The Holy See
back up



Córdoba, Spain
Wednesday, 8 June 2005


Session Five

"The fight against intolerance and discrimination of Christians
and the members of other religions:
respect for religious identity in a pluralistic society"

Madam Chairperson,

Since the Ministerial Council that met in Sofia, the Holy See has felt an even more pressing need to examine with attention and calm objectivity the nature and typology of discrimination and intolerance against Christians and the members of other religions. The Holy See, moreover, agrees with the OSCE's traditional line and recognized commitment to give a voice to the faithful of other religious denominations as well.

It has been noted that the problems discussed at this session concern not only Christians individually but also religious confessions as such; they not only jeopardize religious minority groups but also those that form the majority. It is simplistic to blame the majority religions for the lack of, or poor, protection of other religious communities on the part of the State Authorities.

It was also stressed that threats to religious identity are to be found both to the east and west of Vienna, although in different forms and with greater or lesser severity according to place, time and circumstance.

Despite the commitments made by the OSCE Member States in the context of religious freedom, in some countries' norms, decisions or types of conduct there are acts or omissions that deny the freedom mentioned and are intolerant as well as discriminatory with regard to Christian Churches and Communities and to other religious communities and their faithful.

Undue restrictions on the legal recognition of these Churches and communities and on the importation and dissemination of religious material persist. The protracted delays and even outright refusal to return property, confiscated or offered to parties other than the legitimate owner, is unjustifiable.

Interference in their autonomous organization thus prevents them from following their own moral convictions. Pressure can be detected that counters the freedom of officials in the public administration to act as their conscience dictates.

The key: freedom

It sometimes happens in the presence of a majority religion that civil Authorities fail to recognize the juridical personality of the Churches or minority communities and apply measures that restrict their internal administration in the contexts of the formation of their clergy, the acquisition of property, etc.

On occasion, secular education lacks respect for the Christian identity and principles and for those of other religions. Moreover, OSCE's traditional commitment to religious freedom naturally stems from a clear awareness that this freedom is a feature of a fundamental dimension of the human being and does not only concern private life.

Pope John Paul II also recalled this in early 2004 in his Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. In fact, on that occasion the Pontiff noted that "Everyone may agree to respect the religious sentiment of individuals, but the same cannot be said of... the social dimension of religions; here the engagements made in the context of what was formerly known as the "Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe' have been forgotten" (Address to Diplomatic Corps, 12 January 2004, n. 3; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 21 January, p. 3).

"Secularity is not secularism'

Madam Chairperson,

It is well known that Christianity is the majority religion in many OSCE Member Countries; furthermore, it is an element that characterizes the history and marks the identity, culture, social life and institutions of their Peoples.

The specific contribution that Christians have made to the establishment and smooth functioning of our democratic systems has, moreover, benefited society, so their proper appreciation is a guarantee and expression of a proper pluralism.

In fact, the distinction between spiritual and civil authority does not imply alienation, indifference or a lack of communication, but rather involves dialogue and confrontation at the service of the authentic good of the human person.

"Secularity is not secularism", Pope John Paul II stressed in his above-mentioned Address. And he added that the secular State "assures the free exercise of ritual, spiritual, cultural and charitable activities by communities of believers. In a pluralistic society, secularity is a place for communication between the different spiritual traditions and the nation" (ibid.).

This is why, should religious communities manifest reservations or suggest alternatives to legislative decisions or administrative measures, this must not be considered ipso facto as a form of intolerance, unless the said communities desire to impose rather than propose their own convictions, and to exert pressure on the consciences of others.

On the other hand, it would be intolerant to seek to prevent these communities from expressing themselves in the way mentioned or to denigrate them for the mere fact that they disagree with decisions contrary to human dignity.

Democracy's goal: human dignity

Ethical relativism, which recognizes nothing as definitive, cannot be considered as a condition of democracy, as if it were the sole guarantee of tolerance, reciprocal respect between individuals and adherence to the decisions of the majority.

A healthy democracy promotes the dignity of each human being and respect for his or her inviolable and inalienable rights. On an objective moral basis, not even a democracy can assure stable peace (cf. Evangelium Vitae, n. 70).

Nor is there any lack in the media of intolerant attitudes and sometimes also the denigration of Christians and members of other religions. Effective pluralism in the media demands correct information on religious matters and the guarantee that religious communities also have access to them, and that the said media abstain from "hate-speeches" against Christians or the members of other religions.

With full respect for freedom of expression, mechanisms and instruments should be made available, consistent with the legislation of each country, which safeguard the messages of religious communities from manipulation and avoid a disrespectful presentation of their members.

The Holy See hopes, therefore, that the Cordoba Conference will be a favourable occasion for the OSCE to commit itself to establishing effective instruments and mechanisms for fighting and opposing prejudices and false representations of Christians and of the members of other religions in the mass media and in the context of education, and to motivating the practical contribution of the Churches and religious communities to the public life of countries, guaranteeing them a specific identity and recognizing their fundamental contribution to building a society at the service of the human person. Thank you, Madam Chairperson.