IN OTHER WORDS: Turkey trip

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Turkey was bound to be fraught, even before the pontiff’s tone-deaf comments about Islam in September. As a high-ranking Vatican official in 2004 Benedict went on record opposing Turkey’s entry into the EU, saying, in effect, that a predominantly Muslim country would never fit into a Christian Europe.

On his trip this week, the pope is being more diplomatic. Turkey’s PM, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced that Benedict had told him it was now the Vatican’s wish that Turkey join the EU. During his papacy, Benedict has repeatedly emphasised what he calls reciprocity, the notion that Christian minorities in Muslim countries should be as free to practice their faith as Muslims are in the West. Turkey’s rigid secularism has been a central tenet of the republic since its founding — and all too often has led to repressing minority rights and religious freedom. The rigidity is now giving way — due in large part to the reforms required to meet the EU membership criteria.

The pope and his Turkish hosts are to be commended for going ahead with the trip in the face of so much dissension. Turkey needs to engage in a full debate over minority and religious rights. Benedict’s role in furthering that debate and promoting better interfaith relations may prove to be helpful.