The Osservatore Romano commented on the establishment of Israel on June 12th, 1948:
"The birth of Israel gives Moscow a basis in the Near East through which the microbes can grow and being disseminated."
Indeed, by adhering to the ideology of the Kibbutz or the socialist background of its founding fathers, the State of Israel wrongly created this impression. The steady deterioration of Israel’s diplomatic relations with Stalinist Russia in 1953, on the other hand, went unnoticed in the Vatican. Any rapprochement toward the Jewish state was curtailed because of the conviction that, in order to safeguard the wellbeing of Christians under Muslim-Arab rule, the Vatican would have to pay the political price of supporting Arab claims against Israel. The Vatican view of the Near East was dominated by a Cold War perception that Arab Muslims are conservative but religious, whereas Israeli Zionists are modernist but atheists. The Vatican’s then Foreign Minister, Domenico Tardini (without being even a bishop, but a close collaborator of Pius XII) said to the French ambassador in November 1957, according to an Israeli diplomatic dispatch from Rome to Jerusalem:
"I have always been of the opinion that there never was an overriding reason for this state to be established. It was the fault of the western states. Its existence is an inherent risk factor for war in the Middle East. Now, Israel exists, and there is certainly no way to destroy it, but every day we pay the price of this error."
And yet, beyond the religious, theological and racial grounds, Pius' objections may have also stemmed from deeper considerations. Pope Pius XII was the one who introduced, as late as in 1945 in his speech to his cardinals, the notion that the Church was the victim of the Nazi regime.  Vatican apprehension would be truly ignited in 1963, following the global echo created by the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem (1961), when Jewish victimization by Nazism began to attract major public attention. Meanwhile, however, Pius had already initiated a trend, which has accelerated since, of describing the Jewish State as the aggressor rather than the victim, in order to solidify the Catholic status as such:
On 1 May 1948, two weeks before the end of the British Mandate, Pius XII issued encyclical Auspicia Quaedam, expressing concern over the survival of the holy places in case of war. During that war, the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land Alberto Gori in his reports to the Vatican was most critical of the Jewish and later Israeli forces, whom he accused of destruction of holy places.
Despite Israeli assurances that Israel would guarantee freedom of religion and safeguard the Holy Places of all religions, on 24 October 1948, he issued the encyclical, In Multiplicibus Curis which focused on the war then raging in Palestine and called for respect and protection of the holy places. On 15 April 1949, he issued the encyclical Redemptoris Nostri Cruciatus, in which he expressed concern over the future of freedom of access to the holy places and called for a "settlement of the dispute on principles of justice, which would fully safeguard the freedom of Catholics and at the same time provide guarantees for the safety of those most Holy Places".
“…tranquillity or order in Palestine is still very far from having been restored. For We are still receiving complaints from those who have every right to deplore the profanation of sacred buildings, images, charitable institutions, as well as the destruction of peaceful homes of religious communities. Piteous appeals still reach us from numerous refugees, of every age and condition, who have been forced by the disastrous war to emigrate and even live in exile in concentration camps, the prey to destitution, contagious disease and perils of every sort.”
The French La Documentation Catholiques went even farther and published a report declaring that "Zionism is the new Nazism."
Another aim of Redemptoris Nostri Cruciatus, however, was to mobilise Catholics worldwide to remind their respective governments to forward those demands before admitting Israel to the UN. Surprised by the unexpected victory of Israel in 1948 over the invading Arab forces, the Vatican saw the Christian presence in the Holy Land diminish, claiming that 70% of the local Christians had fled from their homes as a consequence of the acts of Israel's belligerency.
Thus, by initially siding with Palestinian claims for compensations on political, social and financial levels, the Vatican shaped its Middle Eastern policy since 1948 upon two pillars. One was based on political and theological reservations against Zionism, which corresponded with attitudes of Catholic Arab communities whose members had taken a leading part in shaping the Palestinian national movement. But the Holy See has also maintained reservations of its own. The more established the Zionist Yishuv became in Mandatory Palestine, the more political reservations the Vatican added to its initial theological inhibitions. Zionism was regarded for several decades as a competitor for the same territory – the Holy Land, and the Vatican needed to undermine the Jewish legitimacy to its claim for that territorial tract by associating the Zionist movement with everything ungodly.
