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Vatican-israeli Relations Warming, Says Rabbi Who Met with the Pope

January 22, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Vatican’s attitude toward Israel has greatly improved, according to a prominent New York rabbi who recently met with the pope.

“There is a clear sense apparent that there is a more positive attitude that has emerged between the Holy See and Israel,” said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, a group that works to advance the cause of religious freedom.

Direct talks on establishing diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel can be expected “sooner rather than later,” Schneier said, though he declined to estimate more specifically when they might take place.

When Schneier met with Pope John Paul II on Jan. 8, the pontiff did not indicate there were any remaining stumbling blocks to the establishment of formal diplomatic relations, the rabbi said, though the topic was just one of several covered during their brief meeting.

The issue was discussed in greater detail during a longer meeting Schneier had the day before with Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, secretary for relations with states of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

“There is a more pragmatic approach than there has been in the past,” the rabbi said.

There appears to be a growing understanding that the Vatican “has to have open communication with Israel and that there doesn’t have to be a similarity of views” in order to do so, he said.

The Vatican has long granted de facto recognition to Israel, while maintaining that full diplomatic relations cannot be established until several concerns are addressed. These include the right of Palestinians to their own national home, the position of the Catholic Church in Israel and the status of Jerusalem.


The lack of official relations with Israel has continued to be a thorn in the side of world Jewry, topping the agenda of the Diaspora’s dealings with the Vatican.

Signs of an improvement in the Vatican’s approach toward Israel also emerged this month during a visit to Israel by Cardinal John O’Connor, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York.

O’Connor met with President Chaim Herzog, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, in what appeared to be Vatican-sanctioned meetings. The cardinal book-ended his tour of the Middle East with stops at the Vatican.

In Jerusalem, O’Connor told reporters it is “possible that circumstances are more congenial toward forming diplomatic relations” with Israel.

Schneier, who was on the same flight as O’Connor from Rome to New York, said that the archbishop had told him that progress in Vatican-Israel relations was made during his trip.

As recently as a year ago, the Vatican issued a statement listing “the annexation of the holy city of Jerusalem” as one of the reasons for its difficulties with Israel.

But now the Vatican’s focus has shifted from the issue of jurisdiction over Jerusalem to requiring internationally backed guarantees that Israel will allow open access to all Moslem, Christian and Jewish holy sites.

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