Rorate Caeli

Benedict XVI on Religious Freedom and the Persecution of Christians

Aside from being an impassioned defense of persecuted Christians all over the world, this message is also one of the lengthiest treatments of the theme of "religious freedom" to come from a post-Vatican II pope.

From the text of the just-released papal message for the next World Day of Peace (January 1, 2011):


My thoughts turn in a special way to the beloved country of Iraq, which continues to be a theatre of violence and strife as it makes its way towards a future of stability and reconciliation. I think of the recent sufferings of the Christian community, and in particular the reprehensible attack on the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baghdad, where on 31 October two priests and over fifty faithful were killed as they gathered for the celebration of Holy Mass. In the days that followed, other attacks ensued, even on private homes, spreading fear within the Christian community and a desire on the part of many to emigrate in search of a better life. I assure them of my own closeness and that of the entire Church, a closeness which found concrete expression in the recent Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. The Synod encouraged the Catholic communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East to live in communion and to continue to offer a courageous witness of faith in those lands.

I offer heartfelt thanks to those Governments which are working to alleviate the sufferings of these, our brothers and sisters in the human family, and I ask all Catholics for their prayers and support for their brethren in the faith who are victims of violence and intolerance. In this context, I have felt it particularly appropriate to share some reflections on religious freedom as the path to peace. It is painful to think that in some areas of the world it is impossible to profess one’s religion freely except at the risk of life and personal liberty. In other areas we see more subtle and sophisticated forms of prejudice and hostility towards believers and religious symbols. At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith. Many Christians experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom. This situation is unacceptable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity; furthermore, it is a threat to security and peace, and an obstacle to the achievement of authentic and integral human development.[1]

Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood. To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family.

For this reason, I implore all men and women of good will to renew their commitment to building a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, and to express their love of God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind (cf. Mt 22:37). This is the sentiment which inspires and directs this Message for the XLIV World Day of Peace, devoted to the theme: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.

Read the rest here.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

This message (which I read in full) is Freemasonic, heretical claptrap! There are a few points which are technically correct, but they are grossly undermined by false, humanistic principles and a denial of certain principles of the Natural Law. The letter is full of logical fallacies and bald assertions.

This is a radical departure from traditional Catholic teaching and not only cannot be defended, but must be positively opposed as injurious to the rights of God and the Truth of the Natural Law and the Catholic Faith.

Anonymous said...

Here in Canada we now have an impressive influx of Muslims. Before the Trade Center bombing, it was hard to find even one covering her face. Now many of them do.

I am wondering why the P.M. of Canada, given this Dominion's provisons for refugees, cannot simply invite a huge contingent of Iraqi Christians to come here. Being killed while trying to worship does tend to qualify as a form of persecution. It seems at times as if refugee provisions are for all refugees except those who are Christian.

P.K.T.P.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know if this is considered a binding teaching document or not? I'm not sure.

In any event, it certainly seems to be a ringing re-affirmation of the core developed teaching of Second Vatican Council's Dignitatis Humanae. I cannot say I fully understand the dearth of regard for objective religious truth, which now seems continually absent from the Holy See's teaching.

We've come a long way from Quanta Cura, Immortale Dei, Quas Primas and Ci Riesce. Sad.

Anonymous said...

I believe this is an issue where many traditionalists err. Freedom of religion is an important principle precisely because, in almost all of the world, it is a principal that serves Catholicism. To argue that freedom of religion is against Catholic doctrine because it will undermine the Catholic state is absurd and anachronistic, since Catholic states no longer exist except in name only. Catholics in China, the Muslim world, India and, increasingly, the West need freedom to practice the Faith.

Gideon Ertner said...

"Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood."

Nope, I still don't quite get it. He is clearly speaking specifically here of the right of Christians to profess their religion freely, but... does this hold for all religious freedom? Even the freedom to engage in suicide cults? Even the freedom to worship Satan? Do these things also "allow us to direct our personal and social life to God"?

.. said...

