The decision by Pope Benedict
XVI to appoint Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto as the new papal ambassador to the Holy Land is an embarrassment and humiliation for Israel.
The new papal nuncio, as the ambassador is known, has been serving as papal envoy to Australia since 2007, and he is expected to replace outgoing Archbishop Antonio Franco after six years of service in Jerusalem.
Franco, who threatened to boycott the Holocaust Remembrance
Day ceremony five years ago, will be remembered in Rome as the envoy who conducted the Catholic Church's battle to clear the name of Pope Pius XII at the Yad Vashem Museum. The campaign was hailed as a success by the Vatican after the Holocaust memorial museum agreed to replace a caption suggesting Pope Pius XII did not do enough to stop the genocide of six million Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II.
Lazzarotto, on the other hand, was linked to the pedophile priests scandal that rocked the Irish Catholic Church in 2005. He was accused of doing everything in his power to protect them. Lazzarotto, who served as the Vatican's ambassador to Ireland at the time, was thought to have spearheaded Pope Benedict's policy not to cooperate with Judge Yvonne Murphy, the head of the committee appointed by the government of Ireland to investigate the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin.
The committee's report concluded that "the Dublin Archdiocese's preoccupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities."
The committee criticized Archbishop Lazzarotto for refusing to disclose information on reports of clerical child sex abuse, and in 2008, a year before the commission of inquiry submitted its incriminating findings to the Irish Supreme Court, Rome decided to appoint him as its envoy in Australia.
In an unprecedented attack on the Holy See, then-Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said, "The rape and torture of children were downplayed or 'managed' to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and reputation." He denounced "elitism, disconnection, dysfunction and narcissism in the Vatican."
Last November Dublin decided to close its embassy to the Vatican.
And now the Vatican has decided to appoint Lazzarotto as its ambassador to Israel. "The Jews have problems of their own," Vatican Secretariat of State officials may have thought to themselves. "Pedophilic priests are not on the agenda of the tumultuous Middle East, so we can show our appreciation for Lazzarotto's loyalty during the scandal in Ireland by appointing him to the prestigious post of the Vatican's envoy in Jerusalem."
The appointment is a slap in Israel's face and underscores the strained relations between the Holy See and the Jewish state, which are based mainly on symbolic gestures. Therefore, Israel must demand clarifications from the Vatican and Ireland regarding the archbishop's conduct during the pedophilic priest scandal - before his term as ambassador to Israel begins.
By doing so, Israel would be sending a clear message to clerics everywhere that it considers the sexual abuse of children a severe crime and that those who sanction such crimes will not find refuge here – even if they are the pope's representatives.