A report that Israel’s Chief Tax Collector had seized the funds of Catholic institutions in Israel was quickly countered on Monday when the apostolic nuncio to Israel said that the alarming claims of financial seizures resulted from a misinterpretation of a common government reminder.
The news outlet AsiaNews had reported that Yehezkhel Abrahamoff, the Chief Tax Collector at Israel’s Finance Ministry, had told Catholic institutions in Israel that he had seized their funds to force their submission to taxation.
Citing documentation and testimony from affected institutions that did not wish to be named “for fear of reprisals on the part of the Tax Authority,” AsiaNews said it was not yet clear whether the move reflected the actions of a single functionary or signaled a radical change of policy.
The fiscal status of the Church is presently being negotiated between the Holy See and Israel.
Responding to the report of the seizures, apostolic nuncio to Israel Archbishop Antonio Franco said the information was based on a notification that was “nothing exceptional” but only a regular reminder.
Speaking to SIR, the Italian bishops’ news service, Archbishop Franco said:
“There is nothing to be worried about, from which to draw conclusions.
“It is only a normal procedure: almost every year a tax-payment reminder is sent to our institutions. We send it back, as an agreement on the fiscal statute of the Church in Israel has not been reached yet. We are still working on it. Nothing is finalized and nothing has changed compared to the general Agreement. Sometimes the media report news that may sound worrying for those who do not know them. What has happened is simply nothing new.”
The Israeli Embassy to the Holy See also confirmed that funds were not being seized. “The seizure of funds allocated by the ministry of education to some educational institutions belonging to the Catholic Church in Israel will not take place and the situation will remain unchanged,” the embassy said in a statement.
Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custodian of the Holy Land, also spoke to SIR, saying everything has been clarified.
“This has already happened in the past without any fuss,” he said. “Maybe it was just the act of a single functionary. This act has promptly been blocked.”
In May Fr. Pizzaballa reported that a fiscal agreement between the Holy See and Israel could be finished by year’s end.
“A good portion of the points have been resolved,” he said.