Pope Benedict critiques secular hostility and restrictions of religious freedom

In his message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI set the importance of religious freedom for world peace in the context of increasing persecution, discrimination, violence and intolerance against the Church and Catholics.

It is a rich and powerful message and I recommend that readers of Protect the Pope spend time in this New Year studying and reflecting on the whole message. I want to highlight points the Holy Fathers makes that speak to our situation in the UK and other western countries.

Pope Benedict refers to the religious intolerance in Europe and the West when he writes:

‘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.’

The Holy Father’s reference to hostility to religious symbols obviously refers to the EU’s attempts to ban the Crucifix from public buildings.

He goes on to challenge those secularists who are seeking to restrict religious faith to the private sphere, driving it from the public square, which, for example, we see in a recent book by Baroness Warnock:

‘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.’

Pope Benedict goes on to criticise the secular concept of freedom as not being capable of safe-guarding respect for others:

‘A freedom which is hostile or indifferent to God becomes self-negating and does not guarantee full respect for others. A will which believes itself radically incapable of seeking truth and goodness has no objective reasons or motives for acting save those imposed by its fleeting and contingent interests; it does not have an “identity” to safeguard and build up through truly free and conscious decisions. As a result, it cannot demand respect from other “wills”, which are themselves detached from their own deepest being and thus capable of imposing other “reasons” or, for that matter, no “reason” at all.’

It is a tenet of secularism that the removal of religious language, concepts, and symbols from public discourse is the only way of creating a tolerant, respectful and free society.  This false belief of secularism not only demands that religious believers deny the most important part of themselves in their social life but its also causes division and conflict:

‘The illusion that moral relativism provides the key for peaceful coexistence is actually the origin of divisions and the denial of the dignity of human beings. Hence we can see the need for recognition of a twofold dimension within the unity of the human person: a religious dimension and a social dimension. In this regard, “it is inconceivable that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights…whenever religious freedom is denied, and attempts are made to hinder people from professing their religion or faith and living accordingly, human dignity is offended, with a resulting threat to justice and peace, which are grounded in that right social order established in the light of Supreme Truth and Supreme Goodness.’

Furthermore, Pope Benedict highlights the importance of politics and the law in safeguarding religious freedom at at time when the political and legal establishment in the UK are gradually dismantling our religious freedoms:

‘  Religious freedom is, in this sense, also an achievement of a sound political and juridical culture. It is an essential good: each person must be able freely to exercise the right to profess and manifest, individually or in community, his or her own religion or faith, in public and in private, in teaching, in practice, in publications, in worship and in ritual observances. There should be no obstacles should he or she eventually wish to belong to another religion or profess none at all. In this context, international law is a model and an essential point of reference for states, insofar as it allows no derogation from religious freedom, as long as the just requirements of public order are observed. The international order thus recognizes that rights of a religious nature have the same status as the right to life and to personal freedom, as proof of the fact that they belong to theessential core of human rights, to those universal and natural rights which human law can never deny.’

Pope Benedict also makes the point that religious fundamentalism and secularism are similar in that they both seek to suppress valid plurality in society. During the run up to the Holy Father’s visit it became clear that the National Secular Society promoted a form of secular fundamentalism that was unable to acknowledge any good or value in Pope Benedict or the Catholic Church. Its leaders came over as anti-Catholic fanatics.

‘It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity. Both absolutize a reductive and partial vision of the human person, favouring in the one case forms of religious integralism and, in the other, of rationalism. A society that would violently impose or, on the contrary, reject religion is not only unjust to individuals and to God, but also to itself. God beckons humanity with a loving plan that, while engaging the whole person in his or her natural and spiritual dimensions, calls for a free and responsible answer which engages the whole heart and being, individual and communitarian.’


23 comments to Pope Benedict critiques secular hostility and restrictions of religious freedom

  • Serge

    All these “hostilities” are unfounded. And yet no one stands up, I mean besides the Pope, no one, no bishops of local churches of many countries, stand up against those “laïcisists”, those fanatics of secularism, that put on some kind of a throne secularity and are inventing laws to put down religions, and especially the Catholic Religion as anti-human, or at least something that ought to be totally disregarded. No humanist, I mean real humanist is doing anything. Yet christianity has humanized the world from the first centuries of christianity to the last couple of decades. Meanwhile, those “laïcisists” or “secular idealists” disregard automatically the rights of freedom of religion, and look at religious people as people that deserve to be put in asylums or, much better, to be eliminated. And no one reacts. And no one acts. Just words of good wish. No strength, no real concrete acts. Every religious people behave like sheep awaiting, like the Jews of the second world war, to be put in concentration camps and be eradicated from the surface of the world. So nice to see how people don’t learn from History.

