Bishops in Turkey say they cannot intervene over plans to convert Hagia Sophia into mosque

The interior of the ancient Christian church of Hagia Sophia, now a museum, which could be turned into a mosque.Reuters

Turkey's Catholic bishops are refusing to contest plans to convert the landmark Hagia Sophia cathedral into a mosque. 

The Turkish government has faced strong cricitism over the plans, which are expected to be approved by the courts on 2 July. 

The Turkish bishops' conference told the Catholic News Service that they could not give an opinion on the matter. 

"We are a church deprived of juridical status, so we cannot give any advice on this country's internal questions," they said. 

"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." 

Over the course of its long history, the Hagia Sophia has been a Catholic place of worship, then Orthodox in the 11th century, and later a mosque for five centuries before finally becoming a museum in 1935. 

The Turkish foreign minister said last week that converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque was "not a matter of international affairs, but a matter of national sovereignty". 

Orthodox leaders in Greece have strongly objected to the plans, with its synod saying earlier this month that any change to the use of the building would "provoke strong protest and frustration among Christians worldwide, as well as harming Turkey itself". 

According to the Aleteia news agency, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, Patriarch Sahak II, has proposed that Christians and Muslims share the Hagia Sophia as a place of prayer.

"Let the world applaud our religious peace and maturity," he suggested. "Let Hagia Sophia turn into a symbol of peace of humanity."