So Catholic states throughout history that practiced the Traditional view of state recognized Catholicism and repression of false public worship were creating an unjust society that failed to take into account the true nature of the human person? Oh, they also stifled the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family. Who knew?

wheat4paradise said...

... Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace ...

Is that sound that I hear the rending of many garments? I thought that it was.

Religious freedom is the path to peace especially and ultimately insofar as it is the path leading to a free acceptance of Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church. We have no real reason to assume that the Holy Father means anything different in the final analysis.

wheat4paradise said...

Yes, it's buried deep, but it is there:

The path to take is not the way of relativism or religious syncretism. The Church, in fact, “proclaims, and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6); in Christ, in whom God reconciled all things to himself, people find the fullness of the religious life”. Yet this in no way excludes dialogue and the common pursuit of truth in different areas of life, since, as Saint Thomas Aquinas would say, “every truth, whoever utters it, comes from the Holy Spirit”.

Even those who use their God-given freedom to turn away from God (as the Pope acknowledges earlier in his message) are capable of uttering truth, which comes from the Holy Spirit whether the atheist knows it or not. Where there is even a little sliver of light, there is hope, hope that such persons will redirect their freedom and climb closer to the True Light, Jesus Christ.

wheat4paradise said...

Yes, "...", we might do well to reconsider whether the supression of false public worship was justified in the eyes of God, unless such worship was contrary to reason. We are not bound by the Faith to accept the validity of every practice of past Catholic states.

Gideon Ertner, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that it is unjust for the State to supress any religion that is not contrary to reason. Satanic covens and suicide cults are obviously contrary to reason and their suppression is just and wise.

Andrew said...

In ideal practice, maybe the idea of religious freedom serves Catholics well, but that is not the reality nor does it touch the actual issues that "traditionalists" find troublesome.

The traditional idea was basically that the freedom to practice religion was based on a certain interplay between truth and the fact that one cannot be forced to believe or practice the truth. Thus, of course Catholics have the right and freedom (even if not given them in practice) to practice the Catholic faith because it is the True Faith. Those who practice false religions (and that means all of them that are not Catholic) do not have any actual right to practice their false religion because error has no rights. They do, however, have the right to not be coerced into joining the Church. The State (assuming it is Catholic) has the right (but not duty) to suppress especially public practice displays of their false religions because they (the State) have a duty to protect the common good-which is ultimately that men get to heaven. False religion really does nothing to get men to heaven, and is usually detrimental to that goal. False religious practice may be tolerated (note the word use-tolerated, toleration implies no positive right to exist) in order to preserve a more immediate common good, i.e. peace.

A certain "universal toleration" could certainly be advocated in today's world considering the situation we find ourselves in.

As to why we do not have any Catholic confessional states anymore, ask circa 1965 Rome that question...

Anonymous said...

I have some unease about this Papal message. While no one should be coerced or forced to accept a religion they do want to accept there is a problem. Words like "truth" etc ignore the obvious. Islam is false and many religions are false. How can the Pope claim Christians have to tolerate or accept false religions which also make claims to "truth" be allowed to have a public and open expression causing citizens to also accept false religion. While no one can be cooerced a moral conscience can be badly formed and accept falsity as truth. In Christian countries this is a recipe for civic chaos. It also allows religions that are violent a place they should not be allowed. I think the Pope has also contrdicted previous popes.

wheat4paradise said...

The traditional idea was basically that the freedom to practice religion was based on a certain interplay between truth and the fact that one cannot be forced to believe or practice the truth.

St. Thomas Aquinas (a good source of traditional ideas) teaches not only that one cannot be forced into accepting the Catholic Faith, but also that one cannot be prevented by force from the free exercise of one's own religious beliefs, even false beliefs, so long as those beliefs are not contrary to reason. The teaching of Vatican II on religious liberty and the message of Benedict XVI are consistent with the teaching of the Angelic Doctor, although not necessarily consistent with the practices of past Catholic states. It would be wise to take our cue from the former.

Gideon Ertner said...

"St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that it is unjust for the State to supress any religion that is not contrary to reason."

