WASHINGTON (January 16, 2003) -- The Israeli government's practice of denying entry visas and work permits for Catholic clergy, religious and lay people appears to be an infringement on religious liberty, according to the chairman of the bishops' International Policy Committee.
In a letter to the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ, of Pensacola-Tallahassee, said that at the very least, the denial of entry visas and work permits for clergy and seminarians affiliated with the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem violates the spirit of a 1993 agreement between Israel and the Holy See.
"Extensive restrictions of this sort would appear to amount to a practical infringement of religious liberty," Bishop Ricard told Ambassador Daniel Ayalon. "Two-thirds of the Patriarchate's seminarians come from outside Israel. To prevent their study at the Patriarchal Seminary would prevent the normal functioning of one of the Patriarchate's principal institutions."
Bishop Ricard said the Israeli policy has also unacceptably affected other institutions.
"The exclusion of clergy, church workers and seminary students has serious adverse affects on the Church in Israel and the Palestinian Territories," he said.
The letter from Bishop Ricard came in response to a statement made last month by the Patriarch concerning the problems the Church was experiencing.
The territory of the Latin Patriarchate encompasses Israel, the Palestinian Autonomous Territories, Jordan, and Cyprus.
Bishop Ricard's letter
January 15, 2003
His Excellency Ambassador Daniel Ayalon
Embassy of Israel
3514 International Drive, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
Dear Ambassador Ayalon:
I write regarding the growing difficulty Catholic clergy, religious and lay workers have had in obtaining visas and work permits to enter Israel and to work there. Most recently we have received notice from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem about the denial (and indefinite delay in issuing) of entry visas and residency permits for clergy and seminarians.
We understand that Catholic institutions are not the only ones affected by this problem. Nonetheless, we must express our alarm at the extensive denial of permits affecting the Latin Patriarchate and other Catholic entities. The exclusion of clergy, church workers and seminary students has serious adverse affects on the Church in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Extensive restrictions of this sort would appear to amount to a practical infringement of religious liberty. The Latin Patriarchate embraces Israel, the Territories, Jordan and Cyprus. Two-thirds of the Patriarchate's seminarians come from outside Israel. To prevent their study at the Patriarchal Seminary would prevent the normal functioning of one of the Patriarchate's principal institutions. Similarly, exclusion of priests, who are incardinated in the Patriarchate, would likewise curtail the pastoral care of Catholics in Israel and the territories under its control.
Freedom of religion is a principle to which the State of Israel and the Holy See are firmly committed by virtue of the Fundamental Agreement of 1993. The denial of visas and permits to clergy and seminarians appears to us, at the very least, not to be in the spirit of that agreement. We would hope your government will quickly remedy this exclusionary practice.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Most Reverend John H. Ricard, S.S.J.
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Chairman, USCCB Committee
on International Policy
cc: Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
Apostolic Nuncio to the United States
Apostolic Nuncio to Israel
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom