Pope Backs 'Appropriate' Status for Church in Greece

Vatican City- Benedict XVI took up the request of Catholic bishops of Greece to be able to have an "appropriate" juridical status in that country.

The Pope formulated the request today in the wake of meetings with the prelates of that overwhelmingly Orthodox nation, in which Catholics comprise 0.55% of the population.

"In the conversations I have had with you I have gathered your desire to have defined, on the part of the state, the right to have an appropriate and recognized juridical status," the Holy Father told an audience of Catholic bishops of Greece. The prelates were concluding their five-yearly visit to Rome.

Taking into account the Orthodox majority, the Greek Constitution establishes a state license to build "places of prayer" and prohibits proselytism.

Jewish and Islamic worship are recognized by the law as "semi-public," whereas the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations are recognized as private entities. The opening of a Catholic church requires permission from the local Orthodox bishop.

Benedict XVI recalled that "a dialogue is taking place on the issue that does not see the Apostolic See as the first protagonist. It is, in fact, an internal matter to which, however, the Holy See pays much attention, as it desires an appropriate solution of the problems at stake."

To find these solutions, "not only must one be based on the local legislation in force and on the European directives, but also on international law and the already consolidated practice of cordial and fruitful bilateral relations," the Pope observed.

"In this field, in addition to dialogue, perseverance is necessary," he asserted.

The Pontiff told the visiting bishops: "The Catholic Church does not seek any privilege, but only recognition of its own identity and mission, so that an effective contribution can be made to the well-being of the noble Greek people, of which you are a part.

"With patience and in respect of legitimate procedures, and thanks to the commitment of all, the desired understanding will be attained."