The secular government of Turkey had placed certain conditions on the Ecumenical Patriarch. According to Turkish law, he is subject to the Republic of Turkey’s authority. Turkish law, however, allows the election of the Patriarch by the Standing Synod of Metropolitan Bishops. In order to be electable, the law requires the candidates to be citizens of Turkey by birth.
Such policies have resulted in problems, which affects the patriarchate’s functioning. One of them is the denial of residence and work permits to the clergy coming from abroad. There are many restrictions that have also been criticized by human rights groups. Here are some of them:
1. The interference of the Turkish government in patriarchal elections
The individuals who vote for the Ecumenical Patriarch and Hierarchs must be Turkish citizens. This is one of the requirements that come from the Turkish government. In this way, restrictions are imposed on the election of the Ecumenical Patriarch and Hierarchs.
One of the facts that can’t be ignored is the dwindling population of Hierarchs and Orthodox Christians in Turkey. In the distant future, electing an Ecumenical Patriarch seems almost impossible. This can be attributed to the Turkish government’s direct intervention in the matters of the Christian population.
2. Lack of a legal identity
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has no bona fide legal identity in the country. This is one of the major sources of problems for the Ecumenical patriarchate. As a result, there is no recognition of its right of ownership. Residence and work permits for non-Turkish priests is essential for the continuity and functioning of the Ecumenical patriarchate.
Obtaining work permits and residences is not possible owing to the restrictions placed by the Turkish government. Owning of a property by the Ecumenical patriarchate is not allowed by the Turkish authorities. Even the deed for the Girls and Boys Orphanage Foundation on Buyukada Island is not recognized by the government.
3. Non-recognition of the Ecumenical status
The use of the term ‘Ecumenical’ is not allowed by the Turkish authorities for any religious activity. One important thing to note here is the fact that it has been used since the 6th century. The term is recognized throughout the world, but not in Turkey.
The leader of the patriarchate is seen as the spiritual head of only the Orthodox Christians living in Turkey. In reality, this leader is the spiritual head of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.
4. Confiscation of several properties
Thousands of properties belonging to the Ecumenical patriarchate has been confiscated by the Turkish government. By using various methods, the monasteries, an orphanage, private homes, schools, and other buildings were confiscated over the years.
If such activities are continued by the government, many properties would be lost. The remaining Greek Orthodox community of Constantinople will be under threat. These cultural heirs of the glorious Byzantine Empire would be no more.
5. Closing of the seminary
The Turkish authorities forced the Theological School of Halki to close down in 1971. After this incident, the Ecumenical patriarchate has been unable to train its new clergy. The young men from its community aspiring to be priests are sent to one of Greece’s theological schools. In many cases, they do not return owing to restrictions in getting work permits.
They also feel uncomfortable owing to the general climate of intimidation prevailing in Turkey. Many promises have been made by the government of Turkey over the years to re-open the theological school. Yet, there has been no progress to this day.