Orthodox Church Head Warns Turkey Over Pope Visit

The head of the world's Orthodox Christians has cautioned Turkey ahead of Pope Benedict's visit to the country.

In an interview published on Sunday, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I warned the Turks against creating potential "unpleasant incidents" while the Roman Catholic head tours the predominantly Muslim country.

The Pope will visit Turkey from 28 November to 1 December, and Patriarch Bartholomew I has said that this will be a great opportunity for Turkey to show why it should be accepted into the European Union, something it has been trying to put in place for a number of years.

A desire to meet Patriarch Bartholomew has driven the Pope to visit Turkey. Pope Benedict has been trying to foster better relations between the Orthodox and Catholics, and will meet privately with Bartholomew on 29 November.

Turkish authorities have stated that they are expected some protests against the Pope's visit, especially following his speech in September when he left Muslims angered by quoting a Byzantine emperor's remarks about Islam, the Prophet Muhammad and violence.

Although the Pope has stated clearly that the views expressed in the quote were not ones he held himself and offered an apology for any offence caused by the comments, many Muslims still feel resentment towards the Roman Catholic head since the incident.

With tensions building up prior to the visit, Patriarch Bartholomew I has warned that if protests do turn ugly, it could be something held against Turkey ahead of a vital EU summit in mid-December. EU members are set to debate Turkey's progress for membership at that meeting, but religious freedom has been one issue hotly debated by the Union over the past few years.

Patriarch Bartholomew I said in the interview: "The Pope has a say in all Catholic countries. If there are psychologically unpleasant incidents, then this would be an issue in Brussels in December. Even if not at the official level, they would talk about it between themselves."

The Orthodox spiritual head did explain that he intends to tell the Pope that "it is not wrong for Turkey to become a member of the EU as a Muslim country because it would bring mutual richness. The EU should not remain as a Christian club."

Pope Benedict is set to also meet with Turkey's president and the deputy premier during his visit, as well as the head of the country's religious affairs.