    What is mankind waiting for???

    This week I saw the French movie “La raffle” showing how French propaganda collaborating with Hitler’s Nazis was portraying Jews as “vermine” and as it would be a “bon débarras”, a good thing that France get rid of Jews, at least the ones who were not “native” to France.

    Today, all over the world, secular/laïcists idealists talk as they are the beholders of Truth, a Truth that tells that Religion, and especially Catholic religion, is something that MUST be pushed back to the private domain and be disregarded of the social and political, democratic life. As a matter of facts, those secular/laïcists idealists have in the last couple of decades slowly bent democracy into totalitarism. And no one have stand up to tell those freaks to go away.

    Everyone is rather accepting that, as if they are are fascinated under the gaze of a snake, paralyzed, as poor preys, waiting for the snake to open wide its mouth and swallow them. Every one is accepting that those freaks, insane, witless and less of a human intelligence people lead the world into the worst nightmare of human history. Worse than WWII. Sometimes, witnessing that, it makes me sick. And if it was not for the words of Jesus Christ guaranteeing that the Church would prevail, and if it was not that in prayer I find peace of mind and confidence, I would lose hope forever.

    • louella

      Very well said Serge. I agree with everything you said. Yes…Christianity did humanise the world. Look at the barbaric godless pagan world we live in today…..with so little love and civilisation. It is just a whited sepulchre that looks nice on the outside but rotten within….And very bad things are going to happen in the near future because Christianity is today so weak….and Satan is so strong.

      • Serge

        Oups, Louella, I never intended to mean that “Christianity is today so weak…. and Satan is so strong”. Christianity is today strongly attacked with means never used before. But Christianity is strong of the strength of Jesus Christ Himself who vanquished the World. And as for Satan: it is a fallen creature. I just wanted to share somehow my emotions on seeing the stupid behavior that are coming back stronger only after a few decades of the horrors of WWII. And also hoped that someone could bring some light in finding reasons why the world is currently so blind again. Even of our Holy Father is very intelligently and kindly describing all the consequences of a world that rejects God and religion might have to face.

        • louella

          Yes….but I mean the Christian faith is weak in Christians today and they are not faithful to Christ. In many cases….they are Christian in name only. That is what I meant :)

  • sam

    There are a couple of points I have to disagree with, first of all Christianity didn’t humanize the world, indeed the treaty of Milan which was before the rise in Christianity was bought about in a mainly pagan society, this treaty guaranteed no discrimination against any religion, this was when paganism was very popular and worshiped in the roman empire. Indeed one of the first religious wars was between Constantine and licineous pagan vs christian, east vs west empire. Constantines sister married licineous when both were allies to defeat dia, constantine gave mercy to licineous then in true fashion murdered him and his child. Also don’t be fooled into believing Germany was a godless state, indeed all the army and the s.s wore on the belt buckles god is with us. They had many chaplains etc in the army and in mein kampf Hitler refers to god many a time. Some religous officials spoke out bravely and were heroic, however many did not and went along with the nazis just as many atheists did as well.

    • louella

      Fascism is an atheist political ideology…..that depended on Christian support. This must never happen again. Christians must never again support any secular atheist agenda. That is why I support the establishement of a Catholic State….so that Christians have an alternative to supporting godless ideologies and agendas.

    • Karla

      Regarding the treaty of Milan, Constantine converted to Christianity before he signed it.

      Paganism did not bring about modern science, universities, schools, charities, hospitals.

      But the question is which God? There where photos released of the Christmas party that the Nazis had in 1941 I think and Hitler made sure there was a statue of Odin there and a Swastika at the top of the tree. These where pagans influenced by Darwin and Nietzsche.

