THE POPE cannot condemn every terrorist attack on Israeli civilians because of Israel’s policy of retaliation against Palestinians, the Holy See has said.
AVatican spokesman issued the statement last Thursday, after a week of wrangling between Israel and the Holy See that has been described as the first major diplomatic crisis of Pope Benedict’s pontificate.
The row began on Sunday, July 24, when the Pope condemned recent terrorist atrocities in Britain, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq. The Israeli Foreign Minister accused the Pontiff of deliberately ignoring a suicide bombing that occurred in the Israeli town of Netanya five days after the first London attacks. The Minister said that the omission “cries out to the heavens” and placed a “moral stain” on Church leadership, by “granting legitimacy to terrorist attacks on Jews”.
Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Pope’s spokesman, accused the Israeli government of distorting “the intentions of the Holy Father” and said that the Netanya blasts fell “under the general and unreserved condemnation of terrorism” by Pope Benedict.
After Dr Navarro-Valls’s comments, an Israeli foreign minister adopted a more conciliatory statement, saying that he thought the Pope’s failure to include Israel on his list of recent terror victims was a “mistake and not a deliberate omission”.
Rocco Buttiglione, the Catholic philosopher and Italian government minister, defended Pope Benedict.
“You may sometimes happen to forget your girlfriend’s name but that doesn’t necessarily imply you don’t love her,” he said. “When things like these happen you just have to get over it, it’s a matter of mere forgetfulness.” But last Thursday Dr Navarro-Valls appeared to acknowledge that the omission had been intentional, although he insisted that the Holy See did not have a policy against condemning terrorist attacks in Israel, as could be seen by Pope John Paul II’s “numerous and public” state ments. He said: “It’s not always possible to immediately follow every attack against Israel with a public statement of condemnation... for various reasons, among them the fact that the attacks against Israel sometimes were followed by immediate Israeli reactions not always compatible with the rules of international law.
“It would thus be impossible to condemn the first [the terror strikes] and let the second [Israeli retaliation] pass in silence. Just as the Israeli government understandably would not let another dictate what it should say, the Holy See cannot accept receiving teachings and directives from another authority about the orientation and content of its own declarations.” The Israeli Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the statement.
The row is a significant setback to Pope Benedict, who has repeatedly reached out to the Jewish community since his election in April. He held an audience for 25 Jewish leaders from Israel, the United States, Europe and Latin America on June 9.
Another early sign of sensitivity toward Jews was his decision to block the beatification of Leon Dehon, a French priest who founded the Priests of the Sacred Heart order, who published antiSemitic writings. Pope Benedict is widely regarded as the architect of the most important breakthrough between the Holy See and Israel, the 1993 Fundamental Agreement.
In the wake of the dispute, Israel has cancelled a meeting between Israeli and Vatican negotiators to discuss agreements on the financial and juridical status of Church institutions in Israel. Negotiations are currently stalled over the question of what force an agreement would have under Israeli law. The Israelis want the agreement to be subject to the ordinary legislative process, so that if the Knesset decides a year from now to overhaul the country’s tax system, Church institutions would be included.
Vatican negotiators insist that the point of a bilateral agreement is that its terms cannot be unilaterally altered by one party. The negotiations have so far taken 11 years.