.- The attack on a Catholic priest in Samsun, Turkey, last week shows that Turkey is not ready to join the European Union, said Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
"It is not the right moment for Turkey to join the European Union. What is still missing [in Turkey], is a secular state capable of assuring real religious freedom, and this is a long process which needs time," he told Milan daily Corriere della Sera on Tuesday.
Fr. Pierre Brunissen, 74, was stabbed Sunday and is recovering from his wounds in hospital. Police have detained the 47-year-old suspect. The stabbing of the French priest in Turkey is the third attack on Catholic clergy since February. Fr. Andrea Santoro, 60, was killed in February in his parish church.
Cardinal Kasper told the newspaper that the Catholic Church believes that "every act of violence committed in the name of God is an insult to Him and to every religion."
In Turkey "the Church is not even entitled to private property, there is some tolerance, but no real freedom," the cardinal told the newspaper. "The Turkish state administers religion and that that is not right.”
"However," he continued, "it is not just a problem of regulations, it is a mentality issue, and this cannot change quickly."
He noted that the general climate in Turkey is pervaded by suspicion and xenophobia, and said education is key in redressing this issue. “It is not just a problem of individual acts of aggression towards Catholics,” he said. “Islamic fundamentalism is growing in Istanbul and there is hostility towards foreigners.”
The apostolic nuncio in Turkey agreed with Cardinal Kasper’s assessment of the climate in the predominantly Muslim country, but added his feeling that Turkey is no longer safe for Catholics.
"I live in Iskenderun [on the border with Syria], but what I say is valid for the whole country: I do not feel safe anymore, and Catholic religious personnel living in other towns don't either,” Archbishop Luigi Padovese told the Rome daily La Repubblica.
The archbishop said there have been, “a number of minor episodes,” that have created this general sense. "Priests at Izmir and Mersin have been threatened directly or through phone calls.” He said Fr. Brunissen had received threats over the telephone not long before he was attacked.
Although the Catholic Church tries to promote inter-faith dialogue in Turkey through conferences and meetings, he said, there has been no positive change since the February killing of Fr. Santoro.