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Israel eases visa rules for Catholic clergy

ICC Note

“Because of the restrictive security measures that Israel is obliged to apply, and which make necessary a rigorous regulation of entrance proceedings and maximal caution in checkpoints, this proposal represents a gesture of great openness and good will on the part of Israel’s government.”

By: George Conger.

Thursday, 24th January 2008 Israel (Religious Intelligence)- Israel has extended an olive branch to the Vatican by relaxing visa rules for Catholic clergy entering that country. The concession comes in the wake of Foreign Office and US pressure on the Jewish State to restart stalled talks between Jerusalem and Rome on the legal rights of the Roman Catholic Church in Israel .

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Under the new plan senior Roman Catholic leaders would be granted multiple entry visas, while “all the other functionaries will receive a visa to return by seeking the authorization of the Ministry of the Interior before leaving Israel .” Visas requests from clerics who are citizens of Arab countries will also be given a higher priority, the embassy statement said.

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During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the former Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem , the Rt Rev Riah Abu al-Assal was blocked from visiting his congregations in Lebanon , and regularly skirmished with Israel ’s Minister of the Interior over his right to visit his congregations in Arab countries.

Many clergy were required to apply for an entry visa to return after each trip outside Israel , while Roman Catholic priests and seminarians from Arab countries had been subject to strict scrutiny, with some denied a re-entry visa after leaving Israel .

The embassy statement noted that “because of the restrictive security measures that Israel is obliged to apply, and which make necessary a rigorous regulation of entrance proceedings and maximal caution in checkpoints, this proposal represents a gesture of great openness and good will on the part of Israel’s government.”

The Israeli statement made no mention on the possible easing of visas restrictions on Anglican and Orthodox clergy, however.

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Rooney said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “had contacted the government of Israel ” urging them to “stay at the table and negotiate” the resolution of the property tax dispute.

A final settlement to the 10 years of talks between Israel and the Vatican would shift the “focus to the big picture, solving the Palestinian Israel conflict in the way that gives a legitimate Palestinian state but also preserves the self-confidence and security of Israel ,” he said.

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Ten years after Israel and the Vatican signed a treaty dealing with resolving disputes over taxation of church property, restitution for “unjustly seized” land, and “equal compensation” for work performed by Church social service agencies, the Israeli government had done nothing to implement the reforms, Archbishop Pietro Sambi said.

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