Some of the Many Facets of Holy See Relations with States

Author: Archbishop D. Mamberti

Some of the Many Facets of Holy See Relations with States

Archbishop D. Mamberti
Secretary of Relations with States

Contending with escalating Christianophobia

On Friday, 29 August [2008], Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary of the Section for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State, addressed the 29th Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples organized In Rimini from 24 to 30 August by the Communion and Liberation Movement. The theme of the Meeting was "Either protagonists or nobodies". The following is a translation of excerpts of Archbishop Mamberti's discourse, which was given in Italian.

We all know that in the past few days there have been outbursts of grave violence against Christian communities in the Indian State of Orissa, subsequent to the deplorable assassination of a Hindu leader. Several people have been killed and others injured; various places of worship, properties of the Catholic Church, and private homes have been destroyed.

For this reason, last Wednesday the Holy Father firmly condemned every attack on human life — whose sacred nature demands the respect of all — and expressed his spiritual closeness and solidarity to our Indian brothers and sisters in the faith who are being so sorely tried.

The theme of religious freedom is therefore very relevant. For this reason too, I listened attentively to the words "on the grave incidents that endanger the life of Christian communities and other religious communities" of Hon. Mr. Mario Mauro, Vice-President of the European Parliament and the promoter of a Resolution that has had a vast impact.

This document reviews numerous violations and grave incidents of violence against Christians and the members of other religious communities. It does not so much claim to be exhaustive as rather to launch a political message to those responsible for these ferocious episodes and to the European institutions themselves which are not always immune from a sort of anti-religious and, especially, anti-Christian prejudice.

Indeed the Resolution, in addition to mentioning problems, situations and incidents asks the Council and the Commission to pay particular attention to the situation of religious communities, including those that are Christian, at the time of drafting and implementing its programmes for cooperation and development aid to countries where the said communities are threatened.

The Resolution has thus become a useful reference point within the necessary vigilance of respect for religious freedom.

Obviously, we all know that challenges to religious freedom are not only found outside the "garden" of our "Western home", even though one of its supporting structures is freedom, understood as a fundamental need of the person.

Today's Western culture, however, risks setting freedom against truth and justice. On the contrary, freedom needs a foundation that enables it to develop without endangering human dignity and social coherence.

This foundation cannot be other than transcendent, because only in this way is it "grand" enough to allow freedom to expand to the maximum and, at the same time, "solid" enough to guide and qualify it in any circumstance.

Faith in the transcendent Absolute alone is the only guarantee of protection from false earthly absolutes. Whenever God is considered of secondary importance and thus able to be temporarily or permanently set aside in the name of "more important" things, these things presumed to be more important are precisely what fail. This is shown by the tragic outcome of all political ideologies even those from opposite ends of the spectrum.

In light of what I have observed, it is easy to understand that the commitment to religious freedom, in a certain way, underlies almost all the daily practices treated by the Section for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State, over which I have the honour to preside.

It might be added that the Holy See has always occupied itself, even if obviously in different ways and directions, in an effort to maintain the very close bond between its nature and its mission and religious freedom.

Papal diplomacy

The religious character of the Holy See and its universal vocation ensure that its diplomacy does not determine its priorities on the basis of economic or political interests and that it has no geo-political ambitions:

The "strategic" priorities of Papal diplomacy involve, above all, the assurance of favourable conditions for the practice of the proper mission of the Catholic Church as such, but also for the faith life of her members and hence for the free exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In the Church's reflection — and here I am thinking primarily of the most recent and authoritative Documents such as the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae of the Second Vatican Council — religious freedom is an insupressible, inalienable and inviolable subjective right with both a private and a public dimension; one is individual, one collective and another institutional (cf. Dignitatis Humanae, nn. 3,4).

Respect for religious freedom, as a protection of the transcendent dimension of the human person, therefore allows the balanced development of all other freedoms and rights. Thus it is not only one of the fundamental human rights; it is far more, it is pre-eminent among these rights. It is pre-eminent because, as Pope John Paul II recalled in receiving members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) its defence "is the litmus test for the respect of all the other human rights" (Address to the OSCE, 10 October 2003, n. 1). It is pre-eminent, because historically it was the first of the human rights to be claimed; lastly, it is pre-eminent because other fundamental rights are uniquely connected with it.

