Catholic bishops in Turkey won't contest plans to turn Istanbul’s ancient Hagia Sophia cathedral into a Muslim place of worship. Source: UCA News.
By Jonathan Luxmoore, CNS via UCA News
In announcing their decision on June 18, the bishops backed government claims that the monument’s future is a question of national sovereignty.
“We are a church deprived of juridical status, so we cannot give any advice on this country’s internal questions,” the Turkish bishops’ conference said in a statement sent to CNS. “Although we would wish Hagia Sophia to retain its character as a museum, it isn’t for us to intervene or even give our opinion on a decision which solely concerns the Republic of Turkey,” the bishops said.
The statement came amid international protests against Turkish Government calls for the 6th-century landmark to be converted into a mosque. A plan for the conversion is expected to be approved by Turkey’s highest court on July 2.
The bishops said Hagia Sophia, which St Paul VI, St John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have visited, originated as “a church in communion with Rome,” but became Orthodox after the 1054 schism between eastern and western churches. It later served for nearly five centuries as a mosque following the Ottoman capture of Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, in 1453.
However, the Orthodox church in neighbouring Greece rejected the planned conversion, describing Hagia Sophia as “a masterpiece of architectural genius, globally renowned as one of the preeminent monuments of Christian civilisation.”
“Any change will provoke strong protest and frustration among Christians worldwide, as well as harming Turkey itself,” the church’s governing synod said on June 12.
The cathedral, founded by Emperor Justinian I on the site of two earlier churches, was the world’s largest at its dedication in 537. It became a museum in 1935 under modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
In May, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed he hoped to annul Ataturk’s decree and reopen the monument to Muslim worship.