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January 14 2011 £1.20 (Republic of Ireland €1.70)
Religious freedom is threatened all over the world, says Pope Benedict
BY CINDY WOODEN IN ROME AND SIMON CALDWELL
POPE BENEDICT XVI has made a bold defence of religious liberty, condemning attacks on the rights of worshippers in Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria, China and the western world.
Highlighting an international crisis, the Pope argued that religious freedom and religious diversity were not threats to society and should not be a source of conflict.
The Pope asked the diplomatic representatives of 178 countries to examine how well their own countries respect the right of individuals to believe, to act in accordance with their conscience, to assemble for worship and to carry out the educational and social projects their faith inspires.
In his speech on Monday Pope Benedict continued his Christmas focus on the link between religious liberty and authentic peace and on threats to religious freedom in democracies as well as in countries notorious for violating human rights.
Once again he denounced attacks on Christians in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, describing them as signs of the urgent need for government to adopt effective methods of protecting religious minorities. He also voiced concern about the recent renewal of Chinese government restrictions on Catholics there.
Condemning the murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, the Pope said Pakistan must overturn its blasphemy law, which makes insulting Mohammed or the Koran punishable by death.
Mr Taseer was shot by a guard because he supported the move to abrogate the law under which Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was sentenced to death after she was accused a blasphemy by a group of women with whom she had earlier argued. She insists the accusations are false.
“I once more encourage the leaders of that country to take the necessary steps to abrogate that law, all the more so because it is clear that it serves as a pretext for acts of injustice and violence against religious minorities,” the Pope said.
“The tragic murder of the governor of Punjab shows the urgent need to make progress in this direction the worship of God fur
Pope Benedict XVI talks to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See during his ‘state of the world’ address at the Vatican on Monday AP Photo thers fraternity and love, not hatred and division.”
The Pope’s analysis of the plight of Christians in Muslim countries triggered an immediate hostile response in Pakistan, where Muslims claimed they had been insulted, and from the Egyptian government, which the following day recalled its ambassador to consult him over Benedict’s “unacceptable interference in its internal affairs”.
Pope Benedict told diplomats that when believers are free to practise their faith, society benefits from an increase in upright behaviour, respect for others and solidarity with the poor and weak.
Discussing threats to full religious freedom in western democracies, the Pope expressed concern about efforts to push religion to the margins of public life and about situations in which citizens are denied the right to act in accordance with their religious convictions.
He said: “I think in the first place of countries which accord great importance to pluralism and tolerance, but where religion is increasingly being marginalised.
“There is a tendency to consider religion, all religion, as something insignificant, alien or even destabilising to modern society and to attempt by different means to prevent it from having any influence on the life of society.
“ Christians are even required at times to act in the exercise of their profession with no reference to their religious and moral convic
OUR COMMENT Can we do anything more than look on aghast? Yes, we can pray that the world will experience a new expansion of religious freedom Editorial Comment: Page 13
tions and even in opposition to them, as for example where laws are enforced limiting the right to conscientious objection on the part of healthcare or legal professionals.”
The Pope said another sign of the marginalisation of religion, and of Christianity in particular, was “the banning of religious feasts and symbols from civic life under the guise of respect for the members of other religions or those who are not believers”.
He said: “By acting in this way, not only is the right of believers to the public expression of their faith restricted, but an attack is made on the cultural roots which nourish the profound identity and social cohesion of many nations.”
The Vatican has insisted on the right of Catholic healthcare workers, including pharmacists, not to be involved in abortions or other procedures that violate Church teaching on the right to life.
Fr Federico Lombardi, the papal spokesman, said the Pope’s reference to conscientious objection in the legal profession referred to the right of Catholic lawyers and judges to refuse to participate in cases involving adoption by gay couples, for example.
Pope Benedict also condemned educational programmes that want to “mandate obligatory participation in courses of sexual or civic education” with content opposed to Catholic teaching. Church leaders and Catholic parents in Spain, for example, have objected to a public school curriculum that presents homosexuality and abortion in a positive light.
The Pope told the diplomats that there is no such thing as a “scale of degrees of religious intolerance” whereby a certain amount is acceptable.
“Unfortunately, such an attitude is frequently found and it is precisely acts of discrimination against Christians which are considered less grave and less worthy of attention on the part of governments and public opinion”, he said.
