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The Holy See and Challenges to Religious Freedom

According to Archbishop Lajolo, Vatican Secretary for Relations With States

ROME, DEC. 13, 2004 (Zenit) - Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the secretary for the Holy See's relations with states, delivered an address at the Dec. 3 conference on "Religious Freedom: The Cornerstone of Human Dignity." The event was organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and held at the Gregorian University. Below is an excerpt from the talk.

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"The Holy See and Contemporary Challenges to Religious Freedom"

Mr. Ambassador, ...

I am grateful to His Excellency Mr. Jim Nicholson, ambassador of the United States of America to the Holy See, for the invitation to address this conference bringing to a conclusion a series of celebrations on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the United States of America. In particular, I wish to express my appreciation for this initiative intended both to confirm and to render more effective the excellent relations between his great nation and the See of Peter. …

I would like … to recall some of the principal challenges that the international community must confront today in order to defend the contents of religious freedom as delineated in the reflection of the same international community.

Notwithstanding the fact that society of many countries seems to live with religious indifferentism and that younger generations are made to grow in ignorance of the spiritual patrimony of the people to which they belong, the religious phenomenon does not cease to interest and attract citizens.

For this reason, the Holy See never ceases to insist that, while respecting the legitimate autonomy and secularity of the state -- Pius XII had introduced the expression "sana laicità" -- the public dimension of religious freedom be recognized. This argument has been put forward on various occasions by the Holy See, not only during the recent debate on the Christian roots of Europe, but also in relation to some national legislations. Last January 12, the Holy Father himself said as much in receiving the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. He recalled how "a healthy dialogue between the state and the churches -- which are not rivals but partners -- can encourage the integral development of the human person and harmony in society."

Such a dialogue is necessary, among other reasons, in order to respect the principles of an authentic pluralism and to build true democracy, either on a national or international level. Was it not Alexis De Tocqueville who underlined the fact that despotism does not need religion, but freedom and democracy do? (cfr. "Democracy in America," I, 9). In today's multi-ethnic and multi-confessional societies, religions constitute an important factor of unity among their members and the Christian religion, with it universal outlook, invites all to openness, to dialogue and to a harmonious working together. When the secularity of states is, as it must be, an expression of true freedom, then it favors dialogue and, therefore, transparent and regular cooperation between civil society and religious groups, in the service of the common good, and it contributes to building up the international community based on participation rather than exclusion, and on respect rather than on contempt.

During the process of drafting the European Constitutional Treaty, a memorandum of the Holy See recalled, among other things, the importance of "the institutional dimension of religious freedom" and, as a consequence, the right of each religious confession to organize itself freely, in conformity with the statutes that govern it. This aspect found a reference in Article 52 of the European Constitutional Treaty.

Let me point out that it would be out of place to fear that the recognition of such a dimension exonerates religious communities from respecting some fundamental norms of law, thus favoring eventual fundamentalist and extremist groups, or even conniving with terrorist networks. Both international and international legislation contain clauses that safeguard and protect human and fundamental rights, such as the respect of public order and national security. The observance of these clauses is imperative. Such clauses guarantee that any statute, activity or organization which places itself in contrast with the fundamental principles of individual countries or of international law, may not be recognized in their respective domains.

If it is accepted that religious freedom is a right rooted in the very nature of the human person and that, as a result, it is prior to any express recognition on the part of state authorities, then the registration of religious communities cannot be considered as a prerequisite for enjoying such freedom. When the registration of religious ...

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