German Bishops Wary of Turkey's Lack of Religious Freedom

Remind European Union of Criteria for Allowing Nations Into Community

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BONN, Germany, SEPT. 29, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The German bishops' conference wants the European Union to make respect for human rights and religious freedom a prerequisite for Turkey's entry into the Community.



In a text to the European Union, signed by Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the German conference, the bishops emphasize the importance of the "common political, juridical, economic and social levels" which have made possible EU development.

The document adds that, for the above reasons, "the prospect of Turkey's entry opened with the 1963 pact of adhesion cannot be invoked as an automatic right of entry." The document was published last week at the close of the German bishops' meeting in Fulda.

The bishops' conference also refers to the "criteria of Copenhagen," to which all candidate-countries for entry in the European Union must be conformed. The criteria include "full individual and corporate religious freedom," "founded on the dignity of man."

"There must be assurance that the rights enjoyed by Muslims in Germany will be, at least gradually, accorded also to Christians in Turkey," the prelates stress.

Last November, Gunter Verheugen, EU commissioner for the enlargement, presented a document on the progress made by Turkey in view of possible membership. The document acknowledged the steps taken by the country toward democracy, especially on the legislative front, but also referred to the existence of serious violations of human rights.

In regard to religious freedom, the document listed the serious restrictions applied to religious and ecclesiastics, who lack juridical personality and cannot receive education or religious formation, and to religious communities, which do not enjoy property rights.

In the European summit in October, the commission will have to pronounce itself on Turkey's full conformity with the "criteria of Copenhagen." If the answer is yes, in December the European Council will have to decide if talks should begin with Turkey for its entry into the EU.

The U.S. State Department, in a report on human rights published last February, stated that in Turkey there still are persecutions, restrictions and discriminations toward religious minorities and limitations to the freedom of religious expression.