The Pope, Turkey, and lying newspapers

Richard John Neuhaus’s comments on the Pope’s recent trip to Turkey are, as always, illuminating. I’ll paste a couple of important passages here.

On the recent visit to Rome of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury (Anglican Church):

During Dr. Williams’ visit, all the niceties were of course observed, but the mood was grim. There is a keen awareness that the Anglican Communion is in a process of breaking apart.

He then cites Benedict XVI’s words to Williams, concerning the ordination of women as bishops and the moralizing of homosexuality:

Recent developments, especially concerning the ordained ministry and certain moral teachings, have affected not only internal relations within the Anglican Communion but also relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. We believe that these matters, which are presently under discussion within the Anglican Communion, are of vital importance to the preaching of the Gospel in its integrity, and that your current discussions will shape the future of our relations.

Neuhaus then comments on an article in Newsweek by George Weigel, containing an amazing list of freedoms that the Turkish government denies to the Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox Church cannot govern itself. Turkish law decides that the ecumenical patriarch must be a Turkish citizen living in Turkey. A recent memorandum from the patriarchate said, “The result of these restrictions is that in the not so distant future the Ecumenical Patriarchate may not be able to elect a Patriarch.” The Turkish government closed the patriarchate’s only seminary in 1971 and has refused numerous requests to reopen it.

The government refuses to grant the patriarchate legal “personality,” in defiance of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, which defined the legal position of minorities in Turkey. Refusing to recognize the patriarchate as a legal entity means that it exists at the sufferance of the government and is subject to the waxing and waning of political whims and passions. In Turkey, popular passions about “Christian” and “Greek” influence are frequently paranoid in character and intensity.

The government refuses to give work permits to non-Turkish citizens who want to work at the patriarchate. So the handful of non-Turks at the Phanar, as the site of the patriarchate is called, have to leave the country every three months to renew their tourist visas. Moreover, the patriarchate is not allowed to own property. It owns none of the churches, schools, or monasteries under its jurisdiction, and the state has recently seized the thirty-six cemeteries where are buried the generations of the Orthodoxy that once was. The state decides who can teach in schools that serve the Orthodox, as well as which books may be allowed in school libraries.

Any wonder why the Ratzinger, before he became Pope, said that Turkey had no place in the European Union? In how many other places, besides a Muslim country stuck in the Dark Ages, would you find this much repression of basic religious freedom? Okay, so there are a lot of such places . . . but not many of those places are in traditionally Christian countries.

Finally the claim by the New York Times that the Pope had “reversed” his opinion on Turkey and the EU. Neuhaus writes:

Here is what happened. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met briefly with Benedict at the airport. Erdogan was under pressure from some Muslims who strongly opposed his meeting the pope, but he turned the occasion to his advantage, claiming that he had asked the pope to support Turkey’s admission to the EU. He quoted the pope as saying, “We know we don’t have a political role, but we wish for Turkey’s entry into the E.U.” Erdogan added, “His wish is a positive recommendation for us.”

Before he was elected pope, Cardinal Ratzinger had expressed definite misgivings about Turkey’s being part of Europe. The “reversal” that the Times headlined was of its own manufacture, however. The reporters and editors took at face value the boast of Erdogan after his brief meeting with Benedict. The story follows the line of the Times following the pope’s lecture in Regensburg, Germany. Editorially and in news reports (the two are easily confused), the Times criticized the pope for raising awkward questions about Islam and violence—questions to which thousands of Muslims reacted with violence.

What the Times calls a “reversal” and “concession” by the pope is based on the uncorroborated statement of Erdogan.

Thank God for the Holy Father, speaking up for Christianity and religious freedom on the world stage. Who else can do it, or will?

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