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 Saying No to Turkey

  The New York Times | Editorial

  Sunday 15 August 2004

  Having failed to persuade Europe's leaders to enshrine Christianity in the final draft of the constitution of the European Union, the Vatican has found a new way to try to conflate European and Christian identity. The Holy See would like to block Turkey's candidacy to the European Union. In an interview last week with Le Figaro magazine, the Catholic Church's top theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said that Turkey, a predominantly Muslim secular republic of 70 million people, is "in permanent contrast to Europe" and that linking it to Europe would be a mistake. To drive home his point about Turkey's disqualifying otherness, he cited the Ottoman Empire's incursions into the heart of Europe in centuries past.

  Like meddlesome clerics the world over, Cardinal Ratzinger is inflaming an important political debate. He is elevating religious differences over political process and personal beliefs over values that are universal, not a Judeo-Christian monopoly. But unlike other issues on which the cardinal has recently taken provocative stands - whether pro-choice Catholic politicians should receive communion, and women's role in society (he said women are naturals at "listening, welcoming and waiting") - enlargement of the European Union is outside the church's purview. In the cardinal's view, Europe is Christian, so Turkey doesn't belong.

  In considering the possible implications of Turkey's membership in the union, it would be refreshing if the cardinal had chosen to emphasize the positive potential in combining the best Christian tradition of charity and the best Muslim tradition of social justice. But he and his fellow doctrinal conservatives worry most about secularization and loss of Christian identity, both of which are implied if Turkey joins the union. Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has staked his political future on European Union membership, brushed off the cardinal's comments. When the union decides in December whether to begin formal accession talks with Turkey, it too should discount the cardinal's views in favor of the political merits of Turkish membership. In the meantime, we can all hope that the Catholic Church will adopt a view that is more, well, catholic.

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