The Holy See
back up


Porto - Portugal
Friday, 6 December 2002

Mr President,

By being actively involved in a reflection on such relevant themes as terrorism, human trafficking, tolerance and discrimination, the OSCE has once again shown its vocation to create an area of freedom, justice and stability, in the perspective of a global understanding of security, which is proper to our Organization.

Of course the Holy See, at the levels of both bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, has not failed to encourage and accompany the efforts of those who are trying to stamp out the root causes of these situations that deface the human person and even endanger the survival of societies.

Poverty, unemployment, the lack of cultural resources, unresolved political and social crises, are so many breeding grounds for the viruses of hatred and barbarity, whose devastating effects we have before our eyes.

In recent months, in the course of their work, our delegations have often observed that no State or democracy can function without a certain consensus on the essential values of human existence.

They include religious convictions, which are certainly a powerful incentive for personal and collective mobilization.

For this reason, keeping in mind the role of religion in the countries represented here as well as of the norms contained in the various OSCE documents, the Delegation of the Holy See must share certain serious concerns it has on this subject.

The year now ending has seen an alarming deterioration in the conditions for the exercise of the right to religious freedom, in violation of the commitments taken in the framework of this Organization.

In some countries represented here, laws that restrict religious freedom have been or are about to be adopted. Those in charge of communities of believers, including a Catholic bishop, have been expelled from the country where they exercise their apostolate or prevented from meeting their faithful.

Such attitudes, often adopted arbitrarily, show distrust of religion, a misunderstanding of the role of religion in civil society, contempt for the international commitments freely accepted, and discrimination against believers. It would be useful to recall what a great Italian jurist of the 19th century wisely noted:  "Suppress religion in a society, and the human person will soon be an item that is up for sale" (Luigi Taparelli d'Azeglio, Droit naturel, chap. IX, 1800).

If it is necessary for political leaders to provide a legal recognition for all the communities of believers and arrange the religious life of citizens with one another as well as with the public authorities, they can only do so by respecting the commitments they have made. For those who are gathered round this table:  all the Documents of the Helsinki process and especially the Final Document of Vienna (1989).

Freedom of conscience in nations that have given special recognition to a majority confession
Moreover, when for historical reasons the majority of a nation belong to a confession and it enjoys special rights and privileges, this cannot take place to the detriment of the fundamental freedom of the other confessions present on the national territory. This is the case, for example, when a Church claims the monopoly of religious life on a national territory and calls for State support to guarantee it better. The members of other confessions can then become the victims of an intolerable, legally promoted discrimination, and this poses a threat to the freedom of conscience of the citizens, who have every right to change their religion or to have none.

At this point, Mr President, I would like to quote what John Paul II said on 9 January 1989, addressing the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See: "The right to freedom of religion is so closely linked to the other fundamental rights that it can rightly be argued that respect for religious freedom is, as it were, a touchstone for the observance of the other fundamental rights.... The State's respect for the right to freedom of religion is a sign of respect for the other fundamental human rights, in that it is an implicit recognition of the existence of an order which transcends the political dimension of existence" (Address to the Diplomatic Corps, n. 6; ORE, 13 February 1989, p. 2).

To conclude, I would like in turn to thank the Portuguese authorities for the hospitality they are offering us in this attractive city of Porto. I would also like to express my fervent good wishes for the full success of the Netherlands in the presidency that in a short while it will receive. It can already count on the full collaboration of the Delegation of the Holy See. Finally, I am happy to note the candidacies of Bulgaria and Slovenia for the presidency in the following years.