LIBERTY OF FAITH AND CONSCIENCE
Bucharest, Parliament, 23rd June 2011
ADDRESS OF The Apostolic Nuncio
Archbishop FRANCISCO-JAVIER LOZANO
Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Romania
I received with great pleasure the invitation to participate in this Symposium which takes place at the Parliament of Romania and is organized by the Ecumenical Prayer Group friends, whom I thank from my heart for the invitation and send them best wishes for a fruitful activity.
I cordially greet all the participants in this symposium, which has a theme so important in the world today, in Europe and even in this noble and dear country, Romania.
As Representative of the Holy See in Romania and the Republic of Moldova, I am grateful to be invited to contribute to an issue of great relevance in the present work of the Holy See and the Catholic Church – such as the right to freedom of religion and conscience.
Pope Benedict XVI recalled some time ago that religious freedom, inalienable exigency of the dignity of every human and the cornerstone of the human rights edifice, is often compromised. Actually, there are many places where it can not be fully exercised. The Holy See defends religious freedom and demands it to be respected for all. He is concerned because of discrimination against Christians and against the followers of other religions.1
The topic of religious freedom is therefore very timely and we are all witnesses of serious episodes in the world that threaten the existence of Christian communities and other religious communities. It is sufficient to think of what happens in some countries in Asia, the Middle East and the Islamic world in general. We often read in newspapers about serious infringements and violence against Christians and members of other religions.
Certainly, we all know that the challenges to religious freedom are not only in distant countries in the Far or Middle East, but also within the European Union. Today’s Western culture is likely to contrast the liberty of truth and justice. Instead, freedom needs a foundation to enable it to develop without endangering human dignity and social cohesion. This foundation can only be transcendental, because it alone is so „high” as to allow freedom to expand to a maximum and, at the same time so „lasting” as to guide and qualify in all circumstances. Only faith in the transcendental Absolute is a guarantee against false earthly absolutes. Where God is considered a secondary greatness that can be put aside temporarily or permanently, on behalf of more important things, it is precisely these supposedly more important things that fail. This is demonstrated by the tragic result of all political ideologies, even of opposite side. The religious nature of the Holy See and its Universal vocation create a situation in which diplomacy does not determine its own priorities based on economic or political interests and cause it not to have geopolitical ambitions. The ‘strategic’ priorities of pontifical diplomacy are, above all, providing favorable conditions for the exercise of the mission of the Catholic Church as such, but also for the life of faith of its members and therefore for the right to freely exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
In reflection of the Church – and here I think, first of all, of the most recent and authoritative documents, such as the Dignitatis Humanae Declaration of the II Vatican Council – religious freedom is a subjective and insuppressible right, inalienable and inviolable, with a private dimension and a public one; an individual, a collective and an institutional one2. The respect for religious freedom, as the guardianship of the transcendent dimension of the human person, allows the balanced development of all other freedoms and rights. Therefore, it is not only one of the fundamental human rights, but much more, it is superior among those rights. It is superior because, as Pope John Paul II recalled when receiving the members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, its defense is the litmus paper in order to check the compliance with all other rights3; superior because historically it was among the first human rights that has been claimed; at last, superior because other fundamental rights are uniquely related to it. Where religious freedom thrives, all other rights flourish and grow; when religious freedom is in danger, they all shake. Freedom of religion and conscience is, in fact, also the freedom to freely express one’s faith, one’s own religious thinking and to convert, to gather for religious reasons, to enter into marriage in accordance with one’s faith, to give children religious education, to exercise works of religion and thus, health care and social development.
John Paul II wrote in encyclical Centesimus annus: The source and synthesis of the right to life, family and children’s education, of work is, in a sense, religious freedom, understood as the right to live in the truth of one’s own faith and in accordance with the transcendent dignity of the human person4. In this perspective, I feel obliged to point out the mistake people make when they interpret religious freedom as freedom of religion. In fact, they assume that religion is more of a danger or an enemy, rather than an insuppressible exigency of any person in any place and at any time; even more, they deny the transcendent dimension of the person. Without saying that to defend freedom expresses in reality a reductive conception of it, because they understand it only as a relief from external constraints, real or alleged, but not as a possibility to adhere to truth and good and act accordingly.
