Washington, D.C. – A Turkish court Tuesday declared that the Istanbul-based Orthodox Patriarch is only the head of the city’s tiny Greek Orthodox community and not the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians.
While this has no impact on the status of the Patriarch outside Turkey, it strengthens Turkish internal resistance to acknowledging the greater role of the Patriarch and the Orthodox community in Turkey.
“This decision is yet another indication that Turkey has no interest in advancing a fair and balanced approach to freedom of religion,” commented Institute on Religion and Public Policy President Joseph K. Grieboski.
Turkey maintains tight controls on the Orthodox community, including rules requiring that patriarchs must be Turkish citizens. This sharply limits the potential pool of candidates to one day succeed Bartholomew. The patriarchate also has pressed Turkey to allow the reopening of a seminary that was forced to close more than two decades ago, which under Turkish law further limits the pool of potential successors to the 67-year-old patriarch.
The court ruled that “The Patriarchate, which was allowed to remain on Turkish soil [emphasis added], is subject to Turkish laws…There is no legal basis for the claims that the Patriarchate is ecumenical.”
“No government has the right or the authority to determine the ecclesiology of a religious community,” Mr. Grieboski stated. “Both international and European laws are clear that a state cannot interfere in the organizational structure of a faith. Turkey is once again showing that freedom of religion is not a priority or concern, and that it has no true interest in joining the European system.”
Press Release from the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.