Jerusalem: The Church Becomes a Victim of Financial Retaliation

February 14, 2023
Pontifical Institute of Our Lady of Jerusalem

The city of Jerusalem has decided to freeze all bank assets of the Pontifical Institute of Our Lady, a property located in the Holy City but belonging to the Holy See. The municipality demands the payment of five million euros in taxes, which the Institute rejects. A new hitch between Israel and the Vatican which comes at a time when the new government of Benyamin Netanyahu maintains an unprecedented aggressiveness towards Christians.

The history of the Pontifical Institute of Our Lady of Jerusalem begins in 1882, when the local infrastructures were unable to accommodate ever-increasing numbers of pilgrims heading to the Holy Land.

To overcome this major inconvenience, the Congregation of the Assumptionists took over the construction of a complex that could suitably accommodate those who wished to follow in the steps of Christ: in 1888, Our Lady of Jerusalem received its first guests.

In 1972, the work was ceded to the Holy See: it was supposed to benefit from a certain form of extraterritoriality. But the influence of the Pontifical Institute quickly attracted covetousness.

Because in Israel places of worship and monasteries are exempt from all taxes, in recent years, the government and local administrations have categorized certain ecclesiastical entities, like hotels, bars and restaurants, which offer food and lodging to pilgrims, as purely commercial activities. So many taxable activities.

Yousef Barakat, director of the Notre-Dame Institute – a complex that includes a church and a hotel – explains that, just before Christmas 2022, the Jerusalem municipality asked Visa and Isracard to cut off funding by freezing its accounts.

“This is a political issue that should be solved between Israel and the Vatican,” he stated in the columns of the Times of Israel, deploring an arbitrary event “which occurs each time there is a new government or a new mayor.”

To fuel the controversy, the Jewish state was able to find allies on the side of the rich merchants of the city who were quick to enter the dance to cut off what they consider to be unfair competition. Pretending, in passing, to forget the mainly religious purpose of the Institute, whose eventual benefits are not to build personal fortunes, but rather to help the Christian minority.

Yet another vexation against the Church which comes at a time of growing tension due to targeted actions by radical Jewish groups against Christians. These groups are well represented in the new government of Binyamin Netanyahu, and can act with complete impunity.

At the start of 2023, a Christian cemetery on Mount Zion was desecrated, the chapel of the Last Supper, and the basilica of Nazareth were damaged, Christian businesses vandalized. Not to mention the vandalizing of a statue of Christ in the Chapel of the Flagellation in Jerusalem.