VATICAN CITY — The war on terrorism, despite being necessary, is having a damaging side effect of increasing hostility toward Christians in the Muslim world, a senior Vatican official warned.
Speaking Dec. 3 at a conference on religious liberty organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, the Vatican's secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, said that “the war against terrorism, even though necessary, had as one of its side effects the spread of ‘Christianophobia’ in vast areas of the globe.”
He added, “Western civilization, or certain political strategies of Western countries” are wrongly considered to be “deter-mined by Christianity, or at least not separated from it.”
Speaking to reporters after his talk, Archbishop Lajolo emphasized that this problem is “not only in Islamic countries,” but that hostility exists in states where Church-sponsored schools or charities were perceived as thinly veiled attempts at proselytism.
His comments came soon after the Vatican pressed the United Nations in Geneva to condemn “Christianophobia” along with “Islamophobia” and anti-semitism. They also followed remarks in a series of interviews by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who warned that parts of Europe were now so secular that Christianity was being pushed into the margins.
In an interview with Vatican Radio Nov. 24, Cardinal Ratzinger elaborated, saying Europe “undoubtedly” has something to learn from the United States in its approach to religious freedom. “It certainly is a positive way,” he said, adding that the United States has a process by which the state “makes room for religion which is not imposed” but which acts as “a public creative force.”
Secular Europe, on the other hand, is in danger of imposing an ideology that “no longer ensures the Christian's public presence,” Cardinal Ratzinger said.
Archbishop Lajolo spoke during the last of four high-profile seminars held by the embassy to celebrate 20 years of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See.
The final seminar, entitled “Religious Freedom, the Cornerstone of Human Dignity,” opened with comments by the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Jim Nicholson, who emphasized how the United States and the Church “ceaselessly” strive to promote and protect religious freedom. Quoting Pope John Paul II, Nicholson described religious liberty as “the basis of all other freedoms” and a “fundamental right of the human spirit, in which man expresses himself most deeply, perhaps, as man.”
In practical terms, Archbishop Lajolo explained how the Church has sought to safeguard religious freedom for Catholics. Using “concordat diplomacy,” a process of making agreements with states, the Church has tried to ensure freedom of religious practice, of jurisdiction and of association with the Catholic Church, and cooperation with civil authorities — particularly with regard to education and charitable activity.
The archbishop said the increasing number of agreements over the past 40 years contradicts suggestions that the Second Vatican Council “marked the end of the era of relations between Church and state based on negotiated treaties.” In fact, Archbishop Lajolo stressed, 115 agreements have been concluded since 1965.
Despite these advances, the archbishop reminded delegates that religious liberty has yet to be fully realized in any nation-state. “Even in states in which the right to religious freedom is taken very seriously and in which the Church can say that she is reasonably satisfied, there is always something which does not adequately respond to her needs,” he said.
Paolo Carozza of Notre Dame Law School urged governments not to ignore the importance of religions as a requirement for peace, security and cooperation among nations. Without them, he argued, it would be impossible to forge a “universal common good.”
Other speakers included Attilio Tamburrini, Italy's director of Aid to the Church in Need; Father David-Maria Jaeger, chief spokesman of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land; Joseph Grieboski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy; and Jesuit Father Daniel Madigan, director of the Institute for the Study of Religions and Culture at the Gregorian University.
Catholic commentator and conference moderator Deal Hudson welcomed the “breadth and depth” of the conference and expressed his desire to see nations intervene to protect religious liberty as a “basic human right,” using sanctions if necessary.
John Hanford, the current U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, told conference participants that more than half the world's population live under serious restrictions of faith. He cited Burma, China, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam as “countries of particular concern.”
Of these, Hanford reported, Eritrea is deteriorating the fastest. He said 200 Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses are currently being held in metal containers in the Eritrean desert.
He also spoke to the delegates of gains, most notably in Afghanistan and Iraq, and alluded to the joke that “the only countries that come off the CPC list are ones we invade.” He also noted that Turkmenistan recently overturned a restrictive scheme that recognized only Sunni Islam and Orthodox Christianity.
“There are so many places where religious persecution is a severe problem,” Hanford told the Register after the conference, adding that he found his task “overwhelming.”
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.