Human Rights in 2nd Place: A Risk in EU-Turkish Talks

Religious Freedom Is Not Perfectly Respected in Muslim Country

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BRUSSELS, Belgium, JAN. 13, 2005 (Zenit.org).- An official of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences fears that in the talks regarding Turkey's entry in the European Union, strategic and economic issues will overshadow human-rights concerns.



Monsignor Aldo Giordano, secretary-general of the CCEE, expressed this concern in an interview on Vatican Radio, after Brussels decided Dec. 17 to begin negotiations next October on the eventual entry of the Muslim country in the European Union.

Earlier, the Italian newspaper Avvenire called attention to what occurred in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Dec. 15, in the vote on the admission of Turkey to talks in view of its possible EU membership.

A group of deputies, concerned about Turkey's respect for human rights, proposed an amendment asking Ankara to grant legal status immediately to the Christian churches present in the country; to abolish the Religious Affairs Office, a rigid body of control of worship; and to authorize the construction of new buildings.

After a secret vote, the Europarliament rejected the amendment.

The next day, Cardinal Roberto Tucci lamented on Vatican Radio that the petition for the juridical recognition of Christian churches in Turkey was not approved.

"This is a serious defect in the area of human rights, particularly in regard to religious freedom," a right "that is the basis of all other rights," he said.

"If there is no respect for the human person's innermost conscience and his capacity to express this faith publicly and communally, namely, in institutions, then truly the other human rights begin to totter," the cardinal said.

"So I think it is very important to make it very clear to Turkey that it must take positive steps in this area and, particularly, in religious freedom, which is not perfectly respected in this state," he added.

Perhaps not all European Parliaments were aware that the latest ones to suffer this situation in Turkey were the Orthodox, according to Avvenire.

The newspaper reported that the Muslim country has not given permission for the restoration of the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin in Istanbul, damaged in the 2004 attack on the British Consulate.

On Nov. 21, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople said: "We find ourselves being victims not only of the terrorists, but also of the authorities of this city and this country. We are asking only for that which is a right of every citizen to equal treatment."

A few days later, without explanations, the bishop of Mira was not allowed to celebrate the Divine Liturgy that has taken place every year on Dec. 6 in the ruins of the church of St. Nicholas in Mira, Asia Minor. And an almost simultaneous decision of the Supreme Court deprived the patriarch of property rights over an orphanage of the islands of the Princes.

All this occurred two months after the same court's veto of the restitution of the Theological Seminary of Halki.

Warning that such incidents are the order of the day in Turkey, Cardinal Tucci pointed out on Vatican Radio the need for "our" European "representatives" to "wake up."

"Because I think that also people who do not have the Christian faith have the sensibility, if they are really liberal, of the values of religious freedom, but there seems to be great nervousness in requesting" them, he said.

Cardinal Tucci mentioned much importance is given to "other factors, economic, political, military, etc., to the neglect of the values of religious freedom," something that is "very dangerous" as it "means that Europe cannot find greater values" than those mentioned in the temporal realm.

On Wednesday, also on Vatican Radio, Monsignor Giordano said that European bishops received news of the start of talks with Turkey "above all with the awareness that Turkey's membership in the EU is not a question of a religious but of a political order."

He said that the Church does not pronounce itself on specific political formulas, although it follows attentively what occurs in the political terrain and "calls to wisdom, to vigilance."

The CCEE secretary-general wondered if, during the talks, strategic and economic issues would relegate the concern for human rights to second place.

"The Church feels in particular the responsibility to remain vigilant in the area of human rights," Monsignor Giordano said. "Therefore, the hope is that Turkey, as the rest of the countries, will really be a place where human rights are realized and respected."

"We are thinking of equality between men and women, of freedom of expression, of association, of the rights of minorities," he added. "In particular, the Church emphasizes religious freedom" because "we are conscious" that it is the basis "of all human rights."

In Monsignor Giordano's opinion, what is serious in this connection is the lack of reference to the Christian roots of Europe in the constitutional treaty signed in Rome on Oct. 29.

"The real problem that is posed" in regard to Turkey's entry in the EU "is, perhaps, the question about ourselves," he said.

"Two peoples that have an identity, and specifically European identity, cannot disregard Christianity," he warned. "A reality without identity, obviously, runs the risk of failure."

Recently, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Vatican secretary for relations with states, said on Portugal's Catholic radio Renascenca that, in regard to Turkey, "the Holy See requests only that economic and strategic interests not push downward the assessment of the observance of human rights and the first among all, the freedom of religion, whose observance must be a point of honor for all European countries."

Virtually all of Turkey's 68 million inhabitants are Muslims. Non-Muslim religious communities have no official juridical recognition.