ROME — A Roman Catholic bishop was stabbed to death in eastern Turkey on Thursday, a day before he had planned to travel to Cyprus for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.
The bishop, Luigi Padovese, 62, the apostolic vicar of Anatolia, or the Vatican’s representative to eastern Turkey, was found dead outside his home in the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun, officials said. The police arrested his driver, who officials said had psychological problems.
The officials said the killing was not believed to be politically or religiously motivated. It nevertheless raised tensions between the Vatican and Turkey ahead of the pope’s visit to Cyprus, where he was expected to discuss the challenges facing Christians as religious minorities in the Middle East.
“We have no reason to believe that the homicide had a political motivation, but an investigation will determine that,” Alessandro Azzoni, the second in command of Italy’s embassy to Turkey, said in a telephone interview. A Franciscan friar, Bishop Padovese had been outspoken about the challenges facing Christians in Turkey and had urged dialogue.
In Turkey, Christians represent less than 1 percent of the population of 70 million. In recent years, several priests have been attacked in Turkey; One was shot to death in 2006 amid widespread Muslim anger over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Vatican was “deeply saddened” by Bishop Padovese’s death. He said that the Vatican understood that the killing did not have a “political” motivation, but that the assailant was a man of Kurdish origin who had worked as a driver for the bishop and of late had shown signs of “unbalance” and “depression.”
“His motives weren’t political,” Father Lombardi told Italian national television. The Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement expressing dismay at the death and calling Bishop Padovese “a friend of Turkey.”
The suspect’s full name and age were not immediately known, but Archbishop Antonio Lucibello, the Vatican’s nunzio, or ambassador to Turkey, said the man was called Murat and had confessed to the crime.
Reached at his office in Ankara, Archbishop Lucibello said that Bishop Padovese had been close with his driver. “The bishop treated him almost like a son,” he said. He said the driver, who was a Muslim, had always seemed “devoted” to the bishop, while the bishop had shown “great attention and preoccupation” to the man’s depression. Archbishop Lucibello described Bishop Padovese’s relationship with the driver as “the same relationship he had with everyone: he was a very sensitive man, very attentive, very kind.”
The driver had accompanied Bishop Padovese on several visits to Rome, sometimes driving him from Turkey to Rome by car “for practical reasons,” like carrying books, Archbishop Lucibello said. The two had come to dinner together in Rome at the residence of the Turkish ambassador to the Holy See in recent weeks, according to a person at the Turkish Embassy to the Holy See who requested anonymity, citing embassy practice.
The apostolic vicar in Anatolia since 2004, Bishop Padovese was a scholar of the history of the church fathers. He was interested in efforts “to resuscitate the roots of Christianity, which spread to Europe from Asia Minor,” Archbishop Lucibello said. In recent years, he had been working with the Turkish authorities to try to make it easier for Christian pilgrims to visit Tarsus, the ancient home of the Apostle Paul, the person at the Turkish Embassy to the Holy See said.
Bishop Padovese had been expected to travel to Cyprus for the visit of Benedict, who on Sunday was expected to deliver the working paper for a monthlong meeting of bishops in Rome this fall to discuss the Middle East.