Bishops wrote to Ahern on religion in Turkey

 

The Archbishop of Armagh and president of the Irish Episcopal Conference, Dr Seán Brady, wrote to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last December, seeking guarantees about the exercise of religious freedom and the legal status of non-Muslims in Turkey, new documents have revealed.

The letter, in advance of high-level European Council talks which sanctioned the opening of negotiations last October on Turkey's entry into the EU, followed an interview given to a French magazine by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, in August of that year.

In it he argued against Turkey joining the EU.

Dr Brady's letter, dated December 14th, 2004, and released under the Freedom of Information Act, states that a recent general meeting of the Irish Bishops Conference had discussed "a particularly sensitive aspect of Turkey's request to join the European Union".

The Holy See had sent two consecutive memorandums in 2002 to EU governments and the government in Ankara to draw their attention to the "precarious position" of minority groups, and particularly Christians, in Turkey.

This question was "no less pertinent today", which was itself recognised by the European Commission in its recommendations to the EU council and parliament on the issue.

"The bishops decided that this matter should be brought to your attention in advance of the forthcoming meeting of the Council of Europe in Brussels on 16th-17th December next," he states.

"The Irish Bishops Conference would kindly request the Irish Government delegation during the Council of Europe meeting later this week, to seek the inclusion in the document regarding negotiations with Turkey of a specific reference to the legal status of the non-Muslim religious communities and the effective exercise of religious freedom."

Responding on December 20th last year - three days after the Council of Europe meeting decided to open negotiations on Turkey's entry into the EU - Mr Ahern said he shared "fully" the concerns of the Irish bishops.

He had "asked the Irish delegation participating in these future negotiations to pay particular attention to securing progress in religious freedom in Turkey.

"Turkey has made great progress in recent years adopting wide-ranging constitutional and legislative reforms," he states. "However, there are certain areas in which reform is not complete."

The conclusions of the European Council meeting on the issue reflected the commission's view, also shared by the heads of state and government, that further legislation was required in relation to religious freedom in Turkey.

This would be one of the issues the Union would raise both before and during the accession negotiations, Mr Ahern writes.

"I am very grateful to you for raising this important issue with me in advance of the European Council, and I look forward to maintaining contact with you on the subject as the accession process with Turkey unfolds over the coming year and beyond," he concludes.