Israel Reacts Sharply to Vatican Statement on Capucci Sentence

Official sources here reacted sharply tonight to the Vatican’s expression of “profound grief and regret” over the prison sentence imposed by a Jerusalem court Monday on Greek Catholic Archbishop Hillarion Capucci. The sources noted that the statement, by Vatican spokesman Federico Allesandrini, “made no mention or any condemnation of” the offenses for which the West Bank cleric was convicted. These included smuggling arms to terrorists in Israel, maintaining contacts with terrorist agents in Lebanon and rendering services to an illegal organization.

The official sources said they did not want to view the Vatican’s statement as an indication of sympathy by the Holy See with the actions of a man who aided and abetted terrorist activities. Referring to Allesandrini’s charge that the sentencing of Capucci had injured the reputation of a land (Israel) “where the leaders of religions communities have traditionally been surrounded with respect and regard,” the sources noted that Israel had always respected “Church leaders who were faithful to their high office” and would continue to show respect to such persons.

Capucci was found guilty on six counts and was given six sentences totalling 59 years. The court ruled that the sentences would run concurrently and he will, therefore, serve a maximum of only 12 years. The Vatican statement hinted that it had hoped Capucci would be deported after his trial. Well placed sources here confirmed an earlier report by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the government intends that Capucci will serve the sentence imposed by the court.

Allesandrini, in the statement released at the Vatican yesterday, said that Israeli action had distressed “one of the most glorious Catholic communities of the east, the Melkite Church” and that the Vatican would continue to follow the Capucci case “with all its attention and interest, hoping a solution that will favor — rather than prevent — the reconciliation of spirits in the Holy Land.” The implication was that the sentencing of Capucci would exacerbate Arab-Israeli tension in the Middle East.

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