Wherever religious freedom flourishes, all other rights germinate and develop; when it is threatened, they too are undermined. Religious freedom, in fact, is also the freedom to express freely one's own religious thought and to convert, to meet for religious reasons, to contract marriage in conformity with one's own beliefs, to give a religious education to one's children, to carry out religious activities and thus also to have health care and social assistance.

In his Encyclical Centesimus Annus, John Paul II wrote, "The source and synthesis of these rights is religious freedom, understood as the right to live in the truth of one's faith and in conformity with one's transcendent dignity as a person" (n. 47).

In this perspective, I am keen to point out the error incurred by all those today who interpret religious freedom as freedom of religion. Indeed, they presuppose that religion is a danger or an enemy rather than an insuppressible need of every person, in every place and time; more profoundly, they deny the transcendent dimension of the person.

To defend freedom they actually express a reductive concept of it because they understand it merely as an exemption of external forms of coercion, true or presumed, but not as a possibility to adhere to truth and goodness or to act consequently.

Bilateral diplomacy

Having clarified the nature of Papal diplomacy and its concept of religious freedom, I move on to describe briefly how this freedom is promoted by the Holy See's bilateral diplomatic activity.

This essentially concerns relations with 176 countries with which the Apostolic See currently has diplomatic relations. Incidentally, to be more specific the European Communities and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta should be added to these. Moreover, the Russian Federation and the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine are represented by Special Missions to the Holy See.

In the sphere of bilateral diplomacy, the principal aim of pactional activity — that is, agreements and accords between Church and State — is precisely to secure stability and reliability for Church activities and to protect the practice of religious freedom of the Catholic faithful.

Although every pactional relationship responds to precise social-historical requirements and thus has specific features, it is bound to all the others by certain fundamental goals: to assure the Catholic Church freedom of worship and jurisdiction and to form associations; to establish areas for cooperation between the Catholic Church and the Civil Authorities, especially in the educational sector and in that of charity.

These sectors in fact, referring to the two fundamental pillars of the humanitarian action and activity of the Church — truth and love — define in a certain way the identity of the Catholic Church also outlining the religious and social commitment of her institutions and her members. If in fact, education is considered as the ability to put the person in a relationship of awareness with reality, that is. as a "provocation" of freedom with the truth, then it is clear that freedom of education is indispensable both for a truly liberated society and for the Church which, par excellence, shows a comprehensive and transcendent vision of reality.

"Send us out naked", Fr. Giussani once said, "but allow us the freedom to educate". With regard to the charitable dimension of ecclesial action and the indispensable need to express the truth of one's faith in this area, St. James is very eloquent: "My brothers, what good is it to profess faith without practicing it?", (2:14) and he adds that faith, if it has no works, is dead (cf. 2:17).

Lastly, it is important to stress that bilateral agreements express the public dimension of religion on the part of the State Authorities and restore that benefit to other religious denominations. In Italy, for example, the Accord established by the Joint Text of 18 February 1984 was followed by various Agreements with other religious denominations, starting with the Waldensian Church.

Obviously, the Holy See's bilateral activity is not limited to Accords. Whenever it seems necessary the Holy See regularly intervenes in the defence of the religious freedom of communities and individuals through the Apostolic Nuncios and/or directly in the Secretariat of State's contacts with accredited Ambassadors.

The United Nations

In the context of the United Nations, the theme of religious freedom is reviewed every year in a specific way in New York and in Geneva.

In New York, in the Third Committee of the General Assembly, the Holy See takes part in the negotiations on the resolution concerning this subject and always presents a statement.

In Geneva too, religious freedom is regularly discussed at the meetings of the Human Rights Council. On these occasions the Holy See's interventions are generally on such topics as freedom, religious intolerance and the defamation of religions. In addition, it follows these themes within informal negotiations over Resolutions adopted by the Council.

