Papal plea for Catholic Greeks

CASTEL GANDOLFO (AP) – Pope John Paul II yesterday said Greece should improve the rights of Roman Catholics in the country and grant their Church the same legal status afforded the Greek Orthodox Church. The pope also called for an Olympic truce during the 2004 Games, in comments to Greece’s new ambassador to the Holy See, Christos Botzios, who presented his credentials to the pope yesterday. On the issue of religious freedom, John Paul said Greece should follow other European Union countries in fully respecting the rights of its estimated 50,000 Catholics. «[Catholics] continue to suffer a difficult situation concerning the recognition of their rights in the bosom of the nation and various echelons of society,» said the pope, who made a historic visit to the predominantly Orthodox country last year. Although the government has banned the listing of religion on identity cards, the information is required when Greeks register with municipalities or for military service. «This can lead to prejudicial treatment,» said a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Greece, Nikos Gasparakis. The Roman Catholic Church is not recognized as a legal entity in Greece and doesn’t have the right to buy and sell property or be represented in the court system. The Orthodox Church of Greece, on the other hand, is recognized as a legal entity. The European Court of Human Rights in December 1997 found Greece at fault for not according legal status to the Roman Catholic Church in Greece. The pope referred to the legal issue in his comments to the new ambassador. «I seize this occasion to draw attention to your government of the necessity to give – thanks to a constructive dialogue among those concerned – a legal status to the Catholic Church.»

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