The 60 Minutes Interview... A Time for Optimism
His All Holiness Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, was featured on the CBS News program 60 Minutes broadcast on the Sunday before Christmas throughout the United States and globally on the internet at http://www.60minutes.com. Nielsen Media Research reported the show was watched by more than 12.7 million people in the United States making it the 14th highest rated show on network television for the week of December 14-20. The Order of St. Andrew congratulates the CBS News Organization, Senior Journalist Bob Simon and CBS 60 Minutes Producer Harry Radliffe, II for focusing the world's attention on state sponsored religious repression of the oldest church of Christendom. The 60 Minutes segment sparked international reaction in support of the religious freedom and civil rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and serious introspection in Turkey regarding its restrictive policies. The Order is optimistic that these issues will finally receive the attention necessary for resolution that will benefit both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the government of Turkey.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has been a strong supporter of Turkey's accession into the European Union. He openly discussed in the interview his genuine love for Turkey, but also cited instances where successive Turkish governments have not addressed the concerns of the Greek Orthodox minority including the following:
- The forcible closure of the only local Orthodox Patriarchal seminary (Halki) in 1971 by government authorities -- it has not been re-opened since then, despite continued promises by the Turkish governments;
- The confiscation of innumerable Patriarchal properties including the Patriarchal Orphanage that the European Court of Human Rights ruled in July 2008 must be returned to the Church;
- The interference in the election of the Ecumenical Patriarch requiring Turkish citizenship of electors and of candidates for Ecumenical Patriarch, as well as submission of candidates to the Istanbul Prefecture, which can remove any candidate from consideration;
- The refusal of the Turkish government to recognize the ecclesiastical, canonical and historical title "Ecumenical" used by the Patriarch of Constantinople since the 6th century and
- The refusal of the Turkish government to recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a bona fide legal entity (in the government's eyes, the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not exist).
When asked during the interview by veteran CBS correspondent Bob Simon "Do you feel personally Your All Holiness that you have been crucified sometimes?" the Patriarch answered without hesitation, "Yes, I do!" But he had stated immediately before the question: "We believe in miracles... after the Crucifixion the Resurrection comes. We believe in the Resurrection."
In response to a brief advance clip from the interview, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu rejected what he termed "the crucifixion simile," stating "I would like to see this as an undesired slip of the tongue." Noting the Patriarch's comment that Christians in Turkey are often treated as "second-class citizens," Davutoglu said, "If Patriarch Bartholomew has complaints on this issue, he can convey them to the appropriate authorities who will do whatever is necessary."
His All Holiness's characterization of Turkish mistreatment, like the Turkish government's order to close Halki, were not slips of the tongue but rather very real events that are in everyone's interest to remedy. The Order is pleased to hear Foreign Minister Davutoglu's commitment that the authorities will do whatever is necessary to address the issues raised in the 60 Minutes story. The ties between Turkey and the Ecumenical Patriarchate are longstanding and deep, and both have much to gain by working together.
The Archons of the Order of Saint Andrew have been traveling to Turkey since 1998 to "convey" these concerns and issues to the Turkish governmental officials, but to no avail. The Archon Leadership has personally met with the highest authorities in Ankara regarding the religious freedom deficit in Turkey. In 1998 we met with then mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul and in subsequent years the following leaders of Turkey: Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, Minister of Education Huseyin Celik, Minister of the Interior Abdulkadir Aksu, Turkish parliamentarians, AKP party leaders, as well as our United States Ambassadors to Turkey who have supported our religious freedom missions and accompanied us to the meetings including Ambassadors Marc Parris, Robert Pearson, Eric Edelman, Ross Wilson and the current ambassador James F. Jeffrey who participated in the 2008 Annual Meeting of Archons in New York City. The Archon initiatives in Ankara on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate are just one element in the overall multifaceted domestic and international religious freedom strategy of the Order of St. Andrew.
The example set forth by the Prophet Muhammad in 628 AD, in his Charter of Privileges to Christians sent to the monks of the St. Catherine Monastery in Mount Sinai protecting their religious freedom and human rights is a model by which all people of goodwill should follow, especially the government leaders in Turkey regarding their treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Holy See of St. Andrew, the first called Apostle. The Order thanks 60 Minutes for bringing to light this little known document written by the founder of the Islamic religion. (An English translation of the Prophet Muhammad's Charter of Privileges, by Dr. A Zahoor and Dr. Z. Haq can be found at http://www.cyberistan.org/islamic/charter1.html.)
The Order of St. Andrew is optimistic that the New Year 2010 finally will bring concrete progress improving the religious freedom, human rights and civil rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and His All Holiness Bartholomew the 270th occupant of the Throne of St. Andrew, the First Called Apostle of Jesus Christ.
Anthony J. Limberakis, MD
December 31, 2009