Turkey: Assassination of the Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia

Source: FSSPX News

The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Turkey, Bishop Luigi Padovese, aged 63, was assassinated with a knife on Thursday, June 3, 2010, by his driver.  Within twenty-four hours the latter, aged 26, had been arrested and imprisoned after confessing to the crime.

The Italian prelate, who was also the Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, was in [the yard of] his summer house located in the outskirts of Iskenderun in southern Turkey when he was discovered lifeless.  Although the first official version described it as an isolated act by a mentally deranged man who had converted four years ago to Catholicism, several subsequent revelations quickly called that version of the facts into question.  After being stabbed repeatedly, Bishop Padovese is said to have succeeded in going outdoors to call for help before being decapitated—an act that is strongly reminiscent of Muslim ritual sacrifice.  According to witnesses quoted by AsiaNews agency, the murderer afterward shouted from the rooftop, “I killed the great Satan!  Allah Akbar [God is great]!”

The day after the assassination, while meeting with journalists on the airplane that was taking him to Cyprus (see in this issue:  Journey of Benedict XVI to Cyprus, June 4-6, 2010), Benedict XVI expressed the hope that this murder would not be attributed to “Turkey or the Turkish people”.  “What is certain is that it was not a religious or political assassination, it was a personal issue,” the Pope insisted, while admitting that he had “very little information about the facts” of the case.  “We are still waiting for a full explanation of events,” he added, “but we do not want this tragic situation to become mixed up with the dialogue with Islam.”

However, what is still the unofficial version of the facts, corroborated by the newspaper investigation made for Asianews, seems to contradict the explanation given by the Holy Father. For Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini of Smyrn, temporary successor to Bishop Padovese, there is almost no doubt: the motives for this assassination can only be of a religious nature. On June 12th, in an interview granted to the Italian daily Il Foglio, the cleric who had celebrated Bishop Padovese’s funeral in Turkey, judged in particular that Benedict XVI had received “bad counsel” before speaking about this sensitive subject.

In the Vatican as well, Benedict XVI’s conclusions seemed puzzling. A high-ranking prelate, contacted by the (press) agency I.Media on the 9th of last June, clearly stated that the Pope would have done better not to intervene so early on this delicate question. He also confided that Bishop Padovese’s chauffeur, whom he had had the opportunity to meet, was far from being “the mental case” immediately portrayed by the Turkish authorities, nor even a convert to Christianity! Lastly, this ecclesiastic recalled that in the Islamic religion, decapitation was reserved for “sheep and infidels”. Another Roman priest, also quoted by I.Media, confided that it is “at the very least strange that all murderers of Christians in Turkey are presented as mad. He further noted that Bishop Padovese’s chauffeur was “of too weak a constitution to attack the Bishop alone”, the Bishop being a particularly “sturdy” man. Finally, this contact in the Vatican indicated that the Italian prelate apparently confided that he had received several death threats.

Another element corroborates the hypothesis of a religious motive for the crime.  According to Father Filippo di Giacomo, an Italian priest and well-known Vatican specialist, Bishop Padovese was scheduled to leave for Cyprus in order to participate in the Sovereign Pontiff’s visit there. But he supposedly cancelled this project because he feared for his safety and … that of the Pope! Indeed, Turkish government sources are said to have warned him that his chauffeur was an Islamic fundamentalist infiltrator. Again according to Father di Giacomo, cited by the Spanish daily El Pais in its June 9th edition, the president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Turkey was particularly fearful that his chauffeur may try to assassinate the Pope.

This dark story is unfortunately not the first in Turkey. In the last four years, several Christian religious have been attacked. In February 2006, a priest, also Italian, Andrea Santoro, had been assassinated with bullets in the city of Trabzon, in the northeastern region of the country. His young assailant, 16 years of age, has been condemned to  a prison term of nearly 19 years. In 2007, a priest of Izmir, Adriano Franchini, was slightly wounded in the stomach by a young man of 19 at the end of Sunday Mass. In the same year, a “commando” burst into publishing house where Bibles were being printed, in Malatya, Anatolia, and killed three Christians, one of whom was a German missionary. The five attackers who cut the throats of their victims are soon to be sentenced. In this situation, particularly tense for Christians who represent less than one percent of the Turkish population, out of 72 million inhabitants, Benedict XVI hailed in a message read on the 14th of June, on the occasion of the funeral of the assassinated prelate in Milan, “the resolute commitment for dialogue and reconciliation that characterized the priestly life and episcopal ministry” of Bishop Luigi Padovese. (Sources: apic/IMedia/El Pais/Asianews – DICI, issue number 217, June 26th, 2010)