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Catholic World News News Feature

Vatican Rebukes Israel Over Comments On Palestinian Bishop August 07, 1998

VATICAN CITY (CWNews.com) - The Vatican issued a sharp response on Friday to the Israeli government, responding to criticism from the country's prime minister over the appointment of a Palestinian bishop to Galilee.

Father Ciro Benedettini reminded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel and the Holy See have signed an accord that provides for the autonomy of the Church in Israel, especially regarding the appointment of clergy. "The appointment of bishops in the Catholic Church is the reserve of the Pope in the exercise of his supreme power," the deputy spokesman said in a statement.

Netanyahu said on Thursday that he was unhappy with the appointment of Bishop Boutros Mouallem as archbishop of Galilee. He alleged that senior PLO officials had applied political pressure to the Vatican in favor of Bishop Mouallem, who he believes is a support of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Father Benedettini replied, "In the nomination of His Excellency Mouallem, the Synod of the Greek Catholic Church carried out its duties free from any external pressures."

Israel had, for its part, pressured the Vatican to accept its own candidate for the post, Father Emil Shufani of Nazareth. Netanyahu confirmed he had met with the priest as the latter's request. "During the meeting and later, Israel, as a sovereign state -- including in the Galilee -- expressed its opinion to Church officials," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

The Italian news agency ANSA reported Netanyahu as saying Archbishop-elect Mouallem would be prevented from entering Israel when he arrived to take up his appointment, a prospect likely to plunge relations with the Holy See into serious difficulties.