Home > Archives > 03 - 2005 > That which is Caesar’s and that which is God’s
from issue no. 03 - 2005

IN-DEPTH STUDIES. The Holy See and freedom of worship.

That which is Caesar’s and that which is God’s

In terms of a “healthy secularism”, State and Church should not be rivals but interlocutors. Interview with Monsignor Giovanni Lajolo, Secretary for Relations with States

by Giovanni Cubeddu

YES TO FREEDOM OF WORSHIP.  John Paul II in audience with members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See,

YES TO FREEDOM OF WORSHIP. John Paul II in audience with members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See,

Before flying to Washington to take over the Department of Veteran Affairs – entrusted to him by the re-elected George W. Bush in recognition of the active loyalty shown him also as ambassador of the United States to the Holy See – Jim Nicholson concluded, on 3 December last, the cycle of conferences organized by him in Rome with one dedicated to “Freedom of worship, corner-stone of human dignity”. His Excellency Monsignor Giovanni Lajolo, Secretary for the Relations of the Holy See with States, had the opportunity to give an authoritative reminder of how much the religious mission and the universal vocation of the Catholic Church commit the Holy See to furthering the great causes of humanity and of peace. And as we know, among human rights the Holy See pays particular attention to that of freedom of worship, making its contribution to its recognition by States and, especially, by the international community.
In his annual speech to the diplomatic corps, on 10 January the Pope did not miss the opportunity to renew the wish that it be possible to live the religious life freely everywhere, reassuring those governments that are still suspicious:«Nor is it to be feared that freedom of worship, once recognized to the Catholic Church, will encroach on the field of political freedom and the proper jurisdiction of the State: the Church knows well how to distinguish, as is its duty, between that which is Caesar’s and that which is God’s».
We thank Monsignor Lajolo for agreeing to go over with us the fundamental points of his very topical speech.
«Let’s remember first of all», the Vatican Foreign Minister begins «that the “strategic” priorities of the diplomacy of the Holy See are to insure and promote conditions favorable to the exercise of the specific mission of the Church as such, but also of the life of faith of believers and, therefore, of the free exercise of human rights and of fundamental freedom, anchored in the nature of man and, thus, in an objective moral order. As I said at the conference in Rome, what Pope John Paul II stated, on 2 October 1979, during his first address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, must be borne in mind: «The respect for the dignity of the human person seems to require that when the exact dimension of the exercise of freedom of worship is discussed or established, in view of international laws or international conventions, the institutions that by their nature serve religious life should also be involved». This too, therefore, is a reason for the diplomatic commitment of the Holy See at every level».
With regard to freedom of worship, it is important to bear carefully in mind the activity of Vatican diplomacy in the multilateral sphere…
GIOVANNNI LAJOLO: In the context of the United Nations, the importance assumed by this right is evident in the care with which the UN has favored its development and specification. We know that freedom of worship was recognized in article 18 of the “Universal Declaration of human rights” [«Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, of conscience and of religion; this right includes the freedom to change one’s religion or creed and the freedom, alone or in community with others, and in public or in private, to express one’s own religion or creed through teaching, worship and observation», ed.]. This right was later taken up in the “International Pact on civil and political rights” of 1966, and its application was developed, among the rest, in the “Declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion and creed”, adopted on 25 November 1981. At this point, the UN deals with this subject at regular intervals, either in New York or Geneva, where the Holy See has its own representatives, with the rank of apostolic nuncios and the status of permanent observers. In New York, the issue is discussed every year by the members of the Third Committee of the General Assembly. The Holy See speaks formally on the question, while it participates in an informal way in the negotiations for a resolution on freedom of worship.
For some time at the UN people have been predicting greater international involvement of the religious organizations. What do you think?
LAJOLO: At the UN particular attention was given to a draft resolution, presented by the Philippines, on cooperation between the United Nations and religions. The Holy See declared itself open to such cooperation, on condition, however, that it did not affect questions of specific interest for inter-religious dialogue, in so much as they are, and must remain, the exclusive competence of religious leaders.
Still in the area of the multilateral commitment of the Holy See, that put into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OCSE, wrongly less known, should not go unnoticed…
LAJOLO: Permit me just to point out that perhaps the influence the Helsinki Conference – in which the countries behind the Iron Curtain were also actively involved – had in making way for the historic turning point of 1989, specifically for the defense of fundamental human rights, et prae primis of freedom of worship, was not adequately highlighted. Its principles remain valid, however, and binding in all of the vast territorial area covered by OCSE, which came after the CSCE.
Can you tell us something more about the precedents?
LAJOLO: In 1975, the signatory states to the final Helsinki declaration adopted the so-called decalogue that, still, guides the relations between member states. And thanks in particular to the work of the Holy See, principle VII of that decalogue expressly numbers freedom of worship among the human rights that the States committed themselves to respect, to insure peace and security for their own citizens. In later meetings on the topic, the Holy See was always a reference point because it presented itself as the bearer of general religious interests and not only of Catholic denominational ones. A particular effort of the delegation of the Holy See was to obtain a broad description of the content of freedom of worship. In this regard it is worth remembering that on 1 September 1980, on the eve of the CSCE Conference in Madrid, Pope John Paul II sent a document specifically on the value and content of freedom of conscience and worship to the heads of State or government of the member countries. This contributed in significant manner to the deliberations of the CSCE in this sphere, and was reflected in paragraph 16 of the definitive document of the Vienna Meeting in 1989, where it is affirmed that freedom of worship entails a long series of truly essential rights for the religious communities.