    • Serge

      Christianity did humanize the world more than any political institution in the history of mankind, as Karla pointed it out. Even if you sum up all the non-christian institutions in all history. They don’t come close to what Jesus Christ and His Church have brought to mankind. If you dare reading history without the “atheists glasses and endoctrined propaganda against the Church” you cannot negate that fact. And when I write “humanize”, just to make it clear, I mean make humans better than they were before being positively influenced and emancipated by the revelation that Jesus Christ made of who we human beings are and are predestined to. We are predestined to communion and life with divine eternal love: God. It is to the opposite side of self auto determination, selfish egocentrism that separate people from one another, divide them, despise them, kill them… And unfortunately it seems that today’s world is seeing that as being better and more cherish-able than the love of God! That leads to de-humanization! A monstrosity as nazism and communism. Mankind negating itself. What a pity!

  • SpeSalvi23

    Ok… since we had to pick up the Germany story once again…
    I really don’t advise ANYBODY to call himself an expert on what happened in Germany between 1933-1945, unless that person is also an expert of German psyche and mentality, which is really, extremely complex.
    Whoever went along with the Nazis for whatever reason; and why whomever did or did not stand up against them, is to be differentiated from case to case and cannot be thrown into a discussion like that.

    Even though some Catholic clerics went along, also for serving as military chaplains which seems to have been their duty at the time of war, the majority did not.
    Look up Cardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen (the Lion of Münster) and Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber for some references of high profile Clerics who were very outspoken against the regime.
    Cardinal von Faulhaber actually ordained Joseph Ratzinger in 1951.

    The Nazi regime was planning the systematic destruction of Christianity in Germany, after their Endlösung for the Jews would have been completed.
    They tolerated Christian worship for the time being, but in the long run, they were not going to accept a parallel magisterium, ruled from Rome, to theirs.

    I assume the god most members of the SS were referring to on their belt buckles was either Thor or Odin, or some Austrian bloke with a mustache.

    No doubt Adolf Hitler was insane. Brilliant in some perverted ways… but clearly insane.
    At some point he probably thought that he was actually chosen by God to restore order to the world and exterminate the Jews.
    What a nutcase!

    • Serge

      I don’t think anyone here is claiming to be an expert of nazism.

      As for your statement “Whoever went along with the Nazis for whatever reason; and why whomever did or did not stand up against them, is to be differentiated from case to case and cannot be thrown into a discussion like that.” I disagree a bit with you. We ought to learn from history. And actually Benedict XVI is doing is very best to remind us of the errors of related to that past, and he is coming again and again to remind mankind to avoid repeating the same mistake that is appearing in a different “fabric”, a different “garment”, a different ideology wrapped in different words and ideas but which have twisted truth and reality and difformed it in an as dangerous manner as nazism and communism did in the past, before they thought justified to conquer and dominate the world and submit people.

      Although we cannot, as you say accuse people without digging into a case by case investigation, we must recognize, as the Pope points out, that there are signs of a new totalitarism raising. And my original comment was just a questioning of why the majority of people is letting this happen again.

      What does it take to wake us all?

  • Tim H

    The crucifix on public buildings issue is of course a largely symbolic issue because the presence or absent of a wooden cross on the wall of a town hall or court room doesn’t really have much practical relevance but I do think that it illustrates an important point.

    The important question at state is “to whom do these public buildings belong?” “who are they for”. Surely the answer is “everyone” and if you display a crucifix you are sending the message that this is a Christian town, a Christian council, a Christian court and that may not in fact be true. Personally, I can’t get very excited about crucifixes in town halls and don’t have any real objections. I am mostly prepared to shrug them off and not worry too much about them and I wouldn’t want to ignore the fact that our secular culture, our law etc, owes a lot, both good and bad, to Christianity and it is therefore possible to argue that crucifixes merely represent an acknowledgement of that part of our history (and knocking the crosses off the finials of the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand would be an act of Cromwellian vandalism) .

    But the problem is that once you allow Christian symbols, is there any moral or legal reason why you should not be obliged to display the symbols of other religions too? In Tower Hamlets town hall it is not impossible to imagine that the day where symbols of radical Islam will be displayed (and women forced to veil on entry) will not be too far away. That would, in my view be a disaster for the Christian, atheists and especially the Jews living in that part of London. Would it not be easier to resist that day if we have a strong tradition in this country or making our public buildings secular spaces? At the moment as soon as we criticise Tower Hamlets for turning itself into a Muslim theocracy, we get the reply “well Bideford council in Devon is a Christian council because they start their meetings with Christian prayers so we ought to be allowed to do the same in “our” council”. Whilst public displays of Christianity are in most cases fairly harmless, they do lay the foundations for an increase in power by arguably less benign forms of religion.

