The Holy See
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Alcide De Gasperi Centre
Rome, 12 September 2011


Mr Chairman,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Holy See is grateful to the OSCE Lithuanian Chairmanship, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Italian Government, the City of Rome and all those who have contributed to the organization of this meeting. The Holy See is a participating State of OSCE since its inception in 1975 and seeks to contribute vigorously to OSCE activities and projects both through direct participation and through its Permanent Mission in Vienna. In May of this year, the three Personal Representatives of the Chairman-in-Office for combating intolerance and discrimination conducted their first visit to the Vatican, an event which further highlighted the continuous cooperation between OSCE and the Holy See.

A main reason for this Round Table Discussion is the fact that the guarantee of religious freedom has always been, and still is, at the core of OSCE activities. Ever since it was enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, and reaffirmed in no uncertain terms in subsequent documents, among which the 1989 Vienna Concluding Document and the 1990 Document of the Copenhagen Meeting on the Human Dimension of the then CSCE, the safeguarding of religious liberty has continued to occupy a central place in the comprehensive approach of OSCE to security issues.

It is in this context that hate crimes against Christians are an area of particular concern for OSCE in general, and for the Holy See in particular. In his 2011 Message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that “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”.

One may contend, and rightly so, that most of the hate crimes against Christians in the world occur outside the OSCE area. There are, however, warning signs even within that area. The annual hate crime report of ODIHR provides irrefutable proof of a growing intolerance against Christians. Ignoring this well-documented fact sends a negative signal also to those countries that are not participating States of our Organization. It is, therefore, important that a renewed awareness of the problem be raised everywhere. This is why the Holy See welcomes the Resolution of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly adopted this year in Belgrade as an important step towards “initiat[ing] a public debate on intolerance and discrimination against Christians”, as stated in the document. Hopefully, concrete measures will be developed to combat intolerance against Christians as a follow-up of this Conference.

In order to prevent hate crimes from occurring, it is essential to promote and consolidate religious liberty, the concept of which must be clear from the outset. In his address of January 10, 2011, to the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, the Holy Father argued that religious liberty is “the first of human rights, not only because it was historically the first to be recognized but also because it touches the constitutive dimension of man, his relation with his Creator”. He also noted that today, in many regions of the world, religious liberty is “often called into question or violated” and that “society, its leaders and public opinion are becoming more and more aware, even if not always in a clear way, of this grave attack on the dignity and freedom of homo religiosus”.

On the basis of such premises, it follows that religious freedom cannot be restricted to the simple freedom of worship, although the latter is obviously an important part of it. With due respect to the rights of all, religious freedom includes, among others, the right to preach, educate, convert, contribute to the political discourse and participate fully in public activities.

Nor is true religious liberty synonymous with relativism or with the post-modern idea that religion is a marginal component of public life. Pope Benedict XVI has often underscored the danger of a radical secularism that relegates, a priori, all kinds of religious manifestations to the private sphere. Relativism and secularism deny two fundamental aspects of the religious phenomenon, and hence of the right to religious freedom, that call for respect: the transcendental and the social dimensions of religion in which the human person seeks to be related, according to the dictates of his conscience, to the reality, so to say, above and around him. Religion is more than just a private opinion or Weltanschauung. It always has an impact on society and its moral principles.

As I pointed out earlier, when we discuss denial of religious freedom and its connection with hate crimes, normally the violent persecutions of Christian minorities in some parts of the world come to mind. The Holy See is grateful to OSCE and to its individual participating States which are particularly active in denouncing the murder or imprisonment of innocent citizens that are killed or persecuted just because they believe in Christ. On the other hand, if it is true that the risk of hate crimes is connected to the denial of religious liberty, we should not forget that there are serious problems even in areas of the world where fortunately there is no violent persecution of Christians. Sadly, acts motivated by bias against Christians are fast becoming a reality also in those countries where they constitute a majority. 

Pope Benedict referred to this phenomenon in the same speech of January last to the Diplomatic Corps, when he said that - and I quote - “turning our gaze from East to West, we find ourselves faced with other kinds of threats to the full exercise of religious freedom. I think in the first place of countries which accord great importance to pluralism and tolerance, but where religion is increasingly being marginalized. There is a tendency to consider religion, all religion, as something insignificant, alien or even destabilizing to modern society, and to attempt by different means to prevent it from having any influence on the life of society”.

Of course, nobody would confuse or equate this marginalization of religion with the actual persecution and killing of Christians in other areas of the world. This conference, however, will no doubt help to shed light on the incidence of hate crimes against Christians even in regions where international public opinion would not normally expect them to happen. For hate crimes almost invariably feed on an environment where religious freedom is not fully respected and religion is discriminated against.

In the OSCE region, we are largely blessed with a consensus on the importance of religious liberty. This is why it is important that we continue our conversation on the substance of religious liberty, on its fundamental connection with the idea of truth, and on the difference between religious freedom and relativism that merely tolerates religion while considering it with some degree of hostility. Again I quote from the 2011 Message for the World Day of Peace: “Religious freedom - the Holy Father said - should be understood, then, not merely as immunity from coercion, but even more fundamentally as an ability to order one’s own choices in accordance with truth. […] 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. 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”.

Precisely this vision which identifies freedom with relativism or militant agnosticism, and which casts doubt on the possibility of ever knowing the truth, could be an underlying factor in the increased occurrence of those hate incidents and crimes which will be the object of our debate today. May this Round Table Discussion – and I hope there will be similar events on a regular basis – give a new input to the work of OSCE and ODIHR in the field.

Thank you.