In 1949, Pius appointed Gori as Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, which led to a policy of estrangement towards the Israeli government. Jerusalem being divided between Israel and Jordan, Gori began a policy of removing Catholic religious houses and institutions that were located in West Jerusalem to East Jerusalem, away from Israel. In 1950 Gori made an official visit to Israel and met Prime Minister Ben Gurion. During the meeting, Gori attempted to convince the Israeli leader to make an international commitment to uphold the rights of Christians in Israel, but his offer was rejected. Gori was also active with Catholics of Jewish origin, and on February 11, 1955, granted official approval to the Apostolate of Saint James the Apostle, which was aimed at addressing the needs of Hebrew speaking Catholics in Israel.
On May 26, 1955, when the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra performed Beethoven's Seventh Symphony at the Vatican as an act of respect for Pius XII, the Vatican still refrained from mentioning the name of the State, prefering instead to describe the orchestra as a collection of "Jewish musicians of fourteen different nationalities."
A different attitude towards Israeli policies was made by the Greek-Catholic Bishop of Acre (actually residing in Haifa) George Hakim, who served in that position from 1943. From 1949 onward, Hakim favored cooperation between the Israeli Arab Catholics and the Israeli government. In 1957 he even advocated in talks with Israeli officials that Arab Christians in Israel be drafted for military service. However, his suggestions were unpopular with both the Israeli government and Israeli Arab political leaders.
On 1 November 1956, Pius XII issued encyclical Laetamur Admodum, which expressed concern over the Suez Crisis, but without endorsing any particular solution.
John XXIII was Pope from 28 October 1958 to 3 June 1963. He led the way to new liturgy and opposed antisemitism in many forms, notably with the declaration Nostra Aetate. His encyclical Pacem in Terris has at times been re-evaluated in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as was done by John Paul II in his message for World Day of Peace of 2003 (par. 7).
Regarding relations with the State of Israel, no real moves were made under John XXIII.
Paul VI was Pope from 21 June 1963 to 6 August 1978. He strongly defended inter-religious dialogue in the spirit of Nostra Aetate. He was also the first Pope to mention the Palestinian people by name.
Because the majority of Christians in Arab countries were Arabs, he voiced mild criticism of the Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, while refraining from expressing any actual positions on the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In January 1964, he was the first Pope in modern times to visit Jordan and Israel. He had expressed his wish to visit Israel already in November 1962, when serving as Archbishop of Milan, and in December 1963 he announced such an intention as Pope. The visit took place in January 1964. The visit was a clear expression of a non-recognition policy. Nostra Aetate had not yet been promulgated. Its aim, beyond the act of pilgrimage, was the meeting with the Greek-Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem. He also met the Israeli President near Meggido, but Vatican official statements regarding the visit refrained from mentioning the State of Israel by name, rather refering to "the Holy Land".
In October 1969, the Pope met at the Vatican Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban. On January 15, 1973, the Pope met Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir at the Vatican, which was the first meeting between a Pope and an Israeli Prime Minister. At the meeting, the Pope brought up the issues of peace in the Middle East, refugees and the status of the holy places, but no agreement was reached. According to Meir's own account of the meeting, the Pope criticized the Israeli government for its treatment of the Palestinians, and she said in reply:
Your Holiness, do you know what my earliest memory is? A pogrom in Kiev. When we were merciful and when we had no homeland and when we were weak, we were led to the gas chambers.
Following the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, the Vatican attempted to mediate between the Israeli and Syrian governments on prisoners exchange.
On July 16, 1974, the Pope sent a letter to the President of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, Monsignor John G. Nolan, where he referred for the first time to the Palestinians. He would later voice his concern again to Egyptian President Sadat, to the Syrian Ambassador to the Vatican, and to King Hussein of Jordan In 1978, he held a reception for Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Moshe Dayan on January 12, 1978, in which he expressed his concern for the Holy Places and the internationalization of Jerusalem.