    • louella

      Let’s face it Tim…..secularists are the big bosses now. And a bad job you are doing of it! Islam is on the march…and you and your secularism won’t withstand their determination or birthrates. Secularists have brought destruction on themselves. And it couldn’t happen to a more deserving people.

      And if Catholicism doesn’t rise in response to rising Islam and declining secularism….then prepare for Sharia.

    • Serge

      Hi Tim,

      Pope Benedict said, in that same discourse: “There also exist – as I have said – more sophisticated forms of hostility to religion which, in Western countries, occasionally find expression in a denial of history and the rejection of religious symbols which reflect the identity and the culture of the majority of citizens. Often these forms of hostility also foster hatred and prejudice; they are inconsistent with a serene and balanced vision of pluralism and the secularity of institutions, to say nothing of the fact that coming generations risk losing contact with the priceless spiritual heritage of their countries.


      What happens when a society turns its back to his own history? And try to reinvent a new society without past? Because this is what is being attempted here, right? There is attempt to erase the roots of the tree that provided the fruits, the aliments to give strength and courage and wisdom to build a good and noble society.

      Very often the argument that is brought forward is that the crucifix appearance in public places irritates the sensitivity of some people, usually a minority, sometimes the whole affair is brought about by one person. And in the name of tolerance and care of individual sensitivities, there are attempts to pass laws to promulgate intolerance to symbols that are part of a society’s true history and culture.

      When there is such incoherence from a group of persons trying to pass laws that really don’t make sense, that should ring a bell of warning in the consciousness of people and wake them up and brace against that new breed of totalitarians emerging, when there is still time and democracy still exists in that society.

      It is not, as you put it, only a matter of “to whom these public buildings belong”, it is a matter of why are we attempting to erase from our culture a symbol that is still dear to the majority, or at least a very vast number, of people who are still rooted in their history. Is it for the sake of a number of idealist who hate their past and want to forget it and create a new future out of their own mind, with a very high possibility to commit the same mistakes that it took centuries to learn from and avoid??? You really want to repeat that?

      Also by removing the crucifix from public building of a society that grew with it, you’re pushing back in the realm of private life a dimension of human life that ought to be expressed in society, politically and socially.

      There is a tendency to “globalize” the world, make one big Nation of all Nations and erase all nationalities, national histories, it is to the macro dimension what totalitarian societies are doing to individuals in the micro dimension: they erase individualities, persons, in the name of the State who becomes all powerful and dominant and then is in perfect position to subdue their members into doing what they want.

      It is strange that people question why the Pope talks like that, why worry of the disappearance of the crucifix in public buildings, in schools etc… It is much more strange to me that so few people, especially people of your intelligence, Tim, do not question why those secularists (a minority) believe they have such right to lead the rest of society (a majority) in negating fundamental rights of religion expression in a society whose roots have been for so many centuries religious. And where do they want to lead the society? What is their agenda? Why don’t you ask, Tim? And once those secularists do publish their agenda, will it be that much better than the Christian agenda? I really doubt it.

      • Tim H

        Serge. I do share you concerns about a society that turns away from its history but at the same time a country cannot remain stuck in its past forever (and if we had kept to our traditions too closely we would never have become a Christian country in the first place). The only solution is to adopt a middle comprise course. If you read the post on which you commented you will see that I am not advocating the distruction of crucafixes of historical significance or their complete ellimination. I am perfectly at ease with the retention of the vast majority of Christian symbols in the country. My argument is that we should not seek to give *special* protection to religious symbols (for the sole reason that they are religious symbols) because such protection will in the intersts of fairness give protection to symbols which many people (including many Christians) find much more problematic than a few crusifixes.

        I recognise that such a position will sometimes lead to difficult compromises (and sometimes easy complimises like the removable wooden cross in many municipal crematoria), but I suspect that we will be able to reach those compromises much more easily in the UK than in other countries because the wholesale display of crusafixes is not so much a part of our civic heritage as it is in other countries anyway.

