Letter to Ambassador Ayalon from Bishop Ricard and Cardinal Keeler on Visas for Church Personnel to the Holy Land, April 7, 2004
April 7, 2004
His Excellency Ambassador Daniel Ayalon
Ambassador of Israel
3514 International Drive, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
Once again, the holy festivals of Passover and Easter are celebrated by Jews and Christians at nearly the same time. On this occasion we wish to express to you the joy that our Catholic community in the United States continues to experience through ongoing dialogue with the Jewish people.
Against the background of this mutual affection, and in light of the progress made in Catholic-Jewish relations and honest dialogue these past forty years, we are dismayed at the deterioration of relations between your government and the Catholic Church in Israel and the territories under Israel’s control. The growing problem of denial of visas or indefinite delay in their issuance, recent cases of the mistreatment of clergy and religious awaiting visa renewal, difficulties over taxation, including those of our own Catholic Relief Services, and the suspension of negotiations on treaties regarding fiscal matters and other issues have created the most difficult situation in living memory for the Church in the Holy Land.
In December 1993, we celebrated, with your predecessor, the signing of the Fundamental Agreement, which is so important, not just for the Church and the government of Israel, but for freedom and pluralism within Israeli society as a whole. Regrettably, as the agreement's tenth anniversary passed, provisions respecting the Church’s right to deploy its own personnel in Israel and for both parties to avoid “actions incompatible” with negotiating an agreement on fiscal matters, including taxation, were being routinely ignored. Despite repeated promises of remedies, the visa problem has grown still more serious, and, the requests of the Holy See notwithstanding, negotiations on a fiscal agreement have been suspended.
With all our affection for the Jewish people and without wavering in our commitment to the state of Israel, the many disappointments and the multiplication of problems are a cause of grave concern. In accord with its commitments under the Fundamental Agreement, we hope and urge that the Government of Israel take quick action to restore its good relations with the Church in the Holy Land, its local and foreign personnel, and its many institutions. We trust you will take up our request at the highest levels, and look forward to the courtesy of a substantive reply.
In all sincerity, we wish you, and through you all the Israeli people, Hag sameach shel Pesach!
Sincerely yours in Shalom,
Most Reverend John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Chairman, International Policy Committee
William Cardinal Keeler
Archbishop of Baltimore
Episcopal Moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations