By Deborah Castellano Lubov

📸

There has never been a more critical time to advance and defend international religious freedom.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the rhythm of our lives, religious freedom continues to be under attack in almost every part of the world.

Upholding the right to religious freedom is not just morally necessary, it is a national security imperative.

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, made these strong declarations during a Symposium organized by her embassy in Rome, titled “Advancing and Defending Religious Freedom Through Diplomacy,” yesterday, Sept. 30, 2020. ZENIT’s Senior Vatican Correspondent was present.

Organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, the event took place in a large room of the Westin Excelsior on Rome’s iconic Via Veneto, next door to the American Embassy, in compliance with anti-Covid 19 rules and provisions.

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Vatican Foreign Minister, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, gave the keynote speeches, and were introduced by a reflection of Ambassador Callista Gingrich. The full interventions can be read below.

Cardinal Parolin met U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, privately today in the Vatican, and following yesterday’s Symposium, ZENIT spoke to Cardinal Parolin about the Vatican’s motivations for planning to renew its Provisional Agreement with China this month despite opposition.

Welcoming all present at the Symposium full of Ambassadors and joining virtually, Ambassador Gingrich expressed appreciation for the invaluable collaboration between the United States, and underscored the “moral imperative” of the United States to protect religious freedom internationally.

She listed the following as some “extremely troubling” examples of infringement upon religious freedom internationally:

  • “In Burma, the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities continue to face severe restrictions on freedom of movement and access to education and healthcare, based on their religion and ethnicity.
  • “In Nicaragua, Christian persecution is on the rise as the government attacks the Catholic Church and desecrates religious spaces.
  • “In Nigeria, Boko Haram continues to kill Muslims and Christians alike. Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed by this terrorist organization.
  • “In Saudi Arabia, where there is no law permitting religious freedom, Muslims and non-Muslims are persecuted for practicing their faith.
  • “And in China, more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazaks, and other Muslim minority groups are detained in camps by the Chinese Communist Party.

“While the CCP wages its war on faith,” the US Ambassador to the Holy See said, “the United States will continue to build partnerships with like-minded nations, which share our commitment to promote and secure religious freedom.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Gallagher reiterated the importance to the Catholic Church of defending religious freedom.

“The protection and promotion of the freedom of religion,” Cardinal Parolin underscored, “is a hallmark of the diplomatic activity of the Holy See. This fundamental human right, together with the inviolable right to life, forms the indispensable and solid foundation for numerous other human rights.”

“Violating this freedom,” the Vatican Secretary of State decried, “jeopardizes the enjoyment of all rights and threatens the dignity of the human person.”

The Vatican’s Foreign Minister, Archbishop Gallagher, stressed that “it should come as no surprise” that the protection and promotion of religious liberty is one of the main “political priorities” of the Holy See. “In its bilateral relations, the question of protecting religious freedom so as to allow the local Catholic Church to exercise its mission,” he reiterated, “remains an indispensable part of the scope and activity of the Holy See.”

The commitment of the Holy See in the defense and promotion of religious liberty, Archbishop Gallagher highlighted, is guided by the teaching and engagement of Pope Francis, “who has continually stressed the importance of dialogue and mutual understanding among peoples and societies, among those of different religious convictions, or those without, to work towards peaceful coexistence and reciprocal respect.” This, he said, is the heart of the message of the Document on Human Fraternity of Feb. 4, 2019, and “will undoubtedly be a prominent theme in the Encyclical Letter “All Brothers” which the Holy Father will release in a few days’ time.”

Archbishop Gallagher then cited a line from the Document on Human Fraternity “This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. Therefore, the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept.”

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, underscored: “Our founders regarded religious freedom as an absolutely essential right of mankind and central to our founding.”

He decried, on the other hand, how in numerous countries, religious freedom is restricted, from places like Iran, to Nigeria, and to Cuba, and beyond, noting: “The State Department spends ample resources at chronicling these horrific situations in an annual report that extends to the thousands of pages.”

“Nowhere, however – nowhere,” he pointed, “is religious freedom under assault more than it is inside of China today. That’s because, as with all communist regimes, the Chinese Communist Party deems itself the ultimate moral authority.”

The Chinese Communist Party (the CCP), he said, is always more aggressively working to suppress religious freedom, noting this is evident with the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang.

“But they’re not the only victims,” he said. “The Chinese Communist Party has battered every religious community in China: Protestant house churches, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and more.”

“Nor, of course,” he said, “have Catholics been spared this wave of repression”:

  • “Catholic churches and shrines have been desecrated and destroyed.
  • “Catholic bishops like Augustine Cui Tai have been imprisoned, as have priests in Italy.[1]
  • “And Catholic lay leaders in the human rights movement, not least in Hong Kong, have been arrested.
  • “Authorities order residents to replace pictures of Jesus with those of Chairman Mao and those of General Secretary Xi Jinping.
  • “All of these believers are the heirs of those Pope John Paul celebrated in his speech to the UN, those who had “taken the risk of freedom, asking to be given a place in social, political, and economic life which is commensurate with their dignity as free human beings.”

“We must support those demanding freedoms in our time,” he said.

The United States, he noted, can and does play its part in speaking up for those oppressed, although we too can do more. But we work hard to shine the light on abuses, punish those responsible, and encourage others to join us in this advocacy.

“But for all that nation-states can do, ultimately, our efforts are constrained by the realities of world politics,” he said, adding: “Countries must sometimes make compromises to advance good ends, leaders come and go, and indeed priorities change.”

“The Church,” he said, “is in a different position. Earthly considerations shouldn’t discourage principled stances based on eternal truths. And as history shows, Catholics have often deployed their principles in glorious, glorious service of human dignity.” He applauded the courage of recent Pontiffs, noting:

  • John Paul II was also unafraid. He challenged Latin America authoritarianism and helped inspire democratic transition.
  • Pope Emeritus Benedict described religious freedom as “an essential element of a constitutional state,” and indeed, “the litmus test for the respect of all human rights.”
  • And just like Pope Benedict, Pope Francis has spoken eloquently about the “human ecology” essential to decent societies.

He went on to decry those who are trying to drive faith from the public square. But even more importantly, they should inspire us today, and especially those of you who hold spiritual authority of any faith, to lead in our own time.

“Pope Francis has exhorted the Church to be “permanently in a state of mission.” To be a Church “permanently in a state of mission,” the Secretary of State said, has many meanings. “Surely, one of them is to be a Church permanently in defense of basic human rights. A Church permanently in opposition to tyrannical regimes. A Church permanently engaged in support of those who wish to take “the risk of freedom” of which Pope John Paul II spoke, especially, most especially where religious freedom is denied, or limited, or even crushed.””

As Christians, he said, we all know we live in a fallen world.

“That means that those who have responsibility for the common good must sometimes deal with wicked men and indeed with wicked regimes. But in doing so – in doing so, statesmen representing democracies must never lose sight of the moral truths and human dignity that make democracy itself possible.”

US Secretary of State, #MikePompeo, @SecPompeo, speaking at Symposium along with #CardinalParolin & #ArchbishopGallagher on ‘Advancing & Defending #ReligiousFreedom Through Diplomacy’ #USHolySee @USinHolySee @CallyGingrich ( of Zenit’s Sr Correspondent @DeborahLubov) pic.twitter.com/SUrIs0ISCq

— ZenitEnglish (@zenitenglish) September 30, 2020

“So also,” he continued, “should religious leaders. Religious leaders should understand that being salt and light must often mean exercising a bold moral witness.”

This call to witness, Mike Pompeo underscored, extends to all faiths, not just to Christians and Catholics. “It’s for leaders of all faiths at – indeed, at every level.”

“It’s my fervent hope,” he delineated, “that:

  • “Muslim leaders will speak up for the Uyghurs and other oppressed Muslims in China, including ethnic Kazakhs and the Krygyz.”
  • “Jewish leaders, too, must stand up for the dwindling Jewish community in Yemen.”
  • “Christian leaders have an obligation to speak up for their brothers and sisters in Iraq, in North Korea, and in Cuba.”
  • “I call on every faith leader to find the courage to confront religious persecution against their own communities, as well as Father Lichtenberg did against members of other faiths as well.”

He said that every man and woman of faith is called to exercise a moral witness against the persecution of believers.

“Indeed – we’re here today to talk about religious freedom – the very future of religious freedom depends upon these acts of moral witness,” he noted, saying: “Brave men and women all over the world, taking that “risk of freedom,” continue to fight for respect for their right to worship, because their conscience demands it.” Pope John Paul II, he noted, bore witness to his flock’s suffering, and he challenged tyranny. By doing so, he demonstrated how the Holy See can move our world in a more humane direction, like almost no other institution.

“May the Church, and all those who know that we are ultimately accountable to God, be so bold in our time. May we all be so bold in our time,” he said.