Both in the context of the UN and in that of the OSCE the Holy See does not tire of stressing that the basis of the right to religious freedom is found in the equal dignity of all human beings. Consequently, to promote this dignity in an integral way. it is necessary to combat effectively both the so-called "Christianophobia" and "Islamophobia", as well as anti-Semitism.

The term "Christianophobia" was introduced for the first time in 2003, in a Resolution of the Third Committee of the UN's 58th General Assembly. On this occasion the word was associated with "Islamophobia" and "anti-Semitism" and since then has appeared in various documents of the UN and other international organizations but without ever being defined.

It seems to me that [Christianophobia] consists in a set of behaviours classifiable into three areas:

— erroneous education or even disinformation [intending to mislead] concerning Christians and their religion (especially in the media);

— intolerance and discrimination suffered by Christian citizens, particularly because of legislation or administrative provisions, in comparison with what other religions profess or because none are followed;

— violence and persecution.

As is evident, discrimination and intolerance of Christians represent especially important issues at the human, political, and social as well as religious levels. If these issues, which unfortunately remain grave current realities, are to be remedied, they must be tackled with the same determination which which anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are combatted.

Regarding the Catholic Church, it will suffice to recall that 21 missionaries were killed in 2007.

As the Holy Father recalled, "Indeed, even today we receive news from various parts of the world of missionaries, — priests, Bishops, men and women religious and lay faithful who are persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, deprived of freedom or prevented from exercising it because they are disciples of Christ and apostles of the Gospel; at times, they even suffer and die for being in communion with the universal Church or for their fidelity to the Pope" (Angelus, 26 December 2007).

Before 2003 there were approximately one million Christians in Iraq. Today about half this number have left the country, seeking refuge mainly in Syria and Jordan.

The factors in these attacks are multifaceted; they are financial but also specifically religious — in other words, violence is inflicted for religious reasons. From this emerges the need to put an end to these attacks arid to assure humanitarian aid to Christians who have sought refuge in the neighbouring areas, as well as to those dispersed within the country.

In addition, it would be necessary to regularize the status of those who are illegal
immigrants in various European States. Furthermore, in many other countries Christians are victims of prejudices, stereotypes and intolerance, even of a cultural kind.

In the face of this situation it is easy to understand that the effectiveness of international action depends largely on its credibility and therefore also on its "inclusive" character. It would be paradoxical not to adopt concrete measures to guarantee Christians the enjoyment of religious freedom without any kind of discrimination or to create a sort of hierarchy between forms of intolerance precisely while an effort is being made to eliminate discrimination and intolerance.

On the other hand, it would also be wrong for religious communities to exploit any legal or administrative measure for their own interests, silencing as discrimination any legitimate criticism concerning their activities.

In the context of the United Nations, Holy See Delegations also seek to focus the debate on the value and range of religious freedom in itself, to prevent it from being considered exclusively in relation to other rights and almost as if it were an obstacle rather than a guarantee for their exercise.

The problem is that at times, simple pretexts are passed off as real rights, or certain rights are absolutized, denying other rights, or at best stabilizing arbitrary priorities among rights and thus hindering the full exercise of other rights.

Finally, the Holy See does not fail to attentively follow initiatives promoted by the UN as well as other international organizations, in order to give an impetus to intercultural and interreligious dialogue.

As Pope Benedict XVI recalled in his Address to the Diplomatic Corps: "In order to be true, this dialogue must be clear, avoiding relativism and syncretism, while at the same time it must be marked by sincere respect for others and a spirit of reconciliation and fraternity" (7 January 2008, n. 9).

Interreligious dialogue, therefore, does not "level out" religions or even less "blur" their differences and consequently put an end to their incompatibility and to their claim of truth. Nor "does it consist in helping one another, for example to become better Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. This would be the most complete absence of convictions, in which — even with the pretext of ratifying the best quality of each — we would not take seriously either ourselves or others and would give up the truth once and for all" (cf. J. Ratzinger, Many Religions, One Covenant: Israel, the Church and the World, Ignatius Press, 1999, p. 73).

