Jews Troubled by Pontifical Institute´s Closure

Church Seen by Some as Distancing Itself From Israel

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JERUSALEM, JULY 3, 2001 ( A pontifical institute here will be shut down for two years for what Catholic Church officials say is a reorganization, but which Jewish teachers fear is a sign of the Church´s distancing itself from Israel, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The Ratisbonne Institute, a Christian center for Jewish studies, was officially made a pontifical institute in 1998. Its nine Jewish faculty members learned only recently — when they received letters of dismissal — that it is to close.

In a letter to Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect for the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education and president of the institute, the Jewish teachers said they are concerned the school may not reopen, the Post said.

They also questioned what connection there might be between the current political situation in Israel and the closure, the newspaper reported.

«Even if those who made the decision did not intend this, the decision is bound to be perceived so by many in light of current political pressure,» the letter warned.

In response, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio, said it is wrong to see any connection between what he stressed is a temporary closure and the political developments.

«It is absolutely out of reality,» he said. «People are quick to see everything in the light of the political situation, but it is not true.»

The nuncio said the two-year suspension is needed to reorganize the institution, both academically and financially. Ratisbonne is deeply in debt and its certification not recognized by American academic institutions, he said.

Archbishop Sambi admitted that the decision appears to have been a sudden one, but said it could not have been made until after a gathering of American cardinals in Rome at the end of April.

As for a massive construction project which now occupies much of the land owned by Ratisbonne and which would appear to have been the source of considerable income, the nuncio said that most of the apartments in the project were sold to cover much-needed repairs for the Ratisbonne building. «Only eight apartments are rented to pay for the expenses of running Ratisbonne,» he said.

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