Can we attempt to list some of the actually more delicate fronts in the defense of freedom of worship?
LAJOLO: With one premise: despite the fact that the society of many countries seems to live in religious indifference and the younger generations are brought up in ignorance of the spiritual patrimony of the people to which they belong, the religious phenomenon does not cease to interest and attract the people. The Holy See therefore never tires of asking that, out of respect for a “healthy secularism” – the classic expression that goes back to Pius XII – the public dimension of freedom of worship be recognized. The subject has been raised many times by pontifical diplomacy, not only on the occasion of the recent discussion about the Christian roots of Europe, but also in relation to some national laws. On 12 January 2004 the Holy Father himself expressed himself on the matter, and when receiving the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See he recalled how healthy dialogue between the State and the Churches – who are not rivals but interlocutors – can, without doubt, promote the overall development of the human being and the harmony of society.
At the conference in Rome, among today’s dangers for freedom of worship you included that of the States which deny legal recognition to religious communities. In January the Pope reminded the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See that «freedom of worship remains a right insufficiently or not adequately acknowledged in numerous states».
LAJOLO: The legal recognition of freedom of worship is not a marginal problem. Given that this freedom is a right founded on the nature itself of the human being and that, in consequence, precedes the recognition expressed by the State authority, the registration of religious communities cannot be considered as a prerequisite for enjoying that freedom. When the registration of religious communities is demanded for full enjoyment and effective exercise of the right to freedom of worship, it cannot be denied by State authorities, provided that – obviously – those general basic conditions, required by international standards, exist.
And if freedom of worship is acknowledged, the right to change is also acknowledged…
LAJOLO: At the multilateral level, the Holy See has underlined many times that freedom of worship implies, in the civil field, also the subjective right of changing one’s own religion. This specific right is the object of particular attention in bilateral relations with countries in which a State religion is constitutionally recognized.
As I’ve already mentioned, the Universal Declaration affirms that religious liberty «includes the freedom to change one’s own religion or creed»; further, various international documents have expressed themselves in the same way.
The “general comment 22” of the Committee for Human Rights relative to article 18 of the Pact for civil and political rights, should be mentioned here, in which it is written that «the freedom to have or adopt a religion or creed, necessarily includes the freedom to choose a religion or a creed and to replace that which is currently believed by another, or to assume an atheistic concept». I choose that document because it authentically interprets article 18 and has binding value for the States who are members of the above-mentioned Pact.
Freedom of worship and “tolerance”: how do they relate to each other?
LAJOLO: Without getting into an in-depth disquisition, one can say that “tolerance” is rather a restrictive concept and, in some way, ambiguous. At times the international community and some of its organizations tend to situate freedom of worship “under the umbrella” of tolerance. I am thinking, particularly, of OSCE and the attention that, for some time, that organization has paid to the subject in question, in the compass of its so-called “human dimension”.
In terms of this, the Holy See has several times referred to what is affirmed in another international document to which it quickly committed itself: I refer to the UNESCO Declaration on tolerance of 1995. It specifies that tolerance does not mean «renunciation or weakening of one’s own principles» but rather «freedom to adhere to one’s own convictions and acceptances that others may do likewise». Those who live their own religious conviction with coherence cannot, as such, be considered intolerant. They become so if, instead of proposing their own convictions and eventually expressing respectful criticism of those that are different, they aim to impose their own and exercise pressure, open or surreptitious, on the conscience of others.
On the other hand, the prevision of a legal ruling differentiated from denomination, provided the identity and freedom of each one of them is guaranteed, is not contrary to tolerance. In itself, not even the recognition of a State religion violates human rights. Naturally such a regime must not prejudice the effective and full enjoyment of any one single civil and political right of the religious minorities. In this sense, it is useful to remember again that the “general Comment 22” of the Committee for Human Rights underlined that, because of the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of religion or creed, the State authority must not reserve access to services and State offices to the faithful of the majority or official religion.
At the end of your speech you raised a preliminary question: is there a country of which the Church can say that freedom of worship is so fully achieved that it, along with the freedom that is properly its own – the libertas Ecclesiae – is guaranteed under every aspect?
LAJOLO: If one were to give a truly precise answer, it couldn’t be yes without reservation. Even in countries in which freedom of worship is taken very seriously and in which the Church can say it is reasonably satisfied, there is always something that does not respond adequately to its needs: in one country, for example, the specificity of some of its fundamental institutions is not recognized (in terms of hierarchical structure, for example); in another canonical marriage is not given due recognition; in another the school system doesn’t give due respect to the rights of the parents and even less those of the Church itself; in another the tax system doesn’t take proper account of social purposes of Church institutions.
Monsignor Giovanni Lajolo, in the center of the photo, and, on the left, Monsignor Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer to the UN

