Sunday, July 01, 2007

“Concerns” over sentence which denies ecumenical rights to Patriarch of Constantinople

The Patriarch of Constantinople has expressed his “profound sorrow” at a sentence which June 26 contested the ecumenical right of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, defining it as a Turkish body responsible for the worship of the Greek orthodox minority in the country.

According to the Court, Bartholomew I cannot bear the title “Ecumenical Patriarch” for the Orthodox world. Religious affairs experts in Turkey describe it as a “political” verdict, which raises “concerns” for the fate of religious minorities in the country.

In a statement published yesterday the Patriarchate clarified that “the primacy of the Patriarchate has been an honorary, spiritual and historical orthodox title for over 17 centuries. In the Christian Orthodox world the primacy establishes the hierarchy and expresses a pure religious state, this has theological relevance”.

The Court sentence reaffirms a long established approach to the Patriarchate, the aim to downsize its role and its authority. Diplomats note that this position is contradictory for a country which has placed the European dimension as a milestone since its foundation.

However, what greatly worries these analysts is the context in which the verdict came about.

The court was called to examine the case of a Turkish Orthodox priest of Bulgarian origins, who the Holy Synod had removed from office, because of an “unfitting and inadequate behaviour”.

In the sentencing – experts note – the Supreme Court came down on the side of the Patriarchate, but at the same time used the opportunity to pass down a political judgement on the juridical state of the Patriarchate.

The “primacy” feared by authorities and public opinion

In order to justify its verdict the Court turned to the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, which classified the Patriarchate of Constantinople as a religious minority rather than “ecumenical”.

In Orthodoxy each Church is autonomous for jurisdiction, but the Patriarch of Constantinople has long covered a role “primus inter pares”, enforced by the historical value of the Church of the ancient eastern Christian capital.

The judges then clarified that, while it has the right to remain on Turkish soil, the Patriarchate “is subject to Turkish law”, while Turkey cannot give “special status” to the minority who live there.

The Orthodox and Catholic communities continue to lack juridical weight, the ministers of worship and bishops are still not recognised, seminaries remain closed and the Patriarch must be by law a Turkish citizen.

The qualifying “ecumenical” linked to the Patriarchate irritates some political groups in Turkey as well as some sectors of public opinion who accuse the Fanar of wanting to build a foreign enclave in the country, or create extra-territorial rights similar to those enjoyed by Vatican City.

Accusations which the Patriarchate has repeatedly denied, asking instead that is basic rights be recognised.

“Dangerous” precedent

The Supreme Court sentencing is an alarm bell given the precedents.

In 1947 the same Court contested the right to property of minority religious foundations, as was set out by a 1933 ruling.

That ruling legalized all of the properties bought to that date and allowed for the acquisition of new properties.

With the 1947 sentence religious foundations were arbitrarily stripped of all property bought after 1933.

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