Thursday, October 19, 2006

Brouhaha in Turkey


Ankara (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI will be welcomed as a "foreign leader of state” on his arrival in Turkey and not as a religious leader.

Hurriyet, Turkey’s most popular daily, pointed to a “diplomatic crisis” brewing over the upcoming papal visit. The newspaper said the Vatican generally described the Pope's visits as "religious missions," but state officials said that since he has been invited by the President of the Republic of Turkey, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the Pope would be welcomed as a "foreign leader of state."

The newspaper said that “although it was not clear at first whether this would be acceptable to the Vatican, agreement should be reached this week”.

The “diplomatic crisis” hinted at in Turkey does not seem to have any substance in reality. There have already been papal trips where the pope is welcomed as “head of the Vatican” and not as head of the Catholic Church. Moreover, the Holy See has already given official notice of the visit, which has been scheduled from 28 November to 1 December.

Hurriyet said that when he arrives in Turkey, Benedict XVI will be greeted at the airport by top level government officials, and then taken to the Cankaya President Palace to be formally welcomed by the head of state. The newspaper said the Pope will give President Sezer an antique Bible and a book of some of his works and prayers.

Around 1,000 journalists are expected to cover the event.

In covering this, Catholic World News noted that the Turkish government is apparently ignoring the fact that Benedict is visiting because of an invitation from the Patriarch of Constantinople. Aside from whatever is going on in the Turkish collective psyche lately, I don't see how this is all that big of a deal. Turkey is supposed to be 'secular', in fact it is militantly so (given its secular nature is guaranteed by the military). If there were no ulterior motives behind this declaration, then it only makes sense that the Turkish government would receive the Pope as a head of state.

But I'd say it's obvious that there are ulterior motives. The ruling party of Turkey, AKP, controls both the presidency and the prime ministership. Much of its cohesion comes from its bid to join the EU as a full member, a bid that Benedict XVI has in the past opposed. Though the prime minister claims otherwise, a survey cited in the Wiki article showed that a majority of respondants believed that AKP was in fact a party "political party with a religious axis."

The dots are certainly there for any who care to connect them.

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