The Pontificate of John Paul I – brief as it was – took place at a time when the Israeli and the Egyptian governments were conducting exploratory peace talks. In the general audience he gave on September 6, 1978, he supported the Camp David negotiations, and repeated that support in his Sunday sermon of September 10, 1978.
John Paul II conducted a policy of continuing the dialogue with Jewish organizations while criticizing the Israeli government for lack of progress in the peace process.
Recognition of the State of Israel by the Vatican was partially a result of Israel’s effective control over the entire Holy City since 1967. This forced the Vatican to introduce a pragmatic dimension to its well-known declaratory policy of political denial. Hence, since 1967, Vatican diplomacy vis-à-vis Israel began to waver between two parameters:
• A policy of strict and consequent non-recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, far beyond the usual interpretation of international law, as the Holy See still embraces its own ideas regarding the special status of Jerusalem.
• A pragmatic policy, through which Catholic interests can best be served by having a working relationship with the party who exercises effective authority and control in Jerusalem.
The establishment of full diplomatic relations in 1993-94, on the other hand, was a belated political consequence of the theological change towards Judaism as reflected in Nostra Aetate. It was also a result of the new political reality of the Oslo peace process, after which the Vatican could not continue to ignore a State that even the Palestinians had initiated formal relations with.
Personal inclinations were also a decisive factor, such as the long-standing personal aspiration of Pope John-Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, who had participated in the Special Committee of the Holy See that reviewed and authorized the establishment of full relations between Israel and the Vatican. After the decision was made, Ratzinger reportedly called his Jerusalem acquaintance, Professor Zwi Werblowsky to express his joy over the development, describing it as the fruit of the work of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.
On February 15, 2000, the Holy See concluded a basic agreement with the PLO as representing the Palestinians.
John Paul II visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority in March 2000, within the framework of the Second Millennium celebrations. The long-time pre-announced Papal visit took place without a formal invitation – the Pope's personal desire overruling objections held by his advisors and of local Palestinian Catholics. The program included – among others – acts of recognition de facto by visiting the President at his official residence in Jerusalem. His personal affection towards Jews was demonstrated by the longer than planned visit at Yad Vashem, as he spoke to Holocaust survivors from Krakov. His dramatic gesture of asking forgiveness from God at the Western Wall extended upon his visit a historical dimension.
This was also the first Papal visit to the Palestinian Authority. On March 22, at a reception held in Bethlehem, he referred to the Palestinian issue:
The Holy See has always recognized that the Palestinian people have the natural right to a homeland, and the right to be able to live in peace and tranquility with the other peoples of this area. In the international forum, my predecessors and I have repeatedly proclaimed that there would be no end to the sad conflict in the Holy Land without stable guarantees for the rights of all the peoples involved, on the basis of international law and the relevant United Nations resolutions and declarations.
A major change in the Vatican attitude towards the Hebrew Catholic community in Israel took place when, in August 2003, the Vatican appointed Bishop Jean-Baptiste Gourion as an Auxiliary Bishop to attend to the needs of the Hebrew Catholic community in Israel.
Whereas the Papacy of John Paul I was marked by (and perhaps an agent of) one major historical event – the fall of the Iron Curtain, Benedict XVI’s has been characterized by a plethora of current affairs – some influencing the Holy See directly, some indirectly. He has personally found himself at the helm as the implosion of global news media has covered events that were instigated long before his time, such as the mismanagement of Vatican finances, Catholic sex abuse cases, the development of relations with the Russian Orthodox Church – on one hand – and the strains with the Anglican Church, on the other, and – above all – the rising incidence of acute violence instigated against Catholics in (mainly) Moslem countries.
Moreover, Ratzinger’s outspoken intellect and concrete opinions on a wide range of subjects often places him at the focal point of world attention, sometimes subjecting him to the media fallout that would be inevitable under the best of circumstances. Little surprise, then, that the Israeli aspect of the Middle East is not foremost on his agenda.
