Turkey Consults Christians on Constitution

ROME (CNS) — A Catholic archbishop welcomed a Turkish government decision to consult Christian leaders on a new constitution.

“Turkey is genuinely opening up, although Europe should understand a mentality and history can’t change overnight,” said Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini of Izmir, president of the Turkish bishops’ conference.

“We’re glad this hearing is taking place, since it points in the right direction toward respecting and acknowledging the rights of minorities,” he told the Italian bishops’ news agency, SIR.

In mid-February, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Turkey’s top Orthodox leader, made his first appearance before a parliamentary commission preparing the constitutional reforms.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s spokesman, Orthodox Father Dositheos Anagnostopoulos, said that in his testimony, Patriarch Bartholomew had drawn attention to “sufferings and hardships” by small religious groups and called for minority citizens to be allowed access to public funds and offices.

Patriarch Bartholomew was the first non-Muslim religious leader to be consulted on the constitutional reforms, which were backed in a September 2010 referendum. Leaders of Turkey’s Syriac, Armenian and Jewish minorities, which are officially recognized by the government, are also expected to testify before the commission.

The country’s 32,000-member Catholic Church, which co-hosted a visit by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, is not recognized as a religious minority.

Archbishop Franceschini told SIR that he was disappointed a Catholic representative had not also been called to testify, but he had counted on the Istanbul-based patriarch to highlight “expectations of religious minorities.”

Turkey has been negotiating accession to the European Union since 2005 but has faced opposition to its membership bid because of complaints from ethnic and religious minorities about being denied equal rights in the predominantly Muslim country.

In August, church leaders welcomed a pledge by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to return properties and institutions confiscated from certain historic Christian denominations. That move is also not expected to affect Catholics.

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