After having clarified the nature of pontifical diplomacy and its conception of religious freedom, I go now to broadly describe how this liberty is promoted by the bilateral diplomatic activity of the Holy See. This basically refers to the relationships of the Apostolic See with each of the 179 countries with which it now maintains diplomatic relations.
Within bilateral diplomacy, the main purpose of agreement action – namely of arrangements and agreements between Church and State – is precisely to ensure stability and certainty to the activities of the Church and provide guardianship over the religious freedom of Catholics.
Although all bilateral relation corresponds to precise historical and social requirements and therefore has a specific feature, it is united with all others by several fundamental objectives: ensuring freedom of worship, jurisdiction and association of the Catholic Church; the stabilization of areas of cooperation between the Church and civil authorities, especially in the area of education and charity. In fact, these areas, referring to the two fundamental pillars of human action and the activity of the Church – truth and love – in a way define the identity of the Catholic Church, by outlining the religious and social involvement of its institutions and members.
In fact, if education is considered as the capacity to place the person in a coscious relationship with reality, ie as a challenge between freedom and truth, then it is clear that freedom of education is one that can not be waived, either for a truly free society or for the Church, which, par excellence, manifests a transcendent and overview vision of reality. As for the size of the charitable dimension of ecclesial action and the insuppressible requirement to express the truth of one’s own faith in this field, St. James is very eloquent: What good, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but has no deeds?5 And further adds that faith without works is dead.6
Finally, it is important to note that bilateral agreements manifest the recognition of the public dimension of religion by state authorities and also work for the advantage of other religious denominations. Of course, the bilateral activity of the Holy See is not limited to agreements. When it appears necessary, the Holy See intervenes to defend the religious freedom of communities and individuals, through Apostolic Nuncios and/ or directly, through the contacts of the State Secretariat with accredited ambassadors.
Within the United Nations, the topic of religious freedom is tackled each year, specifically in New York and Geneva. In New York, in the Third Committee of the General Assembly: The Holy See participates in negotiations related to resolutions regarding this issue and always delivers an intervention. Talks about religious freedom are also common in Geneva during the sessions of the Human Rights Council. Under these circumstances, the Holy See frequently speaks on issues related to freedom, religious intolerance and the defamation of religions. Additionally, he pursues the subject within the informal negotiations for the Resolutions to be adopted by the Council. With regard to the UN system, particular attention should be given to the annual report regarding religious freedom in the world.
Both within the United Nations and the OSCE, as it will be emphasized further, the Holy See does not cease to point out that the foundation of the right to religious freedom is within the equal dignity of all human persons. Therefore, in order to promote this dignity in an integral manner, we must effectively combat both the so-called „christianophobia” as well as „Islamophobia” and antisemitism. The term „christianophobia” was first introduced in 2003, in a resolution of the Third Committee of the 58th UN General Assembly. Under these circumstances, the term was associated with „Islamophobia” and antisemitism, and since then appeared in various documents of the UN and other international bodies, yet without ever being defined, but which has to do with the misinformation with regard to Christians and their religion, the intolerance and discrimination endured by Christian citizens, the violence and the persecution.
As shown, discrimination and intolerance against Christians are issues of special significance, to the human, political and social level, in addition to the religious one. They need to be treated with the same determination with which one fights antisemitism and „Islamofobia”, if one wants to find a solution for each of these problems, which are, unfortunately, most present.
