Cardinal Ratzinger Moderated Opposition to Turkey Joining Europe on Becoming Pope: Wikileaks

The Guardian reports on wikileaks cables regarding the position of the Catholic Church on Europe’s Christian character and its unease with Turkey joining the EU. (the cable is here.)

The problem is that, while the article on this matter is clear and largely accurate, the headline: “Pope wanted Muslim Turkey kept out of EU” is grossly incorrect.

In 2004, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) spoke out against allowing Turkey to join the European Union. This position was not that of the Church as a whole. Indeed, a cable from that year says that “Acting Vatican Foreign Minister equivalent Monsignor Pietro Parolin told Charge August 18 that the Holy See remained open to Turkish EU membership.”

Contrary to what The Guardian implied, then, it seems clear to me that until he became pope, Ratzinger’s views on Turkey were not reflective of Vatican policy, and after he became Pope his stance changed dramatically in Turkey’s favor.

Ratzinger and others were, in 2004, attempting to have the European Union acknowledge the Christian roots of Europe, and they were afraid that Turkey’s accession might make that declaration less likely. (Since so much of European history (including all the Greek philosophers, Jewish thought on social justice, Irish and Norse mythology, the lives of the Roman emperors until the 4th century CE, not to mention the long centuries of Arab Spain and the Muslim-dominated Balkans) happened outside a Christian framework, this position seems to me invidious.

That the Vatican remained “open” to Turkish membership even after Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope is clear from a subsequent cable. The remaining reservations expressed by Vatican officials derived, at least as presented by Parolin, not from worries about the ancient Christian character of Europe, but concerns that Turkey’s human rights record needed to be reformed before it was admitted. From the Vatican’s point of view, Turkey’s Christians were badly mistreated, and their condition was just short of open persecution.

On becoming Pope, Benedict appears fairly rapidly to have changed his earlier hard line position, to the point that his nuanced neutrality on the issue of Turkish accession to the EU could be misunderstood by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodogan as wholehearted support. The “pope expressed his hope for ‘ “joint Christian and Muslim action on behalf of human rights” and emphasized his hope that Turkey would be a “bridge of friendship and of fraternal cooperation between the East and West.” ‘ By 2006, as well, the US was hopeful that Pope Benedict could be a positive force for Turkey integration into Europe.

Those hopes were not realized. Pope Benedict declared the Vatican officially neutral on the Turkey issue, since the Vatican is not an EU member state. The State Department cable speculated that “The Vatican might prefer to see Turkey develop a special relationship short of membership with the EU.” But if the Vatican was declining to push for this point of view and was actively neutral, this private wish is irrelevant in the world of diplomacy. If your official stance is neutrality, then that is your public position and others cannot abrogate it for you.

I see these cables as the evolution of Cardinal Ratzinger from a key Vatican official concerned with ideology to a pope aware of his global responsibilities, who backed off opposition to Turkey joining Europe and declared a studied neutrality on the issue even while admitting pros (Turkey could be an interlocutor for largely Christian Europe with the Muslim world) and cons (for Turkey to join without implementing religious freedom would endanger this key value for all EU states).

That is, my reading of the documents and the evolution of the Ratzinger position leads me to a conclusion precisely the opposite of the one implied by the Guardian’s headline. In fact, you only wish the Christian Right in the US was as capable of mature reflection on such issues and as willing to be pragmatic as this Pope.

9 Responses

  1. There was tremendous pressure from the State Dept to press for a Turkish-friendly Cyprus settlement. Then there was opposition and frustration when Cyrpus was admitted to the EU. But the pro Turkish people in the Bush administration have had a change of heart since then and many have become anti Turkish. Whereas Turkish skeptics like then Cardinal Ratzinger have evolved into being moderately in favor of Turkish EU admisssion. Ironically, the ideologues who were upset with Cyprus (so much so they were pushing a bad deal on the Cypriots) back then, did not really calculate their own interests properly at the time.

  2. I’m not so optimistic: now freed from his previous vault keeper position, Benedict XVI can follow his own fundamentalist agenda.

    Like George W. Bush, Ratzinger is promoting the entry of Turkey in the EU not with the positive ambition to bring Muslims and Christians closer, but to the contrary to fuel the false debates around the clash of civilizations imposture, and ultimately to promote Christian fundamentalism across Europe.

    He doesn’t want that entry to happen: what he actually wants to happen is the clash itself. That’s a wedge strategy similar to that of the Intelligent Design imposture : put not religion but a caricature of it at the center of the political / scientific debate.

    And like George W Bush with the US democracy, Ratzinger is now undermining the Church from within.

  3. Concentrate Juan!
    I think you’re letting your ‘predispositions’ get the best of you.

    I should think Pope Benedict does not wish to compromise the image of neutrality he is seeking to promote for the Church, so as to gain greater freedom in maneuvering to revive the Church’s influence world wide.

    Opinions of people of his character do not change dramatically like that.
    I have no doubt he is no less opposed to Turkey joining EU now as he was before becoming a Pope; but he probably sees sufficient opposition in the EU to take the gamble.

  4. Turkey will never become “an interlocutor for largely Christian Europe with the Muslim world” until it acknowledges its responsibility–and performs some reparative act–for the 1915 Armenian genocide.

    This is partly because the Armenians were Christians but there is also a higher issue involved: as Europe has proved in the aftermath of WWII, there can’t be any genuine evolution in the area of human rights until a nation’s past crimes have been openly acknowledged and dealt with. And without advancement in human rights, the other economic advancements rest on very precarious grounds indeed: old hatreds fester and lie in wait for some future opportunity for destabilizing revenge or revanchism.

    In the US, Turkey’s responsibility for the Armenian genocide has always been the 800 pound gorilla in the room. American and EU leaders and US and EU commercial interests don’t like it because it complicates current relations with Ankara; pro-Israel opinion has supported Turkish denials for fear of losing a Muslim country once its friend; and so insecure is Ankara about this issue that one can actually speak of a “Turkish Lobby” that comes alive each time the US Congress considers resolutions acknowledging Turkey’s responsibilities here. Meanwhile, Turkey’s ongoing denials feed the paranoia and hatreds of those prejudiced against Muslims or who worry about the treatment of minorities in Muslim dominated countries.

  5. For the Vatican to raise concerns about a another country’s human rights policy is ridiculous.

    The boys who run the Catholic church should worry about themselves no longer being an international child/adolescent sexual abuse mafia.

  6. How is it that each and evry article about Turkey attracts Armenians fanatics? Are these sane people? Do they remember their Armenian names?

  7. I agree with MARSHMELLO:

    I believe the spirit of Crusaders is alive and well at the Vatican and in particular this Pope. I would hope, that when one becomes pope, one would want to work for peace and welfare of all mankind, regardless of religion. As one American author said: “Religion is such an accident of birth that God cannot put much emphasis on it.” But then, I forget that, Vatican is a political and commercial institution and the pope its CEO and profit and power lies past the clash of civilizations.

  8. Exactly what I was thinking, Frank Johnson, as I read the article. The U.S. and the Vatican are both very adept with their Hypocrisy. How dare they talk about “human rights” and criticize any country?

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