MULTILATERAL DIPLOMACY. Monsignor Giovanni Lajolo, in the center of the photo, and, on the left, Monsignor Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer to the UN

In such countries, notwithstanding this or that particular limitation, the Church can nevertheless say that it enjoys almost always sufficient freedom, on a par with other religious denominations. And it knows how to accept certain limitations, in the understanding of its wayfaring state, in statu viae, companion to and standing beside every homo viator who seeks, knowingly or not, the face of God.
The libertas Ecclesiae, the freedom that is intrinsic to it, is in any case stronger than any possible limitation that gets imposed on it, because it derives from the mandate of Christ and has the deep, immense breath of the Spirit: it is the freedom of that love that inhabits it – so old and always new – for man, who is the living image of God.
Your Excellency, from 3 to 6 January last, you were in an Islamic country, Tunisia…
LAJOLO: Among the Maghreb countries Tunisia is perhaps the most open to “European” normative criteria in terms of freedom of worship. It should be remembered that the Tunisian Catholic community is miniscule, 20,000 faithful, almost all foreigners, out of a population of about ten million inhabitants. In Tunisia, however, the freedom of the Church is essentially that of worship: freedom of worship intra muros.
In political discussions I noted the attention that the governors paid to the figure of the Holy Father and his messages, to the peace and humanitarian efforts of the Holy See. They recognize the role played by the Catholic Church and its institutions in the country, to the extent allowed them, and display a positive attitude to dialogue.
Can we say that Saint Augustine was the reason for your journey…
LAJOLO: The exhibition on Saint Augustine [“Saint Augustin, africanité et universalité”, organized in the former Cathedral of Carthage, on the Acropolium, from 15 December 2004 to 10 January 2005, ed.] was promoted by the Tunisian Foreign Minister Abdelbaki Hermassi, when he was in the department of Culture, and the new incumbent, Mohamed Aziz Ben Achour, was also actively in favor of the initiative. In Tunisia I was struck by a certain sense of pride in Augustine, this great father of Christendom and humanity who spent in Carthage – now a small town on the outskirts of Tunis – the decisive years of his training, what nowadays we would call his “university” years, and who, after returning to his native country, frequently went to Carthage, as bishop of Hippo, for the provincial councils of the bishops.
Augustine is, in a certain sense, “fought over” by Algeria and Tunisia since he was a native of Tagaste and then bishop of Hippo, both small towns now in Algeria; but it would be anti-historical to coerce him within the present political boundaries. Augustine is a very African saint. He was a Berber, it seems - «Afer sum» he said of himself – as much as a Roman, and better yet, a European.
Saint Augustine is a figure who brings us together: truly a catholic.

Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português