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Vatican officials leery of Turkish entry into EU December 17, 2004

Turkey must show signs of respect for religious liberty before being allowed to enter the European Union, an influential Italian prelate has argued.

Cardinal Roberto Tucci-- who is now retired from his former duties asdirector of Vatican Radio, and as organizer of the Pope's foreign travels-- told a Vatican Radio audience: "I think it is very important to say clearly to Turkey that they must make progress in the area of religious freedom."

The Italian cardinal said that he would not make any attempt to judge whether Turkish entry into the European Union would be beneficial "from the economic, financial, or military point of view." He argued that European leaders had already placed heavy importance on those issues-- in fact, so much importance that "the value of religious freedom is not taken into account." Cardinal Tucci said that this attitude is "very dangerous, and means that Europe has not yet discovered values greater than those that are economic, military, and political."

The 83-year-old cardinal said that he has been disappointed by the failure of European leaders to press Turkey's leaders on questions of religious freedom. For example, he noted that the Turkish government has not yet allowed Christian churches to obtain legal recognition. "This is a grave absence in the field of human rights," the cardinal said. He added that the Turkish government's office of religious affairs, staffed by Muslims, is "very rigid" in its treatment of minority faiths.

Cardinal Tucci said that European leaders should be expected to consider such issues, because "I think that even people who are not of the Christian faith can have a certain sensitivity, capable of appreciating the value of religious freedom."

Another Vatican official expressed reservations about Turkey's role in Europe on December 17. In an interview published by the Italian daily La Stampa , Msgr. Mauro Piacenza, the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Goods of the Church, said that Turkey's entry into the European Union was could "a challenge for Christians, to reinforce their own identity." Responding to a challenge from Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip, he said that "Europe is not a 'Christian club,' but for Christians, respect for human rights is an important commitment."

Several Vatican figures had previously voiced their misgivings about Turkey's bid for membership in the European Union. On October 29, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the top Vatican foreign-policy official, told Italian reporters that would not have any official comment on the matter. However, he added: "It is clear that, if it gains admission, Turkey will have to respond to all the political criteria" involving respect for human rights. The archbishop made it clear that he was referring particularly to Turkish policies regarding religious liberty.

In June, and again in September, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger offered his personal opinion that allowing Turkish membership would be a mistake. "Historically and culturally, Turkey has little in common with Europe," he said.