You laugh, but that precise scenario’s already played out in fictional form. Remember?
Aside from the fact that nearly the entire Turkish government had planned to snub the Pope until Erdogan had a last-minute change of heart, and the fact that while the Pope used his meeting with the country’s head cleric to emphasize fraternity while his counterpart seized the opportunity to whine about “Islamophobia,” things have gone swimmingly thus far. The Vatican Radio website has posted the text of Benedict’s speeches this morning. At whom might this passage have been aimed?
Turkey has always served as a bridge between East and West, between Asia and Europe, and as a crossroads of cultures and religions. During the last century, she acquired the means to become a great modern State, notably by the choice of a secular regime, with a clear distinction between civil society and religion, each of which was to be autonomous in its proper domain while respecting the sphere of the other. The fact that the majority of the population of this country is Muslim is a significant element in the life of society, which the State cannot fail to take into account, yet the Turkish Constitution recognizes every citizen’s right to freedom of worship and freedom of conscience. The civil authorities of every democratic country are duty bound to guarantee the effective freedom of all believers and to permit them to organize freely the life of their religious communities. Naturally it is my hope that believers, whichever religious community they belong to, will continue to benefit from these rights, since I am certain that religious liberty is a fundamental expression of human liberty and that the active presence of religions in society is a source of progress and enrichment for all. This assumes, of course, that religions do not seek to exercise direct political power, as that is not their province, and it also assumes that they utterly refuse to sanction recourse to violence as a legitimate expression of religion.
What a state the world is in when we need the Pope to argue for the separation of church and state.
And how very un-Christianist of him.
He made those comments in an address to the Turkish diplomatic corps, by the way, not at the meeting with the cleric. Maybe he’ll be a little bolder on Thursday:
A closely watched moment of the trip will come Thursday during Benedict’s visit to Haghia Sophia, a 1,500-year-old site that was originally a Byzantine church and then turned into a mosque after the Muslim conquest of Istanbul — then known as Constantinople — in 1453. It is now a museum, and Turks would take offense at any religious gestures by the pontiff, who also plans to visit the nearby Blue Mosque.
In 1967, Pope Paul VI fell to his knees in prayer, touching off protests by Turks claiming he violated the secular nature of the domed complex. In 1979, Pope John Paul II made no overt religious signs during his visit.
I doubt he’ll do anything dramatic, but then, this is a guy who likes to surprise people.