BY JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Two senior Vatican officials have signaled a cautious opening to Turkey’s candidacy to join the European Union, long a flashpoint in Catholic/Muslim relations.
Prior to his election to the papacy, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger publicly opposed such a move, suggesting the admission of an overwhelmingly Muslim nation would further muddy Europe’s Christian roots. Ratzinger suggested that Turkey should become a force for moderation in the Islamic world instead.
On day one of his November 2006 trip to Turkey, however, Benedict XVI appeared to reverse field, telling Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he affirmed Turkey’s efforts to draw close to Europe. Erdogan spun the comment as a papal “green light” for Turkey’s candidacy.
That Erdogan was not entirely off-base has now been confirmed by Bertone, speaking to reporters on the margins of a Rome conference on “Christianity and Secularism” this week. Asked about Turkey, Bertone said it is “definitely a secular country,” one that has “covered a lot of ground.”
“The positions are naturally very different, but with peoples and governments that respect the basic rules of life in common, one can talk and construct together the common good in the European sphere, and in the sphere of the world-wide community,” Bertone said.
“Does that include entry into the European Union?” a reporter asked.
“Even including entry into Europe,” Bertone replied.
At the same time, Bertone criticized an exaggerated secularism, in the name of which, he said, “some reject all reference to the Judeo-Christian roots of Europe.”
Another “yellow light” on Turkey’s entry into the EU came this week from Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, the pope’s Vicar for Rome and President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, who called it “something to sift through.”
“In any event, those who present themselves to Europe know well the origins of the continent, and that entering into it means making a contribution to the construction of a subject, ‘Europe,’ which is important for the entire world,” Bagnasco said.