‘Freedom of religion protected by law in Turkey’


Freedom of religion is protected under the Turkish constitution, Turkey’s ambassador to the Vatican said Thursday. 

Lutfullah Goktas was speaking at a session on ‘The role of ambassadors in relations with the Vatican’ as part of an international symposium held at Napoli Federico II University in Naples titled ‘1929-2019: Ninety years of relations between state and religious groups.’

It was held on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Lateran Pacts between Italy and the Papacy.

Goktas said Turkey is a secular country and an overwhelming majority of its people are Muslims.

“Relations between the Papacy [Vatican] date back to the Ottoman [Empire] era. The establishment of diplomatic ties between Turkey and the Vatican, however, occurred in 1960 amid the reign of Pope John XXIII. We look forward to strengthening our relations further based on the principle of respecting differences.”

Since the early 2000s, according to Goktas, Turkey has made significant progress regarding freedom of religion in its territory, such as restoring churches and synagogues, resolving matters of immovable properties and registering legal entities.

“Based on the understanding of equal citizenship, our state is sensitive to the problems of members of other religions,” he said.

He described the differences in interpretation and perspectives between the parties on some issues as natural.

“For example, the Vatican urges Turkey to recognize the legal entity of the Catholic church. However, no religious society in Turkey possesses a legal entity. The present Turkish legislation does not permit this. The bottom line is that [parties] should discuss matters in a mutual manner, and both sides have this will,” he said.

  1. Popes’ visits to Turkey traditionalized

The first visit by a Turkish president to the Vatican since diplomatic relations between the two countries were established was by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Goktas.

He referred to Erdogan’s historic trip to the Vatican and meeting with Pope Francis on Feb. 5, 2018.

Goktas said Turkey was an important country for the Vatican in the sense of ensuring its communication with Catholics.

“The gathering of Fener Greek Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul I in Jerusalem in 1964 to break the ice between the Catholics and Orthodox [Christians] was a significant incident.

“Subsequently, papal visits to Turkey were traditionalized. The first pope to visit Turkey in 1967 was Pope Paul VI. Then, with the exception of Jean Paul I — whose papacy lasted for only 33 days — all popes have visited Turkey. In 1979, we hosted Jean Paul II, Benedictus XVI in 2006 and Pope Francis in 2014.”

*Writing by Davut Demircan and Ali Murat Alhas
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