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Expect Vatican Ties with Israel Within One Year, Cardinal Says

Cardinal John O’Connor, this country’s ranking Catholic authority in the field of Jewish-Catholic affairs, says he expects the Vatican to conclude negotiations with Israel and establish full diplomatic relations a year from now.

“A year from now we should be very close to an agreement,” O’Connor told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after making a speech Wednesday to the New York Board of Rabbis.

“I’d be surprised if a year from now we weren’t all getting ready for a big celebration,” he said.

The official commission working on the task, which is composed of Foreign Ministry representatives from both Israel and the Vatican, is presently meeting in Jerusalem, he said.

Although O’Connor, who is archbishop of New York, is not a member of that commission, he is as close to the proceedings as any other Catholic leader outside the official delegation.

O’Connor, who is the moderator of Catholic-Jewish relations on behalf of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, told JTA that the commission is presently “working on the knottiest aspects of it all.”

Those issues include access to all of Jerusalem’s holy places by members of every religion and what O’Connor termed the “minor question” of ownership of property in Jerusalem.

He was likely referring to St. John’s Hospice, a building that was once under Greek Orthodox control and sold to religious Jews determined to settle in areas of Jerusalem’s Old City that have not historically had Jewish residents.

TALKS ARE ‘ON TRACK’

“I suspect that when the question of the status of Jerusalem is resolved, we will be very close” to the establishment of diplomatic relations, said O’Connor.

A Jewish expert on interreligious affairs agreed with his assessment.

“Everything I’ve heard from Rome and Israel is that the talks are substantive and on track,” said Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee.

“There are some points that remain to be worked through, but relations will be normalized. The sticky technical questions remaining are about taxation and custodial rights of property.

“But the strategic obstacles have been overcome, and all agree there should be full and formal relations,” he said.

One indication that the Catholics expect the issue to be resolved by next year is that the International Liaison Committee of the official Catholic-Jewish dialogue has scheduled its next biannual meeting in Jerusalem, in May 1994.

The Vatican, which participates in the liaison group with the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, would not likely have agreed to hold the meeting in Jerusalem if the establishment of diplomatic relations were further off.

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