VATICAN CITY — Church officials at the Vatican are seeking more treaties with governments worldwide to reduce the hostility Christians are experiencing in multiple countries and regions.
“Right now the Holy See is engaging in many different levels with world governments,” reported Father Cuong M. Pham, an official at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the department that oversees the Church’s laws.
“We have a growing tension between world governments and the Church because there’s a lot of misunderstanding, and some see the Church as a threat,” said Father Pham, who is from the Diocese of Brooklyn and currently resides in Rome.
There are many international agreements between the Holy See and local governments, but Father Pham says his office hopes to help local politicians and leaders “get to know the law of the Church better, to see what can and cannot be done.”
Among the hotspots for Christian persecution that he listed were Middle Eastern, Asian and South American countries, as well as the United Kingdom and the United States.
“Many countries who aren’t friendly to Christianity are increasing their level of supervision and control over freedom of religion,” he observed.
“Christians have a very hostile climate in the United States, ‘the land of the free,’” he added.
But he hopes there will be a growing number of “concord acts” between Church law and civil law around the world. The areas canon law covers include the administration of the sacraments, the administration of the material goods of the Church, religious way of life, pastoral duties and Catholic education.
Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, explained in a Jan. 28 interview that canon law is different from civil law “because it pursues spiritual ends and not economic ends or those of power.”
“There are laws in the Church that cannot change because they were set up by Christ. But society is constantly changing, and so we (the Church) can introduce certain changes when appropriate,” he said as he explained why the Church updates its laws.
But even though the Church updates its laws, Father Pham noted that canon law sometimes completely opposes civil law, leaving Catholics confused about which one to follow.
“If I want to be a good Catholic, I have to disobey civil law. And if I want to be a good citizen, I can’t be a good Catholic,” he said, summarizing the predicament.
His comments come after the Church celebrated the 30th anniversary of the current code of canon law on Jan. 25.
Pope Benedict XVI recently met with a top communist leader of Vietnam for the first time to cut down on the country’s harassment of Christians.
“We need to show people that many of their laws are based on our system and this isn’t only the oldest system in the world, but also the most cohesive,” remarked Fr. Pham.
He believes that people with greater responsibility in the Church, including bishops and Vatican organizations, need to be the ones initiating dialogue.