The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Pope Calls on Turkey to
Give Church Legal Recognition
ope Benedict XVI has called on Turkey to give legal recognition to the Roman Catholic Church in the Muslim-majority but politically secular nation, which has been criticized for its treatment of religious minorities as it seeks to join the European Union.
Receiving Kenan Gursoy, the new Turkish ambassador to the Vatican on January 7, Benedict said Catholics appreciated the freedom of worship, "guaranteed by the constitution" in Turkey. However, he added that "civil juridical recognition" would help the church, "to enjoy full religious freedom and to make an even greater contribution to society."
About 99 percent of Turkey's 77-million people are Muslim. The Catholic Church there has about 32,000 members.
A November 2009 "progress report" by the European Commission on Turkey's possible membership in the European Union said that "non-Muslim communities--as organized structures of religious groups--still face problems due to lack of legal" recognition.
Non-Muslim religious communities in Turkey have also reported "frequent discrimination and administrative uncertainty" regarding places of worship, according to the commission's report.
Last April, Bishop Luigi Padovese, the president of Turkey's Catholic bishops conference, said that local parishes faced "great difficulties" in some parts of the country.
"Officially, the Catholic Church does not exist here since we are not recognized as a minority," Padovese said. "We have insisted that legal recognition would not in any way endanger the secular character of the Turkish republic, but there are many things still to be done before Turkey can be said to ensure religious freedom and pluralism."
In his address to Turkey's new ambassador to the Vatican, Benedict said, "As a secular democratic state that straddles the boundary between Europe and Asia, Turkey is well placed to act as a bridge between Islam and the West, and to make a significant contribution to the effort to bring peace and stability to the Middle East."
In 2006, during a visit by the pope to Turkey, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reported that Benedict supported the idea of Turkey joining the EU. Before becoming pope, Benedict opposed EU membership for Turkey.
Experts Hope Joint Principles Can Ease Church-state Fights
Legal experts from the left and right say they hope a new statement of shared principles on religious expression in public life will lead to fewer church-state lawsuits.
"There's tremendous confusion about this area of the law," said Melissa Rogers, whose Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University School of Divinity published the document after five years of work. Rogers is a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
"We hear broad inaccurate statements all the time: on the one hand ... that somehow religion has been kicked out of the public square; on the other hand ... that there are no limits when government deals with religion."
The 32-page document, which was unveiled January 12 at the Brookings Institution, is an effort to "try to blow away those mischaracterizations," said Rogers, who is finalizing recommendations for reform of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
The document covers such thorny legal matters as governmental displays and monuments that contain religious elements; public school lessons about religion; and religious symbols in retailers' holiday ads. While its drafters disagree on what some laws should say, the document summarizes current law as it is.
It answers such questions as:
-- May a city require individuals to obtain a permit prior to engaging in door-to-door advocacy on religious issues? (No)
-- May elected officials reference religious ideas and discuss their personal religious beliefs while in their official capacities? (Sometimes)
-- May gravestones at government-run cemeteries display religious symbols chosen by the families of the deceased? (Yes)
Some questions were more difficult than others for the 28 legal experts -- who represented groups ranging from the Anti-Defamation League to the Southern Baptist Convention. Several experts cited particular kinds of lawsuits they hope will decrease if the document succeeds in bringing greater legal clarity.
"I'd like to see religious symbol litigation go away," said Marc Stern, acting co-executive director of the American Jewish Congress and a member of the drafting committee. "I can think of cases where plaques stood on the corners of courthouses for 75 years and then somebody challenged them. Yes, you understand why some people might be offended, but nobody was for 75 years."
Another drafter, Charles Haynes of the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center, said some suits involving religion and public schools are "frivolous and ridiculous."
Rogers said the document will be distributed to government officials and will be available through her center's Web site (www.divinity.wfu.edu/rpa).
Bob Ritter, legal coordinator for the American Humanist Association, criticized parts of the document for favoring "the belief community over the nonbelief community," he told panelists presenting the document.
Rogers described the document as an ongoing project that has attempted to include a broad range of viewpoints. "The conversation continues and we value those voices as well," she said.
The document follows publications produced over the last two decades in which legal experts with differing stances have found agreement on issues such as religion and the public schools, including a 1995 statement that was distributed by the Clinton administration.
Middle East Bishops Lament Exodus of Christians
Lamenting the dwindling number of Christians in the Middle East, the region's Catholic bishops called for greater religious freedom in Muslim countries, denounced Islamic fundamentalism, and criticized Israel's "occupation" of the Palestinian territories.
The statements came in a document, released at the Vatican on January 19, laying out topics of discussion for a special synod of Middle Eastern bishops, to take place at the Vatican in October.
Written by a committee of bishops, most of them members of the Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome, the document noted the exodus of Christians from the Middle East over the last century, and especially in recent years.
The Christian population of Israel and Palestine, which six decades ago was as high as 20 percent of the total, is today only 2 percent, largely because of economically driven emigration. The situation of Iraqi Catholics is equally dire, with tens of thousands fleeing since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
The bishops drew special attention to conflict in the Holy Land, writing that "Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories makes daily life difficult (for Christians) with regard to freedom of movement, the economy and religious life" -- the last by limiting access to Christian shrines.
The document noted that "certain Christian fundamentalist theologies use sacred Scripture to justify Israel's occupation of Palestine, making the position of Christian Arabs even more sensitive."
The bishops also denounced the "rise of political Islam" in Egypt, which they said has left the country's Christian community—the largest in the region, numbering about 10 percent of a population of 83 million--increasingly isolated.
While acknowledging that most Muslim-majority states allow Christians freedom of worship, at least in principle, the bishops deplored the prevalent lack of "freedom of conscience," which it defined as the right to change religions.
Released two days after Pope Benedict XVI visited the Great Synagogue of Rome to promote stronger ties between Christians and Jews, the document stated that the "religious bond between Judaism and Christianity, based on the inherent link between the Old and New Testaments, needs to be explained to (Catholics in the Middle East) to prevent political ideologies from spoiling relations."