Rather, this dialogue can foster the collaboration of religions on themes of common interest such as the dignity of the human person and the construction of peace; it encourages deep respect for the faith of the other and the willingness to seek — in that which is perceived as foreign — the truth that can help everyone to progress. In no case, however, can it happen in the renunciation of the truth; indeed, it is possible only through its deepening.

Relativism, in fact, does not unite. Nor does pure pragmatism. The renunciation of truth and of conviction neither elevates the human being nor brings him closer to others. Furthermore, the said international initiatives must be aware that religion has specific characteristics that must be respected.


Regarding International Organizations of a regional character. it should be recalled that the Holy See is a full member of the OSCE. Indeed, it was thanks to the Holy See that the Final Act of Helsinki expressly listed religious freedom among the human rights that the signatory States were determined to respect, to guarantee their citizens peace and security. The Holy See has always been a reference point on the subject, because it has presented itself as a herald of general, not only Catholic, religious interests.

In the development of the Helsinki process, with regard to religious freedom, a double track was followed. In the first years, an effort was made to obtain recognition of the content of this right and this was satisfactorily achieved with the final document of the Vienna Meeting in 1989.

In recent years, on the other hand, it has been primarily emphasized that the topic of religious freedom cannot be incorporated into that of tolerance. If, in fact [tolerance] were the supreme human and civil value, then every authentic conviction of absolute truth that excluded others would be intolerance.

In addition, if every conviction were as good as another, one would end by being tolerant even to aberrations. Taking this aporia to the extreme, Engelshardt came to the point of reporting the following paradox: "if one does not succeed in demonstrating the immorality of certain likeness of conduct, the health-care assistance provided by Albert Schweitzer and that provided in the Nazi concentration camps would be equally tenable... the behaviour of morally repulsive individuals would be no more or less justifiable or injustifiable than that of the Saints" (cf. H.T. Engelhardt, Manuale di bioethica, Milan 1999, p. 22).

The dignity of man is based on his capacity for truth. Instead, absolutizing tolerance means withdrawing from this dignity. Indeed, absolutizing tolerance means transforming it into a supreme value, but this inevitably puts truth in second place and relativizes it.

Renunciation of the truth in its turn puts the human being at the mercy of the calculations of the strongest, of the useful or of the immediate, depriving the person of his/her greatness.

In light of this conviction, the Holy See also obtained that in the area of the so-called "tolerance programme", the OSCE is not exclusively concerned with the grave phenomena of anti-Semitism or anti-Muslim discrimination but also the equally unacceptable episodes of intolerance against Christians.

The Holy See was then responsible for the institution of a Special Representative of the current President of the OSCE, with the task of monitoring and referring episodes of racism and discrimination with a special "focus" on those opposed to Christianity and the members of other religions.

At certain International Conferences organized by the OSCE a subsequent effort was made specifically during negotiations in the work sessions to address the theme, thus creating an important precedent at a multilateral level.

The European Union

To remain in the regional international context, the contribution made by the Holy See to ensure that the so-called "Lisbon Treaty" signed last December contained the present art. 2.28 is noteworthy. Without entering into the merits of this Treaty, I point out that the said measure affirms that the Union respect and not jeopardize the status that Churches and religious communities enjoy in the national legislation of member States.

This guarantee is based on the principle of subsidiarity, dear to the social teaching of the Church, and notes that relations between the State, Churches and religious communities in Europe is quite varied — suffice it to think of the diversity of the situations in Greece, France, England or Poland!

Moreover, the article engages the European Union to maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with the religious denominations which is founded on recognition of their identity and their specific contribution. This dialogue is necessary, among other things, in order to respect the principles of an authentic pluralism and to build a true democracy. Did not Alexis de Tocqueville emphasize "that while despotism has no need of religion, freedom and democracy do" (cf. Democracy in America, I, 9)?

With regard to the Holy See's action in Europe, I think it is opportune to point out, in a constructive spirit, that it is facing two grave attacks on religious freedom: the detachment of religion from reason, which relegates religion exclusively to the world of sentiments, and the separation of religion from public life.

With regard to the former aspect, it should be strongly asserted that it is impossible to eliminate the question of truth from religion, in order to respect the human dignity on which religious freedom itself is founded.