And yet, Pope Benedict XVI has declared that he wishes to maintain a positive Christian-Jewish and Vatican-Israel relationship. Indeed, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state, Benedict stated that: “The Holy See joins you in giving thanks to the Lord that the aspirations of the Jewish people for a home in the land of their fathers have been fulfilled." which may be seen as a theological justification of the return of the Jewish People to Israel – indeed, an acceptance that has placed all previous Catholic denials of Zionism and its non-recognition policy of the State of Israel in the shade. On the other hand, he has also stressed the political neutrality of the Holy See in internal Mideast conflicts. Like John Paul II, he was disappointed by the non-resolution of the 1993 Fundamental Accord; and like his predecessor, he also expressed support for a Palestinian state. On the other hand, manyother diplomatic difficulties have arisen due to affairs not related to Israeli-Vatican topics, in the strictest sense of the term.
The cause for the canonization of Pius XII was opened by Pope Paul VI on November 18, 1965; Pope John Paul II declared him a Servant of God in 1990; and Benedict XVI declared him Venerable on December 19, 2009 – the same day as Pope John Paul II.
Although Pope Benedict XVI initially decided to "shelve" Pius XII's cause for sainthood until the archives from his papacy were opened to researchers in 2014, Robert Wistrich, the only Israeli on the International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission, wrote in Haaretz that Ratzinger regards Pius XII "as a soulmate … a venerated role model… and a great admirer of the German Catholic Church."
The official Israeli response towards the matter has been that canonization is an internal church matter, even if there are reservations about the Pope’s activities before, during and after the war.
The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) was founded in 1970 by the French archbishop, Marcel Lefebvre to oppose changes in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. Lefebvre aroused the ire of the Holy See in 1988, when he consecrated four bishops, against the orders of Pope John Paul II, who were immediately excommunicated.
In January 2009, wishing to heal the rift with the society, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications, stirring outrage both in Israel and amidst world Jewry, since one of the four bishops, Richard Williamson was a Holocaust denier. In January 2009, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel suspended contacts with the Vatican, and on February 4, 2009, German prosecutors announced the launch of a criminal investigation into the Williamson’s statements.
In response to the affair, Pope Benedict XVI stated that he deplored anti-Semitism, and Vatican officials stated that they had not been aware of Williamson's views prior to the lifting of the excommunication.
In June 2009, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), issued A Note On Ambiguities Contained In Reflections On Covenant And Mission, a document suggesting that interfaith dialogue should be used as an opportunity to evangelize Jewish interlocutors. The original 2002 Covenant and Mission document specified that Jews should not be sought for conversion. The ADL issued its response on August 18:
" … something has changed over the past three years. The Vatican ship has shifted course, and the dialogue is backsliding … the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, without consultation or warning to their Jewish partners, issued "A Note on Ambiguities Contained in Reflections on Covenant and Mission," which rejected a clear statement that there can be no attempts to convert Jews as part of the interfaith dialogue …(and) that the Vatican had officially affirmed its decision to jettison a teaching in the American adult catechism that the "covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them… a one-two punch against a continuing trust in the permanence of the Catholic Church's reform in its teachings about Jews….”
On October 26, 2009, the USCCB decided to remove the problematic phrases from the revised document, stating that interfaith dialogue "has never been and will never be used by the Catholic Church as a means of proselytism … nor is it a disguised invitation to baptism."
Without doubt, though, the positive highlight of Ratzinger's Papacy was the May 2009 visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority - although this trip had at first been put in doubt because of persistent political fighting in Gaza.
As Cardinal, Ratzinger had long been considered a pro-Israeli figure. As Archbishop of Munich, he was close to the ‘Catholic Integrated Community’, a lay movement with some members living in Israel; and during this time, he expressed deep theological sympathy towards Israel, the land and its people. He also visited Jerusalem in 1994, holding a lecture at the campus of the Hebrew University. In November 2008, the first operative steps were set in motion in order to implement Pope Benedict's long-standing desire to visit Israel and the Holy Land. By securing official invitations from all the heads of state in question (i.e. the King of Jordan, the President of Israel and the President of the PA, however, the Holy See gave the visit a political dimension. This served as additional proof that the Holy See was aiming for a political visit beyond the religious and pastoral.
