Five Years after Murder of Priest in Turkey, New Bishop Preaches

Pope Francis appointed Paolo Bizzeti to post at İskenderun Catholic Church.

Bishop Paolo Bizzeti. (

Bishop Paolo Bizzeti. (

ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) – More than five years after a bishop in Turkey was viciously murdered for reasons still shrouded in mystery, a new bishop held his first service at the church where the slain priest once preached.

Bishop Paolo Bizzeti, 67, celebrated Mass at İskenderun Catholic Church in Hatay Province on Nov. 29, his first public act as the Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, a post Pope Francis appointed him to three months earlier.

During the service, Bishop Bizzeti mentioned his long-standing love of Turkey.

“I wanted to have a home in Hatay both for myself and for an association called ‘Friends of the Middle East,’ which I founded in 1991,” he said. “God made my dream come true and gave me the pleasure of living together with you.”

Hatay is located in the southeastern corner of Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea, next to the border of Syria.

Bishop Bizzeti replaces Bishop Luigi Padovese, who was killed by his driver five years ago. On the afternoon of June 3, 2010, Murat Altun, then 26, attacked Padovese in his home, stabbing him more than 20 times, eight of those in the heart. The priest crawled out of his home, and as he collapsed outside on a sidewalk, Altun tried to cut off the priest’s head.

Witnesses at the scene said that Altun shouted, “Allahu Akbar [God is greater],” and that he had “killed the great Satan” after trying to cut off Padovese’s head.

Five years after the killing, the reasons behind the murder are unclear.

Altun, who had driven for the bishop for four years, was arrested soon after the stabbing and confessed to the killing, but he gave several conflicting reasons for doing it. Initially, he claimed that Padovese had made sexual advances toward him. There was a claim that Islamist militants had manipulated Altun into committing the killing. Hours before Padovese was killed, officials in the Turkish government, which had been monitoring Altun as part of routine security procedures, told Padovese that Altun had fallen in with a group of Islamists. Padovese canceled a trip to Cyprus, where he would have met with then-Pope Benedict XVI. As part of Padovese’s staff, Altun would have gone to Cyprus with the bishop, possibly giving him access to the Pope.

In court, Altun’s attorney attempted an insanity defense without success; in June 2011, a medical commission found that Altun was not insane.

On Jan. 22, 2013, in the İskenderun Second Criminal Court, Altun was sentenced to 15 years in prison. According to Turkish legal experts, with good behavior and the time served, Altun could be released as early as summer of 2019.

Bishop Bizzeti, an Italian, was ordained in 1975. Since 2007, he has been leading a center in Padua, Italy dedicated to the development of lay Catholics. According to a statement by the Italian Jesuits, Bishop Bizzeti asked his superiors to send him to Turkey in 1984. He has since written a guidebook about the country and accompanied religious tourists to ancient sites in Turkey listed in the New Testament.

According to the Vatican, the Anatolian Vicariate serves about 3,000 Catholics.

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