Moreover, like every form of freedom it is never an end in itself but oriented towards truth, and man cannot resign himself to being "born blind" with regard to what is essential.

Today, the intrinsic ordering of freedom to truth and of truth to freedom find a crucial terrain for verification in the freedom to convert, understood as an aspect of religious freedom. If one desires to live responsibly, in fact, one cannot shun the obligation to seek the truth about God as man's ultimate end.

The right to religious freedom therefore presupposes the need to seek the truth about God with a will that is free from coercion and with a reason immune to prejudices.

Consequently religious freedom requires discernment: both among forms of religion, in order to identify those that fully correspond to each person's thirst for truth, and within religion itself, with a view to its authentic identity and realization.

This is a challenge to every believer and to religion. In particular it proposes that religions "provide a meaning" for life in the context of a secularized society and cannot be reduced to mere agencies for social solidarity.

Religion cannot of course avoid serving a social function. Yet, this happens, first of all, by keeping the sense of God and of transcendence alive. Solidarity, acceptance and civil values are essential factors that religion always encourages, exactly because it lives on the meaning of God.

Referring to the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: "The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible.... Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper" (Deus Caritas Est, n. 28).

From the other end, a healthy secularism entails the distinction between religion and politics, between Church and State. without making God into a private hypothesis or excluding religion and the ecclesial community from public life, precisely because of the social dimension of faith.

Among other things, the criterion of civil equality is not respected, wherein believers are burdened by the additional obligation to argue etsi Deus non daretur: while theist reasons could not be publicly invoked, rationalist and secular reasons could be.

We must not ignore that in today s globalized society, contact with "differences" can create a basic incommunicability and the temptation to make public space 'neutral". Yet, if one wants to extend the freedom of all to the maximum, without severing the links that make it possible not only to be closer but above all to be more united, a common ethical code must be publicly recognized.

But in order for this to be fully accomplished, recognition of the public dimension of religious freedom is indispensable. Indeed, this freedom conveys ethical values capable of making democracy fruitful and of creating culture.

Religious freedom possesses an intrinsic public dimension, since what one believes should not be hidden but rather shared. Any sound religious tradition calls for an exhibition of its identity; it does not wish to stay hidden or be camouflaged.

And the best side of secularism is able to accept and protect the patrimony of spirituality and of the humanism present in the various religions, rejecting everything in them that might conflict with human dignity. Moreover, the values that belong to authentic convictions of faith are not foreign to those that nature preserves and that reason attains. They can thus be shared with everyone.

This concept of secularism, then, can only facilitate a peaceful encounter with the many non-European cultures present on this continent today, for which religion is essentially a public affair.

Moreover, respect for religious freedom must be reciprocal. Therefore, [religious freedom] should be guaranteed to non-Christian minorities within Europe, just as they should be to Christian minorities outside Europe.

In concluding my reflections on the Holy See's international activity for the protection of religious freedom today, it is almost superfluous to explain that there are also other aspects on which one could reflect.

In my twofold role as Bishop and diplomat. I would like to conclude with an encouragement. The outcome of political and diplomatic commitment to religious freedom is largely bound to a culture that promotes authentic freedom and truth. The strength of these values, in turn, depends on the individual and social enthusiasm for them. Therefore, if you want religious freedom for all, then personally accept the risk of freedom and be witnesses of truth!

Religious freedom helps each person practice their religious belief. Yet the Christian faith gives a freedom deeper than that which is merely religious.

"Ubi fides, ibi libertas", St. Ambrose said (Epistola 65,5). And as if to comment, Fr. Giussani taught us that "freedom is the strong point of the Christian person". Christ is revealed as the fulfilment of our freedom. But he does not reveal himself before we freely decide to opt for him.

Christ, then, does not spare us the effort of freedom; rather, as Peguy wrote: "What would salvation be if it were not free?" (cf. Ilmistero dei santi innocenti, in I Misteri, Milan, 1997, p. 321). So give yourselves to Christ without reserve and you will become more human! Entrust yourselves to him and you will help others too to live in freedom!

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
10 September 2008, page 6

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069