Can you cite where St. Thomas teaches this? The Church has long held that a Catholic state has a right to combat the enemies of the true Faith by just means. St. Augustine believed this when he allowed the Roman authorities to use force against the Donatists (although that was, I think, an extreme situation). And St. Thomas himself argued that it was just for the State to condemn heretics to death (IIa IIae xi art. 3). In IIa IIae x art. 11 he teaches: "...the rites of other unbelievers [viz., than the Jews], which are neither truthful nor profitable are by no means to be tolerated, except perchance in order to avoid an evil, e.g. the scandal or disturbance that might ensue, or some hindrance to the salvation of those who if they were unmolested might gradually be converted to the faith."

Mind you, the Church also teaches that Atheism is contrary to reason.

Anonymous said...

The problem with "Dignitatis Humanae" for not a few Catholics is the apparent contradiction between that document and pre-conciliar teaching. An excellent summary can be found on the blog "Unam Sanctum":

"The 'Apparent' Contradiction

"A non-Catholic possesses a natural right not to be prevented from the public expression of error, limited only by the just requirements of public order (the teaching of Dignitatis humanae; see especially article 2).

"A non-Catholic does not possess a natural right not to be prevented from the public expression of error, limited only by the just requirements of public order (the teaching of the pre-Vatican II popes; see especially 'Quanta cura' and the Syllabus of Errors of Pope Pius IX, 'Immortale Dei' and 'Libertas humana' of Pope Leo XIII, 'Vehementer nos' of Pope St. Pius X, 'Quas primas' of Pope Pius XI, and 'Ci riesce' of Pope Pius XII)."

The post-conciliar Magisterium has never attempted to address this apparent discrepancy. Until it does,Catholics are free to point out the apparent contradiction and question the validity of this "development" found in a document of a Council that never intended to articulate new doctrine.

Even the Magisterium cannot bind the Faithful to an apparent contradiction.

Giles

oremusrob said...

Question for All: Prior to Second Vatican Council, was there a distinction, in either teaching or practice, between a religion that could be completely suppressed by a Catholic state versus a religion that was to be allowed to exist on a private basis but could not have public expression in a Catholic state?

Matthew said...

I read the entire sermon, and it appears to me that the Holy Father is addressing the issues of persecuted Christians first and foremost. The religious freedom he talks about in most paragraphs is directed towards the freedom of Christians. In other paragraphs it seems when he talks about freedom of all religions, he is pitting that against governments where atheism is enforced. So certainly tolerating false religions is better than accepting a government that is atheistic.

Jordanes said...

Prior to Second Vatican Council, was there a distinction, in either teaching or practice, between a religion that could be completely suppressed by a Catholic state versus a religion that was to be allowed to exist on a private basis but could not have public expression in a Catholic state?

Yes. Judaism.

oremusrob said...

Jordanes,

Could you elaborate a little on what I gather you're saying, that there was a distinction between how the Church viewed and treated Judaism compared to other religions?

Anonymous said...

To quote the favorite maxim of Cdl. Ottaviani, "Error non gaudet jus."

Anonymous said...

To oremusrob: "Prior to Second Vatican Council, was there a distinction, ...?" I do not know if there was such distinction in the official teaching, but Bp. Ketteler, ordinary of Mainz in 19th c., made such distinction between atheist or pagan view and what some call "ethical monotheism". For the latter, he, in the case of a de facto multiconfessional society, required rather broad religious freedom. As far as I know he was never censured.

"We have to insist upon the limits of religious freedom referred to earlier, whereby it is an abuse of that freedom if the state, under the guise of religious freedom, tolerates sects which deny the existence of a personal God, or which jeopardize morality. Such conduct stands in open contradiction to the obligations of civil authority, first of all by virtue of the origin of civil authority. Ultimately, all authority comes from God, and therefore, there can be no more flagrant abuse of that authority than to tolerate the denial of God. Secondly, the ultimate goal of civil authority sets certain limits. That goal is to preserve peace and justice on earth, and neither of these is possible without morality; and morality is impossible without fear of the Lord."

For longer excerpts of his work, see (and links therein):

http://opuscula.blogspot.com/2008/07/on-religious-freedom-part-i.html