The Vatican Secretary of State condemned the ongoing abuse of religious freedom in many parts of the world, calling upon the media to highlight religious persecution wherever it occurs.
“Despite so many efforts to promote and reinforce the fundamental human right of religious freedom, we are actually witnessing a continued deterioration, we might even say an assault, of this inalienable right in many parts of the world,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin said on April 3.
Speaking at a symposium on religious liberty held at the United States’ Embassy to the Holy See, Parolin said that a proper understanding of human rights must be rooted in an authentic anthropology that places religious faith at the core of the human person.
At the symposium, called Stand Together to Defend International Religious Freedom, Parolin told attendees that the reality of global religious persecution is often ignored.
“Notwithstanding the strong protection that religious freedom has within the framework of international law, including its clear presentation in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, we continue to witness grave violations of this basic fundamental right that often occur with impunity and at times receiving little, if any, attention in the media.”
Parolin highlighted the importance of journalists in defending religious liberty, saying that “raising public awareness on the reality of religious persecution, particularly via the rapid means now available with digital media, remains a useful step to address violations of religious freedom.”
The cardinal said “those involved in the area of media and social communications must bring to light those realities that threaten the common good of the human family.”
Human rights and religious freedom have been a much-discussed area of Vatican foreign policy in the last twelve months. A recent agreement, brokered in part by Parolin, with the Chinese Communist government ceded some aspects of episcopal appointments to Beijing, with the hope of easing communist control on the Church in that country.
U.S. ambassador at large for religious liberty Sam Brownback expressed his own reservations about the deal in a speech last month, saying it would “likely result in only individuals whom the [Communist] Party deems loyal to its interests being put forth to the Vatican.”
In the meantime, Brownback noted, China “continues to violate the sacred right to religious freedom that is in its Constitution and also enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human rights.”
Apart from specific cases, Parolin also spoke about the rise of “new rights” in a culture which has lost sight of human nature’s roots in natural law.
The principled support of natural law, family, and life issues by religious believers is under attack, Parolin said, because secular society does not hold religious belief to be an essential part of human nature.
“Some of the so-called ‘new human rights’ at times tend to conflict with those universally recognized fundamental human rights, including religious freedom and the right to life,” Parolin said.
“For example, the exercise of religious freedom, especially in the public square, with regard to the institution of marriage or concerning the inviolable right to all human life, often runs up against the so-called ‘new rights’ that tend to present themselves in complete contradiction with, or encroach upon, these fundamental human rights.”
“When discussing religious freedom, we should never lose sight of the anthropological basis of this right. To do so is to run the risk of understanding religious freedom as something ancillary to the human person, as something conceded from ‘outside’ the person, even by the State, rather than as a God-given gift, indeed a gift rooted in the transcendent dimension of human nature.”
“Clearly,” the cardinal continued, “civil authorities have the obligation to protect and defend religious freedom, but not in the sense of being its author, but rather its custodian.”
Parolin also underscored that authentic religious freedom requires a place in the public square, and that secularization’s attempts to force faith out of public life must be resisted.
“Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But, religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families.”