In regard to the Catholic Church, it is enough to remember the missionaries that re murdered each year around the world. Just as the Holy Father reminded us, it is quite often that we hear about missionaries, priests, archbishops, monks, nuns and dedicated people that are persecuted, locked away, tortured, deprived from liberty just because they are Christ’s disciples and Bible’s apostles. Sometimes there is suffering and death even for the communion with the universal Church and for the loyalty shown to the Pope.7
In numerous countries Christians are victims of prejudice, stereotypes and intolerance, even with from a cultural perspective. The Holy See doesn’t stop close following of the UN initiatives, but also other International Organizations, that help start intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. Just as Pope Benedict the XVIth mentioned in a speech addressed to the Diplomatic Corps, in order to be true, this dialogue needs to be clear, avoiding relativism and syncretism, it needs to be supported by an honest respect toward others and by a spirit of reconciliation and fraternity.8. That is the reason why inter-religious dialogue isn’t used to „level” religions, or even to „vary” the differences and therefore, to end their incompatibility or their pretend for truth. It does not even stand in the mutual help, for example, for becoming better Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindu or Buddhists. This would be the most complete list of faiths in which – with the pretext to validate what each has best – we would not even take serious ourselves or others and we would give up faith definitely.9. This dialogue can rather favor the collaboration between religions on common ground themes, such as one’s person determination and peace building; it encourages profound respect towards other people’s faith and eagerness to look in what is encountered as foreign, the truth that can help any person move forward. However, not even in this case, there cannot be a complete relinquishment of truth, moreover it is possible only through getting to know it better. Actually, relativism doesn’t bound together. And neither does pure pragmatism. Giving up the truth and convictions doesn’t give man superiority or brings him closer to others. Besides, these international initiatives must be aware that religion has special characteristics, that need to be respected.
Regarding the international organizations with regional character, one must be reminded that the Holy See is a full member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In fact, thanks to the Holy See’s, the Final Act at Helsinki contains religious freedom among the human rights that the state members have engaged to respect in order to insure peace and safety to their own citizens. The Holy See has always been a reference point regarding this theme, mostly because it has presented itself as a carrier of general religious beliefs and not only of catholic confession ones. In developing the trial at Helsinki, regarding religious freedom, they were guided by a double line. In the first years there was the effort to obtain acknowledgment of the content of this right and this was obtained with the final document of the Vienna region in 1989. One’s human dignity is built upon the ability for truth. In exchange, generalizing tolerance means giving up this dignity. In fact, generalizing tolerance means transforming itself in a supreme value, but this inevitably puts the truth on second place and trivializes it. In turn, relinquishing truth offers the man to the greatest calculation, to usefulness and to the moment, giving up the person’s greatness.
In order to remain in the regional international area, it is known the help that the Holy See gave at the „Treaty of Lisbon”. This Treaty affirms that the Union respects and doesn’t harms the statute of Churches and religious communities in the national legislation of member states. This warranty is based upon the subsidiarity principle, supported by the social doctrine of the Church and reminds the fact that in Europe, the configuration between State and Church and religious communities is varied : it suffices to think of the diversity in Greece, Spain, England of Romania. Besides this, the article engages the EU to maintain an open dialogue, transparent and used to religious confessions, based upon recognizing their identity and their specific contribution. This is a necessary dialogue, among others, in order to respect the principles of an authentic pluralism and to build a true democracy. Wasn’t it Alexis de Tocqueville that underlines the fact that despotism doesn’t need religion, but freedom and democracy.10?
Then, as far as the Holy See’s action in Europe, I believe it is favorable to mention, in a constructive spirit, that it stops two serious attacks for religious freedom: unbinding religion from a nation, that firstly isolates, in the world of feelings, and the separation of religion from public life. In regard to the first profile, there must be a powerful confirmation that there is not such a possibility like extracting the problem of truth in religion: this is just because of the need to protect human dignity that religious freedom is based upon. Such as any liberty, it isn’t a purpose in itself, but it is oriented towards truth and man cannot resign to remain what is essential, a „blind man since he was born”. The intrinsic way of freedom to truth and the truth of freedom are today a decisive checking advantage in the conversion of freedom, understood as an aspect of religious freedom. In fact, if man wants to live in a respectable way, he cannot abandon the obligation to look for truth about God, as a last goal of man kind. That is why the right to religious freedom requires the obligation of searching for the truth about God, with a compelling free will, with a ration immune to prejudice.
