Israel is currently engaged in efforts to establish ties with the Palestinian Authority, but there is now another dark cloud on the horizon caused by increased complaints from the Vatican about Israeli actions. A senior Vatican official, Archbiship Pietro Sambi lashed out at Israel, ‘if I must be frank, the relations between the Catholic Church and the state of Israel were better when there were no diplomatic ties.” Among the issues in dispute are expropriated church property, servies that Catholic groups perform for Israeli’s Jewish and Arab populations, and exemptions for the Church. A particular sore point is the granting of permits for Arab Christian clergy traveling to and around the West Bank on church activities. Israel has rescinded some travel privileges for clergy members due to security reasons. Earlier this year, tensions developed between the Vatican and Israel when the Holy See’s ambassador to Israel initially declined to boycott a Holocaust memorial service because of allegations during World War Ii Pope Pius XII was silent about the mass killing of Jews.
There is an extensive Holocaust literature dealing with failure on the part of Pope Pius XII to take a vigorous role in speaking out against the mass murder of Jews as well as failing to excommunicate those in charge of the killings. There is also evidence of the Pope’s silence on the imprisonment of Catholic priests in concentration camps. The Vatican most probably has valid concerns regarding interference by Israel officials with the movement of priests on the West Bank.