“At the same time, there is a need to reject the dangerous notion of a conflict between the right to religious freedom and other human rights, thus disregarding or denying the central role of respect for religious freedom in the defence and protection of fundamental human dignity.
“Even less justifiable are attempts to counter the right of religious freedom with other alleged new rights which, while actively promoted by certain sectors of society and inserted in national legislation or in international directives, are nonetheless merely the expression of selfish desires lacking a foundation in authentic human nature.“
The Pope explained that “humanity throughout history, in its beliefs and rituals, demonstrates a constant search for God and... the religious dimension is an undeniable and irrepressible feature of man’s being and acting, the measure of the fulfilment of his destiny and of the building up of the community to which he belongs”.
The Pope said: “Consequently, when the individual himself or those around him neglect or deny this fundamental dimension, imbalances and conflicts arise at all levels, both personal and interpersonal.”
He said: “The right to religious freedom... is indeed the first of human rights, not only because it was historically the first to be recognised but also because it touches the constitutive dimension of man, his relation with his Creator. Yet is this fundamental human right not all too often called into question or violated?
He added: “I would like once more to state forcefully that religion does not represent a problem for society, that it is not a source of discord or conflict. I would repeat that the Church seeks no privileges, nor does she seek to intervene in areas unrelated to her mission, but simply to exercise the latter with freedom.”
SSPX leader criticises Pope’s plan to hold inter-religious meeting
BY ANNA ARCO
THE LEADER of the Society of St Pius X has expressed anger at Pope Benedict’s decision to hold another inter-religious meeting at Assisi. Weeks after Bishop Bernard Fellay said he was feeling optimistic about union with Rome this year, the Superior General of the SSPX said he was deeply indignant about the Pope’s invitation to religious leaders around the world to join him in Assisi.
Preaching on the Epiphany, Bishop Fellay said: “Yes, we are deeply indignant, we vehemently protest against this repetition of the days at Assisi. Everything that we have said, everything that Archbishop Lefebvre had said at the time of the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi in 1986, we repeat in our own name. It is evident, my dear brothers, that such a thing demands reparation. What a mystery!”
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the SSPX,
complained about the first World Day of Prayer for Peace. He said the Church had never before been “humiliated to such an extent in the course of her history”. He told John Paul II that “the scandal given to Catholic souls cannot be measured. The Church is shaken to its very foundations”.
Pope Benedict told pilgrims at the first Angelus of the year that he would travel to Assisi in October to mark the 25th anniversary of the day. He said: “I will make a pilgrimage to the town of St Francis, inviting my Christian brethren of different confessions, leaders of the world’s religious traditions and, in their hearts, all men and women of good will, to join me on this journey in order to commemorate that important historical gesture of my predecessor, and solemnly to renew the commitment of believers of all religions to live their religious faith as a service to the cause of peace.”
Cardinal holds open meeting about crisis
English actor to play ‘warrior priest’
BY STAFF REPORTER
CARDINAL Cormac MurphyO’Connor has held the first of a series of public meetings in Ireland as part of the Apostolic Visitation which began last week.
Twelve people spoke at a 70-minute meeting in Drogheda in the Armagh archdiocese. The meeting was chaired by Cardinal MurphyO’Connor and is the first of three public meetings in the wake of the clerical abuse scandal. He was accompanied by Mgr Mark O’Toole, the rector of Allen Hall seminary in London and Dr Sheila Hollins, a professor of the British Board of Psychiatry .
The Cardinal, Mgr O’Toole and Dr Hollins addressed the gathering of approximately 100 people. According to a report in the Irish Times, Mgr O’Toole explained that the visitors were there to listen and work out “what was there in the past in the Church in Ireland that allowed this abuse scandal”.
BY ED WEST
ACTOR Paul Bettany, who played the albino monk Silas in The Da Vince Code, is to play a heroic priest who fights vampires in a forthcoming film.
The film Priest, which will open in the United States in May, is set on an alternate earth where humans are in conflict with vampires, and the last surviving humans live in walled-in cities ruled by the Church.
Bettany, a Londoner, plays the “warrior priest” on a mission to save his niece from vampires and turns against the Church, only to find that the new vampire leader is a former priest.
Director Scott Stewart said: “In our world, priests are like Jedi Knights with special powers and training.”
DON’T MISS: ARCHBISHOP FITZGERALD ON THE COPTS PAGE 8