Here are the US-Embassy provided full English translations and texts of the interventions:

***

Ambassador Gingrich’s Remarks at International Religious Freedom Symposium

Rome, Italy

September 30, 2020

Secretary Pompeo, Mrs. Pompeo, Archbishop Gallagher, your Eminence, your Excellencies, distinguished guests, and friends – good morning and welcome!

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is delighted to host today’s symposium on “Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom through Diplomacy.”

We are honored to have U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joining us today, as well as Holy See Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Holy See Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher. Thank you all for your participation.

I would also like to thank U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom,

Sam Brownback, and Acting Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, Nathan Sales, for participating in today’s symposium.

Finally, I want to thank all of you for being here, as well as those who are joining us virtually.

Promoting and securing the universal right of religious freedom is a shared priority for the United States and the Holy See.

Our collaboration with the Holy See provides an opportunity to protect and preserve this fundamental human right.

Secretary Pompeo’s participation in this symposium illustrates the importance the United States places on our diplomatic relationship with the Holy See, and our mutual defense of religious freedom.

It is an honor to have you here, Mr. Secretary.

There has never been a more critical time to advance and defend international religious freedom.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the rhythm of our lives, religious freedom continues to be under attack in almost every part of the world.

Some of the more recent examples are extremely troubling.

In Burma, the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities continue to face severe restrictions on freedom of movement and access to education and healthcare, based on their religion and ethnicity.

In Nicaragua, Christian persecution is on the rise as the government attacks the Catholic Church and desecrates religious spaces.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram continues to kill Muslims and Christians alike. Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed by this terrorist organization.

In Saudi Arabia, where there is no law permitting religious freedom, Muslims and non-Muslims are persecuted for practicing their faith.

And in China, more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazaks, and other Muslim minority groups are detained in camps by the Chinese Communist Party.

While the CCP wages its war on faith, the United States will continue to build partnerships with like-minded nations, which share our commitment to promote and secure religious freedom.

Upholding the right to religious freedom is not just morally necessary, it is a national security imperative.

Our advocacy for religious communities around the world helps to ensure the protection and prosperity of our citizens at home and abroad.

When governments effectively defend religious freedom, their nations are safer, more prosperous, and secure.

From the beginning of his presidency, President Trump has made international religious freedom a priority.

And on June 12, 2020, President Trump signed the first ever Executive Order instructing the

U.S. government to prioritize religious freedom.

Under this order, the United States will allocate $50 million dollars per year for foreign aid programs that advance and defend religious freedom.

The U.S. Department of State, under Secretary Pompeo’s leadership, has been at the forefront of President Trump’s commitment to religious freedom.

In 2018 and 2019, Secretary Pompeo hosted Ministerials to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. We were delighted that Archbishop Gallagher was able to participate in both Ministerials – the largest human rights events ever held at the U.S. State Department.

Secretary Pompeo currently spearheads the International Religious Freedom Alliance, an international coalition of more than 30 countries that advocates for religious freedom. We are honored to have Secretary Pompeo with us today and at the helm of the State Department.

Secretary Pompeo graduated first in his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1986 and served with distinction in the United States Army. After leaving active duty, he graduated from Harvard Law School, and was editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Prior to joining the Trump Administration, he served in the U.S. Congress, representing the Fourth Congressional District of Kansas.

In 2017, President Trump appointed him Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. And in 2018, he was sworn in as the 70th U.S. Secretary of State.

Please join me in welcoming Secretary Mike Pompeo!

***

SPEECH

September 30, 2020

Secretary Michael R. Pompeo
“Moral Witness and Religious Freedom”

September 30, 2020
Holy See Symposium on Advancing and Defending Religious Freedom through Diplomacy
Rome, Italy

SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone.

Thank you, Ambassador Gingrich, for that incredibly kind introduction. You’ve done wonderful work with this important symposium. I’m glad to be here for the second time.

To Your Eminence Cardinal Parolin, thank you for being here.

It’s great to see you again too, Archbishop Gallagher.

It’s wonderful to be with a lot of good friends, old friends.

I want to also welcome other members of the clergy, members of the diplomatic corps who are here as well, and all of the distinguished guests. It’s an honor to be here. It truly is.

I especially want to recognize many of the leaders of faith-based groups we have in the audience today. You reflect the grace of God in serving others. Thank you for what you do, and may God bless all of you.

