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Issue Date:  March 3, 2006

-- SIPA/A.A.

Police arrest Ouzhan Akdin Feb. 7 for the murder of Fr. Andrea Santoro in Trabzon, Turkey.
Killer called psychologically unbalanced

Father's words complicate martyr claim; priest's mother offers forgiveness


Beatifying Fr. Andrea Santoro, the Italian priest gunned down Feb. 5 in Turkey while his teenage assassin shouted, “Allahu akhbar!” could be complicated by claims that the killer was psychologically unbalanced.

The reports appeared in mid-February in an interview with the teenager’s father in the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.

In his homily at the Feb. 10 funeral Mass, Cardinal Camillo Ruini announced that he intends to open a sainthood cause for Santoro. Ruini said that the death of the 61-year-old priest of the Rome diocese contains “all the constitutive elements of Christian martyrdom.” Ruini is vicar of the Rome diocese and president of the Italian bishops’ conference.

If Santoro is found to be a martyr, then there is no need to establish miracles performed after death in order to beatify him, and just one to canonize him. In practical terms, it means the cause could move along more quickly. (Ruini seemed to suggest he would not petition Benedict XVI for a waiver from the standard five-year waiting period before the cause can begin, saying he would “respect fully the laws and the rhythms of the church.”)

The traditional standard for martyrdom is odium fidei -- that the person was killed out of hatred for the faith. John Paul II appeared to stretch the standard on a couple of occasions -- including the 1982 canonization of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who died at Auschwitz because he volunteered to take someone else’s place, not because he was Catholic or a priest. Some have even spoken of a de facto new standard for martyrdom -- odium amoris, “hatred of love,” that could also apply to candidates such as Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and Fr. Pino Puglisi of Sicily.

Yet on the whole, experts at the Congregation for Saints generally want to see evidence that there was a specifically anti-Christian, or anti-Catholic, motive for the person’s death.

If it turns out that Santoro’s killer was mentally unhinged and has been under psychiatric care, as his father told the Italian press, it could make the process more complicated, since it would be difficult to know whether odium fidei or psychosis caused him to pull the trigger.

* * *

Here’s an English translation of an interview with Hikmet Akdin, 58, the father of 16-year-old Ouzhan Akdin, which appeared in the Feb. 12 Corriere della Sera.

Q: Your son shot Fr. Andrea while he was praying in church. He shouted, “Allahu akhbar,” “God is great,” and he said that he was upset by the cartoons about Muhammad published in Europe. Why do you rule out a religious motive?
Because my son is a child. He’s only 16. He’s said a lot of things, many of them contradictory. He’s been under psychiatric care for a couple of years and takes medicine, because his head doesn’t always help him. It’s not true that he’s in contact with Islamic radicals, and it’s not true that he took orders from anyone to kill Fr. Andrea.

Then how did it happen?
Exactly how it happened only he knows, and he will explain it to the court. I know that his mind is confused. I’m separated, and he lives with his mother. The night of the murder he was at home with her. The television said that the priest of Trabzon had been killed, and all of a sudden he said, “Mom, I killed him.” She said, “Don’t say that, even as a joke.” But he insisted, “I’m not joking, it was me.”

When did you realize he was serious?
We never did, because we didn’t believe him. His mother called me and I went over. We were sure that it was one of his fantasies. We were arguing because he didn’t want to admit it was all a stupid joke. Then the police knocked at the door …

Have you seen him since?
Yes, a brief conversation at the prison. We spoke over a telephone, in front of glass. We didn’t say very much because the emotion was too strong and I couldn’t hold back my tears. I thought about him in his cell. He’s afraid of the dark, and at home he sleeps with a nightlight. Now what will he do?

Did he ask for something?
Yes, a science magazine and a math book. He’s always been fascinated with math. He was in the first year at the Fatih school [a school for science], he is a very good student. His dream is to become a scientist and work on genetics.

Is he a heavy user of the Internet?
Since a few months ago. He was always a good Muslim, but since he started going to the Aktif Internet Café he didn’t pray anymore. He’s a good chess player, but lately he played on the computer, and chose war games.

Your son shot Fr. Andrea with a Glock. It’s an expensive weapon, and hard to come by, even for experienced criminals.
I don’t know where he got that pistol, but if you Westerners knew Trabzon like we do, you’d know that to get a gun, even one like that, all you have to do is ask on the street.

The youths who live near the Church of St. Mary say that Ouzhan received money from Fr. Andrea.
My son didn’t need money. I always gave him plenty. Even if we’re not exactly rich, we’re lucky, believe me.

Fr. Andrea’s mother said she has forgiven Ouzhan “with all her heart.”
I know, and ever since I heard those words I have a desire in my heart. I want to save enough money to go to Italy and kiss that woman’s hands as a sign of gratitude. Please tell her how much I appreciate her goodness, which has touched me. I want to embrace her. She’s a courageous woman, and I’m sure is an excellent mother. I’ll kiss her hands, if it’s the last act of my life.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is For his complete Word from Rome column, go to

National Catholic Reporter, March 3, 2006

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