Papal motivation for the visit may be gauged by the fact that impediments, such as Operation "Cast Lead", the Williamson affair, elections in Israel or the historical dispute regarding a Pius XII exhibition at Yad Vashem, endangered the visit. An uncontrolled initiative of the Rabbi in charge of the Western Wall not to allow bearing crosses during the Papal visit was thwarted at an early stage. At the Notre Dame Centre in Jerusalem, the same Imam Tamimi who had spoiled a similar inter-religious event during the papal visit in 2000, delivered an anti-Jewish invective in front of Pope Benedict, who interrupted the meeting by leaving earlier than planned.
Gestures that could mean upgrading relations with Israel, were taken into account as well. Before entering Israel, the Pope made an unexpected gesture in his speech on Arab-Muslim soil on Mt. Nebo, invoking Moses, the Promised Land and its link to the chosen people, implying – perhaps – the Christians. Moreover, on the same occasion he stressed the inseparable link of Christianity to the Jewish people while invoking their common heritage of the Tanach (OT) and their common tradition of pilgrimage.
In Jerusalem, Benedict XVI paid a courtesy visit to the presidential residence, a gesture which was absent in Jordan and in the PA. In the newly designed presidential garden, both the host and the papal guest planted an olive tree. In his remarkable farewell speech, Pope Benedict raised the planting of the olive tree in Jerusalem to the rank of a symbolic act, saying:
"Mr President, you and I planted an olive tree at your residence on the day that I arrived in Israel. The olive tree, as you know, is an image used by Saint Paul to describe the very close relations between Christians and Jews. Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans how the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the cultivated olive tree which is the People of the Covenant (cf. 11:17-24). We are nourished from the same spiritual roots. We meet as brothers, brothers who at times in our history have had a tense relationship, but now are firmly committed to building bridges of lasting friendship."
The political positions of the Holy See towards the PA and Israel were balanced. In his farewell speech before leaving to Rome on May 15th, 2009, this balance was expressed as follows:
"Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders. Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely."
During the reception that was held for him in Bethlehem on May 13, the Pope said:
the Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders.
On the same day, the Pope also visited Aida refugee camp, where he proclaimed his support for a Palestinian state and sounded veiled criticism of the wall being built by the Israeli government in the Palestinian territories. Benedict XVI reiterated his support for a Palestinian state in his address to the diplomatic corps in January 2010. On September 19, 2009, the Pope called for a special Synod dedicated to the Middle East in response to the desire expressed by the eastern catholic church. Following the Synod, which took place in October the following year, Holy See continued in its efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations; and on November 2, the Holy See Representative to the United Nations, ArchbishopFrancis Chullikatt, renewed the appeal to that effect at a session dedicated to UNRWA activities.
§ Israel-Vatican Diplomatic Relations (from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website)
§ Vatican-Israel Relations (by the Council on Foreign Relations)
§ Celebrating 40 Years since Nostra Aetate
§ Holy See attitude towards the Arab-Israeli peace process
§ Holy See – Palestinian relations
§ Palestinian Christians
§ Custodian of the Holy Land
§ Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
§ Relations between Catholicism and Judaism
§ La Santa Sede e la Questione di Gerusalemme (1918-2000) (in Italian)
§ Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research
§ Joel Bainerman, The Vatican Agenda: How Does The Vatican View The Legitimacy of Israel's Claims To Jerusalem?