And I’m humbled too by those of you here who have spent your entire lives in service of God in full-time pastoral ministry, makes my job look easy.

2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, an anniversary that I’ve reflected on quite a bit as I’ve traveled throughout Europe several times this year.

That life or death struggle was a crucible, a proving ground of moral witness. Individual stories of valor were legion. But I remember especially Father Bernhard Lichtenberg.

Some of you may know the story, but Father Lichtenberg – some of you may not – Father Lichtenberg was a priest in Berlin in the 1930s, who fervently resisted the Nazi regime, and helped Jews with finances, advice, emigration assistance as the Nazi fist tightened.

In 1938, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, he began to speak up more loudly on their behalf, proclaiming at St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin, quote, “Outside the synagogue is burning, and that too, is a house of God.”

Father Lichtenberg didn’t stop with mere words. From then on, he fearlessly prayed each day publicly for the Jews and other victims of Nazi brutality.

Eventually, the Nazis arrested him in 1941, October. They offered that he could make a deal: He could go free in exchange for stopping his subversive preaching. Instead, he asked to accompany deported Jews and Jewish Christians to Poland, so he could minister to them.

In May of 1942, some eight months later, he was given a two-year prison sentence. When asked if he had anything to add when the sentence was read, he said, quote, “I submit that no harm results to the state by citizens who pray for the Jews.”

Towards the end of his sentence, the Nazis realized they could never break his spirit. They ordered him sent to Dachau concentration camp, but he died on the way before he reached that grim destination.

Father Lichtenberg bore an incredible moral witness, and in 2004 he was honored by the State of Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a non-Jew who risked his life to save Jews from Nazis.

Today, as we think about that man, I urge all faith leaders to exhibit a similarly moral, bold witness for the sake of religious freedom, for human dignity, and for peace.

Now, many of you know when I was here last year, I spoke about religious freedom at length.

It was important for me to attend this year, because the mission of defending human dignity – and religious freedom in particular – remains at the core of American foreign policy.

That’s because it’s at the heart of the American experiment. Our founders regarded religious freedom as an absolutely essential right of mankind and central to our founding.

Indeed, I would say it’s an integral part to what Pope John Paul II described as the “universal longing for freedom” at the United Nations when he spoke in 1995. Billions of people today – as Ambassador Gingrich said, have always seeked to worship according to their conscience.

But sadly, authoritarian regimes, terrorists, and even secularists, free societies are – in their different ways – trampling religious freedom all around the world.

Vast swathes of humanity live in countries where religious freedom is restricted, from places like Iran, to Nigeria, and to Cuba, and beyond.

The State Department spends ample resources at chronicling these horrific situations in an annual report that extends to the thousands of pages.

Nowhere, however – nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than it is inside of China today. That’s because, as with all communist regimes, the Chinese Communist Party deems itself the ultimate moral authority.

An increasingly repressive CCP, frightened by its own lack of democratic legitimacy, works day and night to snuff out the lamp of freedom, especially religious freedom, on a horrifying scale.

I spoke on this topic last year for a bit, and I paid special attention last year to the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang.

But they’re not the only victims. The Chinese Communist Party has battered every religious community in China: Protestant house churches, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and more.

Nor, of course, have Catholics been spared this wave of repression:

Catholic churches and shrines have been desecrated and destroyed.

Catholic bishops like Augustine Cui Tai have been imprisoned, as have priests in Italy.[1]

And Catholic lay leaders in the human rights movement, not least in Hong Kong, have been arrested.

Authorities order residents to replace pictures of Jesus with those of Chairman Mao and those of General Secretary Xi Jinping.

All of these believers are the heirs of those Pope John Paul celebrated in his speech to the UN, those who had “taken the risk of freedom, asking to be given a place in social, political, and economic life which is commensurate with their dignity as free human beings.”

We must support those demanding freedoms in our time, like Father Lichtenberg did.

Now, the United States can and does play its part in speaking up for those oppressed, although we too can do more. But we work hard to shine the light on abuses, punish those responsible, and encourage others to join us in this advocacy.

But for all that nation-states can do, ultimately, our efforts are constrained by the realities of world politics. Countries must sometimes make compromises to advance good ends, leaders come and go, and indeed priorities change.

The Church is in a different position. Earthly considerations shouldn’t discourage principled stances based on eternal truths. And as history shows, Catholics have often deployed their principles in glorious, glorious service of human dignity.

The French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain helped lay the intellectual foundation

for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the bishops of Poland and West Germany led the way towards reconciliation between their countries.

