Vatican officials said Monday that a papal visit to the Holy Land would not take place due to a variety of reasons, which include conflicts with the Israeli government over policies detrimental to Christians in the region.
Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi, at a reporters’ briefing on Monday, said that Pope Benedict XVI had on many occasions expressed his desire to travel to the Holy Land. Lombardi said both the need for general peace in the area and relations between the Church and local authorities would need to be considered to determine if there were “positive signs” for a papal visit.
A high-ranking Vatican cleric who had participated in recent talks with the Israelis addressed the same briefing. Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio, secretary of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, said that some problems with the Israeli government remained unresolved.
Archbishop Veglio said that Vatican-Israeli discussions rarely passed beyond generalities.
"As long as we talk about God, about peace, the promotion of the rights of women and other human rights, it is easy to reach agreement. But when we start discussing the details, and I refer in particular to the issue of taxes, then differences emerge," Archbishop Veglio said.
There is a long-standing dispute between the Vatican and the state of Israel over the taxation of Church property in the Holy Land, which includes not only churches and shrines but also hospitals and schools.
Israel also has strict limits on visas for priests and nuns, especially those from Arab countries. Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land, said such restrictions are very burdensome.
"A third of our people, a proportion which is falling fast, incidentally, come from Arab lands. However, getting an Arab priest into the Holy Land has become virtually impossible," he said.
Father Pizzaballa also described "the great suffering" of Israel's 170,000-strong Christian community, given political, economic and social problems in the region.
The Custodian is in charge of Catholic friars across the Middle East and coordinates the reception of pilgrims in the Holy Land.
“Dealing with Israel is not easy,” Archbishop Veglio said. He added that relations with Israel remained cordial.