Turkish Catholic bishops say Hagia Sophia’s status is Turkey’s business

Catholic bishops in Turkey have vowed not to contest plans to open Istanbul’s ancient Hagia Sophia museum to Muslim prayers, UCA News reported on Friday.

“Although we would wish Hagia Sophia to retain its character as a museum, it isn't for us to intervene or even give our opinion on a decision which solely concerns the Republic of Turkey,”  a group of Turkish bishops said in a statement on Thursday.

The Hagia Sophia, originally built as a cathedral of the Eastern Roman Empire in 537, was turned into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul on May 29,1453 and then a museum in 1935 under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s presidency.

Over the years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly suggested turning the UNESCO World Heritage Site into a mosque again to fulfil a long-standing demand by Turkey’s Islamists, much to Greece’s ire.

Turkey's highest court is set to rule on the Hagia Sophia’s status on July 2.

The Greek Orthodox Church has opposed any plans of conversion saying Hagia Sophia is “a masterpiece of architectural genius, globally renowned as one of the preeminent monuments of Christian civilisation.”

“Any change will provoke strong protest and frustration among Christians worldwide, as well as harming Turkey itself,” the church's governing synod said June 12.

Last month, Erdoğan expressed his hope to annul Atatürk’s decree and reopen the historical monument to Muslim worship.

Turkish Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun tweeted early May, along with a photo of the Hagia Sophia: “We miss it! But a little more patience. We'll make it together.”

Russia's Orthodox Church warned Ankara on June 8 that any change in Hagia Sophia's status would "violate fragile inter-confessional balances."

Critics have accused Erdoğan's government of using the planned conversion to boost support for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) amid economic hardships exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.