Pope Appeals for Church's Legal Status in Turkey

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 19, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI has asked the Turkish government to grant religious freedom to all believers, and to legally recognize the Catholic Church.

The Holy Father made these comments today in an address to Muammer Dogan Akdur, the new ambassador of Turkey to the Holy See, when the latter presented his letters of credence.

"Enjoying the religious liberty guaranteed to all believers by the Turkish Constitution, the Catholic Church wishes to benefit from a juridically recognized status," the Pope said in his address to Akdur, who until now was ambassador to Venezuela.

According to Bishop Ruggero Franceschini, president of the episcopal conference of Turkey, juridical recognition of the Church has yet to take place in that country.

Benedict XVI called for "the creation of an agency of official dialogue between the bishops' conference and state authorities to address the different issues that might arise and continue the good relations between the two parties."

Through Ankara's representative in the Vatican, the Pope greeted Turkey's authorities, particularly President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

"I have no doubts that your government will do everything possible to go forward in this respect," said the Holy Father.

The vast majority of Turkey's 69 million inhabitants are Muslims. Catholics number about 35,000.