Thursday, November 30, 2006

The NYTimes, the Pope, and Turkey in the EU

Give me credit: I didn't write "Turkey in the Straw."

There's good reason to believe that the NYTimes' telling of the Pope's alleged remarks on Turkish membership in the EU is not completely accurate.

Get over your shock, folks.

The Pope's last public comments on Turkey's aspirations for EU membership were made in September 2004, when he was speaking not as Roman Pontiff but as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. At that time, in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro he remarked that Turkey's Islamic culture put the country "in permanent contrast to Europe." To date, he explained, the European Union has been composed of nations that share a common Christian cultural background. Expanding the EU to include Turkey, he said, "would mean a loss of richness, the disappearance of the cultural for the benefit of the economic."

Now he becomes Pope and is about to travel to Turkey.

As he prepared for this week's visit, and questions about EU membership were raised again and again, his silence became conspicuous.

Was there any hint about the Vatican's position on Turkey's application, then? Yes, there was.
On November 27, the day before the Pope began his visit, the director of the Vatican press office addressed the issue directly, in an interview with Turkish journalists. Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, said since that Turkey's application was a political issue, the Holy See would not take a stand. However, he added, it would make sense for Turkey to join the EU, if— and note this condition carefully— if the Turkish government met the usual standards for EU membership, on questions such as human rights and religious freedom.

That part in red--you didn't see that in the NYTimes account, right? But it occurs to you that the language is significant, right?

Just hours after Father Lombardi made that statement, the Pope reportedly told Prime Minister Erdogan that although the Vatican will not take any formal stand, he would "wish for Turkey’s entry into the EU." If he did make such a statement— and remember, we have only Erdogan's word for it— the Pontiff would certainly not have made it unconditionally. Consistent with the statements he has made and the policies he has followed throughout his pontificate, he would have added the same sort of conditional clause that Father Lombardi had used, insisting on Turkish adherence to European norms on human rights. The Turkish premier, in all likelihood, was passing along only a portion of the Pope's message.

And of course, B-16 did not contradict the Prime Minister on the spot.

HT: Jumping Without a Chute

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