Policy & Advocacy

The Future of Jerusalem: Some Clarifications, November 17, 1998

Year Published
  • 2018
  • English

The Future of Jerusalem: Some Clarifications

Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick
Chairman, Committee on International Policy
U.S. Catholic Conference
November 17, 1998

 Three weeks ago Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Holy See's Secretary for Relations with States, called on the episcopates of the world to serve as "‘ambassadors' for Jerusalem." Today I have conveyed that request to the U.S. bishops. The bishops have been asked to educate the faithful, and especially pilgrims, on the Church's concern for the future of Jerusalem, and to inform public opinion of our hopes for the future of the Holy City.

Today, I would like to clarify the Holy See's commission to the bishops. I would like to explain the Christian attachment to Jerusalem, to identify the Church's particular concerns for the future of the city, and to correct some potential, though quite common, misperceptions about our stand.

Christian Affection for Jerusalem

As Christians we revere Jerusalem as the place where God affirmed his covenant with his people, and we affirm the central place of Jerusalem in the hearts of the Jewish people. At the same time, we attest to its enormous religious significance for Christians and Muslims as well.

As a city sacred to the three monotheistic religions, Jerusalem has both a unique and universal religious significance. Its sacred history makes it a place of encounter between God and humanity, but also for the mingling of believers from every corner of the earth, and as such Jerusalem possesses a vocation to be a symbol of the unity of the human family.

As Christians, we have a particular attachment to Jerusalem as the place where Jesus lived, suffered, died and rose again. For us, the city has been hallowed by the continuing presence of a resident Christian community, in a very real sense our Mother Church; by centuries of pilgrimage; by the prayerful lives of monks, nuns and religious; and by numerous works of charity that serve the local people. Pilgrims, and indeed the world, look to Jerusalem for religious inspiration and profound religious scholarship.

The Political Question

In the months ahead, Israelis and Palestinians are due to address the future of Jerusalem in so-called "final status" negotiations. Two dimensions of those negotiations need to be distinguished. One is the political dimension; the other is the religious.

On the political side, there are two issues. The first is the question of territory: How is Jerusalem to be shared and/or divided between Israelis and Palestinians? The second is the question of sovereignty: How is sovereignty over the city to be arranged?

On these issues, the Holy See has no specific position. It only holds up two general moral tests. The first is the principle of international law that no territory may be acquired by use of armed force. The alternative in this case, of course, is territory can be allotted by negotiation. Secondly, to be morally adequate, the political-territorial settlement on Jerusalem must satisfy the particular, legitimate, and reasonable aspirations of both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, and must respect the principles of justice.

The Religious Question

The second dimension of defining a final-status agreement concerns preserving Jerusalem's uniquely religious character. In the Holy See's view and our own, preservation of the religious character of Jerusalem is also a matter for bilateral negotiation. Nonetheless, we firmly urge that in what pertains to religion that the negotiating parties consult closely with the three religious communities -- Jewish, Christian and Muslim -- and that their concerns be given careful consideration in the negotiations.

We also believe that insofar as it deals with the religious dimensions of Jerusalem the final-status agreement ought to enjoy international guarantees.

Contrary to some reports, the Holy See seeks no direct role in the negotiations. It regards negotiations concerning Jerusalem as a bilateral matter between Israelis and Palestinians, though one in which the two parties should heed the rightful interests of others and of the world community.

A Special Statute

For some years, the Holy See has sought "a special statute" for Jerusalem. Such a statute is necessary to preserve the unique religious character of the Holy City, and to secure the rights of the living religious communities there. Moreover, by Jerusalem, we do not mean the metropolis steadily enlarged after 1967 by unilateral Israeli action. Rather, we refer to Jerusalem's historic, religious core with its Holy Places, the living religious communities which surround them, and the institutions which serve them and the world's pilgrims.

The proposed statute should be confused neither with the so-called "corpus separatum" proposed by the United Nations in 1947, nor with what is popularly called "the internationalization" of the city. Pope Paul VI abandoned support for the UN's corpus separatum proposal in 1968, and for most of the intervening period the Holy See has sought to advance the development of a special statute for Jerusalem.

Such a statute ought to do four things:

  1. Preserve, restore and safeguard the physical, cultural and historical attributes of the city;
  2. Assure equality of rights and services for all residents of the city;
  3. Guarantee the freedom of the religious communities to carry out the full range of their activities: cultural, social, educational and charitable, as well as strictly religious ones; and
  4. Afford protection to the Holy Places and freedom of access to all, residents and pilgrims alike, including local pilgrims from anywhere in the Holy Land.

It is for these four provisions -– preservation of historic, religious Jerusalem; equality of rights and services for all residents; freedom of religion for the religious communities; and, free access for all pilgrims –- that supporting guarantees are sought from the international community.

Bilateral Negotiations, International Guarantees

As with the political questions, I repeat, we believe that any special statute ought to be negotiated by the two parties themselves. At the same time, the nature of the issues and their significance for humanity as a whole require consultation on the part of the negotiators with the three religious communities and especially with their local religious leaders. Furthermore, experience has shown that, when they are drafted and agreed upon, the provisions of such a statute should enjoy further guarantees from the international community.

The Dialogue Ahead

In the weeks ahead, U.S. bishops will be voicing their concern for Jerusalem to the Catholic faithful, to the American public, and to our public officials. We shall be acting in tandem with bishops in other countries around the world. All will be acting from the conviction that, as a city with universal religious significance, Jerusalem demands that more than one or two voices be heard in determining her future. Our efforts will not be a parochial Catholic undertaking. Rather, it will be a movement on behalf of the three monotheistic religions and of believing humanity.

We hope that, for the love of Jerusalem, we will be able to engage in fruitful dialogue with Jews, Muslims, and other Christians on this issue, so vital to all of us. 

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