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Monday, January 09, 2006

No comment from Vatican on release of Ali Agca

Rome, Jan. 09 ( - The Vatican is accepting the decision of a Turkish court to free Mehmet Ali Agca. The would-be assassin of Pope John Paul II will be released on parole on January 12.

Questioned on January 9 about the news that Agca would be freed this week, the director of the Vatican press office said that his only news on the issue came from wire-service reports. Joaquin Navarro-Valls added simply: "The Holy See, faced with such a juridical question, confides in the decisions of the courts involved in this matter."

Cardinal Angelo Sodano confirmed to the Italian daily La Repubblica that the Holy See would not be involved in questions about Agca's future. "That is for the courts to decide," said the Vatican Secretary of State.

Agca shot and severely wounded Pope John Paul on May 13, 1981. He was convicted on the shooting by an Italian court in July of the same year, and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, in June 2000 he received a pardon from Italy's President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who was acting with the tacit support of Pope John Paul after the Pontiff had encouraged gestures of pardon for prisoners as part of the celebration of the Jubilee Year 2000.

Agca's pardon was granted on the understanding that he would be extradited to his native Turkey, where he had been convicted in 1979 of killing the journalist Abdi Ipekci. Agca had served less than six months of a 10-year sentence for that murder before he escaped in 1979. He faced separate prison terms in Turkey for robberies committed in 1979.

Since his return to Turkey in 2000, Agca has seen several judicial decisions reducing the length of his required stay in prison. January 8 a Turkish tribunal announced that Agca-- who marks his 48th birthday today, January 9-- had completed his required prison sentence.

Shortly after the near-fatal shooting in May 1981, Pope John Paul II said that he had forgiven his assailant and was praying for him. In 1983, the late Pope met with Agca in his Italian prison cell. The Turkish gunman-- whose own explanations of the assassination attempt have been wildly inconsistent-- later described the Pope as his "spiritual brother," and unsuccessfully sought permission from prison authorities to attend Pope John Paul's funeral.

From Krakow, Archbishop Stanislas Dziwisz, the longtime secretary to Pope John Paul, told the Italian press agency Apcom that the Turkish court decision was a secondary consideraton. "John Paul II has already pardoned Ali Agca, a long time ago," the Polish prelate said. "Now, in heaven, he is praying for him."

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