    • Serge

      As an exemple of where the secularists leading a government can go and how crazy they can behave:


      This is in the province of Quebec, where I live. It will be forbidden to teach or talk or explain religious symbols that are still tolerated in those places. Those symbols are tolerated, but if the kids ask what they represent, and the people working there answer to the kids about their signification, the daycare center where that happened will have its subsidies cut! The government is preparing to hire a number of additional “inspectors” to run all around Quebec to ensure that kids are not taught anything about religion in those daycare centers subsidized by the government.

      Under that very dear government ( irony! ;-> ), a couple of years ago was introduced a new course: ÉCR (éthique et culture religieuse – Ethics and Religious Culture) that is enforced to all students from the beginning of primary school to the end of secondary. The goal, said the Ministry of Culture was to develop citizen that are tolerant in a multicultural environment. But it had zero tolerance for the parents that wanted their children to be exempted. And this new law shows how intolerant our secularist government is of religion. And that new law is not only against the Catholic Religion but against all religions.

      The teaching of religion, the transmission of faith is not of the State domain, it is of the parent’s domain. But a secularist, totalitarian government such as the one currently in place in Quebec (and other governments will follow also because it is not a line of party but an ideology of the secularists that are in the different parties), just wants to cut religious culture out of religious people by relativizing religion and moving its expressions out of the public domain. They want to eradicate religion’s influence out of society.

      This is intolerance at its best and totalitarism, Tim.

      • Tim H

        ” the transmission of faith is not of the State domain”

        I agree absolutely. That is a sound secular principle.

        Re. the ECR course in Quebec, I have no knowledge of the politics of that Province, but I think that there is a very importance difference between being taught religion (“the transmission of faith”) and being taught about religion (“muslims believe… Christians believe…, Hindus believe…The cross on the wall up there is a symbol Christians use to remind themselves of the story in the Bible about when Jesus was killed on the cross”). I assume ECR is an attempt to teach kids about religions and cultures and wouldn’t see any problem with that myself.

  • sam

    Nazism didn’t rise out of people not caring for humanity at all. Nazism was based on paganism a lot, however the common man in Germany was christian so it would be difficult to argue they were worshiping Thor etc.
    I don’t think the Nazis would have obliterated the church, it would have been too far, they had been forced to back down over sterilisng people with certain medical conditions, indeed many priests were brave but many weren’t, there were even churches with Nazi symbols carved in, how many i don’t know but I saw that on a history documentary.

    I hold a belief that actually Christianity didn’t change a lot except make a many gods empire into a one god empire through an emperor (a tyrannical dictator). The Greeks came before Christianity and they had many learned people through forums etc.

  • sam

    The fact is what many people fail to recognise is that because of secularism people of a belief have a right not to be discriminated against and to protect that right to faith. Personally I have no faith and if living in a religious state with religious rules I would run.

  • Karolina

    All those people that are trying to remove the crucifix from public places ought to actually look at them. The crucifix is not like other religious symbols. I mean, just look at what it is: here is a figure of a man suffering unfathomable agony, both spiritual and physical. He has been scourged, crowned with thorns, mocked, beaten, insulted, crushed with the heavy burden of the cross, nailed to it, and is being executed in the most horrible manner imaginable as if he were the most vile criminal in the entire history of the world! And what is his crime? His crime is his too great love for mankind! Here is the expression of God’s infinite love and tender mercy for His poor creatures. Even if you do not believe in God, if you were to look at a crucifix, and I mean really look, who among us would not be moved to tears to see so much love and so much agony for the sake of the beloved? The crucifix can teach us to value human life and to put ourselves at the service of others, even at the cost of our own lives, rather than the “me-first” mentality of society, where its every man for himself. I think that those persons who find the crucifix a disturbance and that it offends their sensibilities are really just uncomfortable with themselves. If you love yourself more than anything else in the world, wouldn’t you feel uncomfortable with seeing the most selfless act of love ever committed? And if you wanted to stifle your conscience, wouldn’t you want to remove the cause? I don’t see how a crucifix, a symbol of compassion and mercy, and be harmful to society unless that society was bent on selfish personal gain at the expense of others.

    • Tim H

      Karolina, Thanks for your post (which I actually found rather moving). Your argument does however look rather like special pleading for your religious symbol being privileged over those of other people. And if we believe in equality for all people, that won’t do.

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