Religious freedom asks for judgment: either in the form of religion, in order to identify those that correspond to each person’s thirst for truth, even within religion, so that one can find identity and authentic accomplishment. For each believer and for the religion itself, this represents a challenge. Mostly, this requires that it doesn’t reduce religion to simple social solidarity agencies. Solov’ëv assigns the AntiChrist a book, Open book towards peave and world well being, that has as a main point the adoration of well being and rational planning. Religion couldn’t not display a social function. Still, this takes place, before all, keeping alive the sense of God and the transcendent. Meaning that solidarity, receiving and civic values are essential factors, that religion always promoted, just because it survives through the sense of God. Referring to the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict the XVI-th wrote down: The church cannot and must not take into its hands the political battle needed to build a society that is as just as possible. (…) But it also cannot and must not stand aside in the fight for justice. The church must enter this battle taking the way of rational arguing and must awaken those spiritual forces, without whom justice, which involves abandonment, cannot be affirmed nor can it be developed.11
At the same time, a healthy laic character bears a distinction between religion and politics, between Church and State, without making God look like a private hypothesis, or witouth excluding religion and the ecclesiastic community from public life, because of the social dimension of faith. However, the civil equality criteria is not respected there where those who believe are forced with the obligation to argument etsi Deus non daretur: while theist reasons could not be publicly invoked, arguments of secular and rational nature could be so. We don’t need to hide the fact that in our today’s global society, contact with „differences” may create a miscommunication of content and the tentation to impose the public space as „neutral”. Still, if one wishes to extent to a maximum level the liberty of all, without interrupting the connections that allow us not only to be closer, but also more united, we need to publicly recognize a common ethical code. But in order for this to fully take place, it is necessary to admit the public dimension of religious freedom. In fact, this freedom carries ethical values that are capable to enrich democracy and to build culture. Religious freedom posseses a public dimension because what beliefs must not be hidden, but on the contrary, they must be shared.
Concluding our reflections regarding the Symposium about religious freedom, faith and conscience, held here, in the Parliament of Romania, we must mention that the result of political and diplomatic engagement in favour of religious freedom is mostly connected to a culture that promotes true liberty and truth. The power of these values depends on individual and social passion towards them. Religious freedom helps exert anyone’s religios creed. Still, christian faith offers a more profound liberty than one that is simply religious. Saint Ambrozie used to say Ubi fides, ibi libertas,12. Actually, Christ reveals Himself as a fullfillment of our liberties. However, He doesn’t reveal Himself before we freely decide for Him. Meaning,Christ takes away from us the burden of liberty. As Charles Peguy wrote: What would redemption be if it isn’t done out of freewill??13. If we want relegious freedom for all, we must personally accept the risk of freedom and witness the truth.
Thank you very much!
Benedict XVI, Speech
addressed to the accredited Diplomatic Corps at the Holy See, 7 January 2008, no. 11.
Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dignitatis humanae Declaration
, no. 3 and 4.
John Paul II, Speech
addressed to participants in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, 10 October 2003, no. 1.
John Paul II , Encyclical Centesimus annus
, no. 47.
Benedict XVI, Angelus
, 26 december 2007.
Benedict XVI, Speech
addressed to the Diplomatic Corps near the Holy See, 7 January 2008, nr. 9.
J. Ratzinger, La Chiesa, Israele e le religioni del mondo
, Cinisello Balsamo 2000, page. 73.
Cf. Alexis de Tocqueville, La democrazia in America
, Milano 2004, I, 9.
Benedict XVI, Enc. Deus caritas est
, nr. 28.
Saint Ambroziu, Epistola
Charles Peguy, Il Mistero dei santi innocenti
, în: I Misteri
, Milano 1997, page 321.