Katsav raises tax issue during talks with Vatican

Israeli President Moshe Katsav met Thursday with Pope Benedict XVI and top church officials and discussed a long-standing tax dispute that has irritated relations between Israel and the Holy See. Katsav said he had told the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, that he would do everything possible to "accelerate" talks on the tax status of the Catholic Church "and to answer positively to the requests of the Church." Israeli officials have said the dispute, over issues including the tax obligation for Roman Catholic holdings and methods to resolve property disputes, is the main obstacle to wider cooperation between Vatican and Israel, which established diplomatic relations in 1993. The Vatican is seeking ways to lessen its tax burden as one of the significant land owners in the Holy Land and wants access to Israeli courts to handle any quarrels over ownership. Israel strongly resists giving any special tax exemptions to the Vatican and has offered to create a special panel to oversee property cases involving the Vatican. Israel fears that giving special tax terms to the Vatican could open the door for other churches and groups to seek similar loopholes.