Jerusalem (AsiaNews) The Archdiocese of Cologne, owner of various religious and social operations in Israel, has asked the Israel High Court of Justice to order the Israeli Government to declare its position on the question of tax exemptions for religious activities, as foreseen by the accord between the Holy See and Israel. A representative of the Archdiocese in Jerusalem lodged its appeal several days ago, in which it asks the Court to order the Israeli Government to express itself on two points: a) if it considers itself bound by the Fundamental Agreement signed with the Holy See (30 December 1993); and, b) if it is true that, by these accord, fiscal authorities are forbidden to demand the payment of back taxes. The High Court accepted the appeal and ordered the Government to reply within 30 days of September 3rd.
This appeal is the first of its kind, and is the culmination of a series of attempts made by the German diocese to obtain an answer from government authorities. Up to now, when various tax collectors have pursued ecclesiastical entities, they have declared themselves to be unaware of Vatican-Israel accords. The Foreign Ministry and other government departments have been refusing to commit themselves on the question.
Since 1993, there has been only one occasion in which obligations undertaken by the Israeli Government toward the Catholic Church were officially acknowledged: this was in a letter released by a top official of the Finance Ministry. This unprecedented acknowledgement has never been repeated since, despite the avalanche of letters and protests addressed to the Government by both top officials of the Catholic Church and by small convents and institutes run by nuns.
This question is being tracked with the utmost attention and concern by the Church at all levels, including the so-called "French hospital" of Jerusalem where the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul care for terminal patients. This hospital is a singular and much acclaimed institution in Israel. Yet, in these very days, the sisters are being targeted by tax officials who are demanding the settlement of new and exorbitant taxes, contrary to the obligations undertaken by the state in signing the Fundamental Agreement with the Vatican.
The hope in Church circles is that the powerful and influential German Archdiocese can win its case: such a victory would be a boon to poorer and needier institutions such as the Sisters of Charity hospital.