Top 5 Religious Freedom Issues
#1: Government Interference in Patriarchal Elections
The Turkish government imposes restrictions on the election of the Ecumenical Patriarch and Hierarchs who vote for him by requiring that they must be Turkish citizens. In fact, the government arbitrarily can veto any candidate for the position of Ecumenical Patriarch.
With the dwindling population of Hierarchs and Orthodox Christians in Turkey, we may not be able to elect an Ecumenical Patriarch in the not too distant future. This is tantamount to the asphyxiation of the leadership of the Holy Mother Church and a clear illustration of the direct intervention of the Turkish government in ecclesiastical matters.
#2: Non-Recognition of “Ecumenical” Status
The Turkish government does not recognize the “Ecumenical” status of the Patriarch and Patriarchate.
Turkish authorities do not allow the use of the term or title of “Ecumenical” for any religious activity whatsoever despite the fact that it has been used since the 6th century A.D. and recognized throughout the world. Turkey regards the Patriarchate as an institution whose leader is seen as the spiritual head of Orthodox Christians in Turkey alone rather than the leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.
#3: No Legal Identity
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has no legal identity or bona fide legal personality in Turkey.
The lack of a legal identity is a major source of problems for the Ecumenical Patriarchate including non-recognition of its ownership rights and the non-issuance of residence and work permits for “foreign” (i.e. – non-Turkish) priests who are essential to the continuity and functioning of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Turkish authorities do not allow the Ecumenical Patriarchate to own any property – not even its churches! The Patriarchal house itself is not recognized as the Patriarchate’s property and even the Girls and Boys Orphanage Foundation on the Island of Buyukada (Prinkipos) for which the Patriarchate has held a deed since 1902 is not legally recognized by the Turkish government. The inability to secure work permits by “foreigners” who work at the Ecumenical Patriarchate results in these individuals having to leave the country every three months to renew tourist visas which disrupts the operation and productivity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and discourages staffing from abroad.
#4: Closing of Seminary and Inability to Train New Clergy
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is unable to train new clergy in Turkey and its theological school was forcibly closed down by the Turkish Government.
The Theological School of Halki was forcibly closed down by Turkish authorities in 1971. Since its closure, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has had to send the young men from its community desiring to enter the priesthood to one of the theological schools in Greece. In many instances, they do not return given the onerous restrictions in getting work permits and the general climate of intimidation. Despite promises by the Turkish government to re-open our theological school, there has been no progress. Left unresolved, the administrative functioning and future of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is imperiled.
#5: Confiscation of Property
The Turkish Government has confiscated thousands of properties from the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Through various methods, the Turkish authorities have confiscated thousands of properties from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox community over the years including our monasteries, church buildings, an orphanage, private homes, apartment buildings, schools and land. Left unchecked, the remaining Greek Orthodox community of Constantinople (present day Istanbul) – the cultural heirs of the Byzantine Empire – will be threatened and ultimately be no more.