Vatican OK with Turkey joining the EU, officials say

By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s Nov. 28-Dec. 1 trip to Turkey, the Vatican confirmed today that he will visit the famed Blue Mosque in Istanbul, yet another sign of Benedict’s outreach to Muslims following the uproar created by his Sept. 12 comments on Mohammad at the University of Regensburg.

Without the pope having left Rome, the Vatican on Sunday took an enormous step towards making the Turkey trip a success, effectively neutralizing the issue of Turkey’s candidacy to join the European Union.

The ANSA news agency quoted Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as saying, “I hope that Turkey can fulfill the conditions for entry into the EU and integration into Europe.”

Bertone added that the question of EU membership is a political matter, and that the Vatican will remain neutral.

Suggesting that the Vatican has crafted a corporate response on the EU question, spokesperson Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said much the same thing in an interview with the Turkish news ageny Anatolia.

"Turkey's membership in the EU depends on its ability to meet the EU criteria. If Turkey fulfils its obligations and meets the requirements of the EU criteria, why shouldn't it become a full member of the EU?" Lombardi said.

That strikes a significantly different stance from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s opposition to Turkey’s admission prior to his election as pope. Ratzinger told Le Figaro in 2004, “Making the two continents identical would be a mistake. It would mean a loss of richness, the disappearance of the cultural to the benefit of economics.”

While most Turks are not religious extremists, many have looked at the new pope with apprehension as a possible foe of their country’s EU aspirations. By taking the issue off the table, Bertone has in effect “cleared the deck” for Benedict’s visit.

During his Angelus address today, Benedict looked ahead to the Turkey trip.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters, as you know, in the coming days I’ll be visiting Turkey. For now, I want to send a cordial salute to the dear Turkish people, rich in history and culture,” the pope said. “To that people and its representatives, I express sentiments of esteem and sincere friendship.”

“With vivid emotion I’m waiting to meet the small Catholic community, which is always present in my heart, and to unite myself fraternally to the Orthodox Church, on the occasion of the feast of the apostle St. Andrew.”

“With trust, I’ll be following the footsteps of my venerated predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II; and I invoke the heavenly protection of Blessed John XXIII, who was for ten years the Apostolic Delegate in Turkey, and nourished affection and esteem for that nation. I ask all of you to accompany me with prayer, so that this pilgrimage will produce all the fruits that God desires.”

Also today, more than 25,000 Turks gathered in Istanbul to protest Benedict’s impending visit. The rally was organized by the small “Felicity Party,” a pro-Islamic faction that has expressed outrage over the pope’s comments at Regensburg. Banners at the event read “The pope was disrespectful to us and he needs to apologize,” and “Pope, don’t come to Turkey!”

Crowd size at the anti-papal protest, however, was significantly lower than organizers had originally projected.


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