§ Henry P. Bocala, Diplomatic Relations between the Holy See and The State of Israel: Policy Basis in the Pontifical Documents (1948-1997), Doctoral Thesis submitted to the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross
§ Yosef Lamdan, Vatican–Israel Relations, 2000-2003: An Insider’s View
§ Interview with Aharon Lopez, former Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See
§ Aharon Lopez, Israel's Relations with the Vatican
§ Sergio Itzhak Minerbi, John Paul II and the Jews
§ Sergio I. Minerbi, Pope John Paul II and the Jews: An Evaluation
§ Paolo Pieraccini, A biographical profile of Bishop Alberto Gori
§ Rabbi David Rosen, Israel-Vatican Relations 1993 - 1998
§ Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, The Vatican and Israel
§ Speech by Jean Louis Tauran, head of Section for Relations with States, on Holy See policy towards the Holy Land since 1887
§ Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, "Furthering Jewish-Christian Dialogue"
§ Walter Zander, Israel and the Holy Places of Christendom (Book by an Israeli journalist and legal expert)
 See Fundamental Agreement. The preamble calls for a special statute for Jerusalem, internationally guaranteed, which should safeguard the following: a) Freedom of religion and conscience for all. b) The equality before the law of the three monotheistic religions and their institutions and followers in the City. c) The proper identity and sacred character of the City and its universally significant, religious and cultural heritage. d) The Holy Places, the freedom of access to them and of worship in them. e) The Regime of "Status Quo" in those Holy Places where it applies, Fundamental Agreement Between The Holy See And The State of Israel December 30, 1993
 Maimonides and Rabbi Menachem Hameiri of Perpignan"Comments on Tractates Baba Metzia,27a and Baba Kama 113b" in Beit Habechira. See also Rabbi Moses of Coucy in Semag, § 74, Rabbi Joseph Caro in Shulhan Aruch, Hoshen Mishpat, § 266 and Rabbi Jacob Emden in Emden's Seder Olam Raba, Hamburg 1757, p.33
 Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought, 1964
 "…curial chaos, confusion, and incompetence" had made clear "how dysfunctional the curia remains in terms of both crisis analysis and crisis management." Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone ‘distinguished himself by his absence’ … the curia had become "more disorganized than before" … critics note Bertone's lack of diplomatic experience (he speaks only Italian, for example)…focusing on the spiritual …over foreign policy and management….Most of the top ranks of the Vatican -- all men, generally in their seventies -- do not understand modern media and new information technologies” “US embassy cables: Vatican's 'moral megaphone' is faulty” in ‘’The Guardian’’, December 10, 2010
 This motto is the headline of a recent dissertation by Dr. Amnon Ramon, “Israel Policy towards the Christian Churches and the Question of Jerusalem, 1948- 1973” (Haifa University, October 2007).
 Editorial, Osservatore Romano, Vatican, June 12, 1948
 Bialer Uri, “Cross on the Star of David – The Christian World in Israel's Foreign Policy 1948 – 1967” (Jerusalem 2006) p.77 (Hebr)
 La Documentation Catholique in La Croix, May 22nd, 1949: "Nous ne pouvons que souscrire a la pensee deja mainted fois exprimee: 'Le sionisme est un nouveau nazisme'.
 According to the Israeli State Archives, about one week before the outbreak of the Independent War (May 15th, 1948), the Vatican asked the Italian government to investigate in Athens how many Jewish refugees from Palestine Greece would accept. See: Uri Bialer, Cross on the Star of David (Jerusalem 2006) p.14
 Tertullianus, "Adversos Judeaos", Chapter III, Patrologia Latina 2, cols. 602-605; Augustinus, "Civitas Dei", Book 18, Chapter 46, Patrologia Latina 4, cols. 608-60; Uri Bialer, Cross on the Star of David, p.11 quoting l'Osservatore Romano from May 13th, 1948: "Modern Zionism is not the true successor of Biblical Israel…therefore the Holy Land and the Holy Sites belong to Christianity, which is the true Israel."
 L'Osservatore Romano, May 7, 1955
 Rosen David, “Pope Benedict XVI and Catholic – Jewish relations”, Jerusalem Post, April 20th, 2010
 ”Father Lombardi, the spokesman, is not part of the Pope's inner circle… is terribly overworked … Without a comprehensive communication strategy … It's a hit or miss proposition.” (Julieta Valls Noyes in Wikileaks cable, February 20, 2009)
 Speech upon the presentation of letters of credentials for Israel's new Ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, at the Vatican, May 12th, 2008,
 Holy See: Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Needs a Solution