And every serious scholar of the Cold War now acknowledges that Pope John Paul II played a pivotal role in igniting the revolution of conscience that brought down the Iron Curtain.

John Paul II was also unafraid. He challenged Latin America authoritarianism and helped inspire democratic transition.

Pope Emeritus Benedict described religious freedom as “an essential element of a constitutional state,” and indeed, “the litmus test for the respect of all human rights.”

And just like Pope Benedict, Pope Francis has spoken eloquently about the “human ecology” essential to decent societies.

And in my own country, movements to end slavery in the 19th century and expand civil rights for African Americans in the 20th century were largely led by Christians of many denominations who appealed to our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage, as well to our core founding principles.

These examples, these remarkable examples of Christian action for freedom, justice, and human dignity shame those who are trying to drive faith from the public square.

But even more importantly, they should inspire us today, and especially those of you who hold spiritual authority of any faith, to lead in our own time.

Pope Francis has exhorted the Church to be “permanently in a state of mission.” It’s a hope that resonates with this evangelical Protestant who believes, as the Holy Father does, that those of us given the gift of Christian faith have an obligation to do our best to bless others.

To be a Church “permanently in a state of mission” has many meanings. Surely, one of them is to be a Church permanently in defense of basic human rights.

A Church permanently in opposition to tyrannical regimes.

A Church permanently engaged in support of those who wish to take “the risk of freedom” of which Pope John Paul II spoke, especially, most especially where religious freedom is denied, or limited, or even crushed.

As Christians, we all know we live in a fallen world. That means that those who have responsibility for the common good must sometimes deal with wicked men and indeed with wicked regimes. But in doing so – in doing so, statesmen representing democracies must never lose sight of the moral truths and human dignity that make democracy itself possible.

So also should religious leaders. Religious leaders should understand that being salt and light must often mean exercising a bold moral witness.

And this call to witness extends to all faiths, not just to Christians and Catholics. It’s for leaders of all faiths at – indeed, at every level.

It’s my fervent hope that Muslim leaders will speak up for the Uyghurs and other oppressed Muslims in China, including ethnic Kazakhs and the Krygyz.

Jewish leaders, too, must stand up for the dwindling Jewish community in Yemen.

Christian leaders have an obligation to speak up for their brothers and sisters in Iraq, in North Korea, and in Cuba.

I call on every faith leader to find the courage to confront religious persecution against their own communities, as well as Father Lichtenberg did against members of other faiths as well.

Every man and woman of faith is called to exercise a moral witness against the persecution of believers. Indeed – we’re here today to talk about religious freedom – the very future of religious freedom depends upon these acts of moral witness.

It’s now some twenty years ago this very week that Pope John Paul II canonized 87 Chinese believers and 33 European missionaries killed in China before the current Communist regime took power.

At the time, he said the following: He said that “the Church intends merely to recognize that those martyrs are an example of courage and consistency to us all, and that they honor the noble Chinese people.”

Brave men and women all over the world, taking that “risk of freedom,” continue to fight for respect for their right to worship, because their conscience demands it.

Pope John Paul II bore witness to his flock’s suffering, and he challenged tyranny. By doing so, he demonstrated how the Holy See can move our world in a more humane direction, like almost no other institution.

May the Church, and all those who know that we are ultimately accountable to God, be so bold in our time. May we all be so bold in our time.

Thank you.

And may God bless each and every one of you who are here today.

Thank you.

***

Opening Remarks of His Excellency, Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher,

Secretary for Relation with States of the Holy See

at the Symposium on Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom through Diplomacy

Rome, Italy

30 September 2020

The Honourable Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State,

Madam Ambassador Gingrich,

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I am grateful for the invitation to offer brief remarks at the opening of this Symposium on “Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom through Diplomacy” and wish to thank Ambassador Gingrich and her staff in the Embassy for organizing this event. I happily extend to you all the greetings of His Holiness, Pope Francis, who is aware of this meeting on a topic of great importance for the Holy See, especially in its diplomatic activities on both the bilateral and multilateral levels.

Over the past couple of decades, there has been a growing recognition of the important role that religions play in the questions of international peace and security and of mutual coexistence among peoples. More recently, a number of Governments, including the United States of America, have launched initiatives that seek to defend and promote this fundamental human right, the respect of which is a sine qua non for giving full respect to each person and in building the common good of humanity.

It should come as no surprise that the protection and promotion of religious liberty is one of the main “political priorities” of the Holy See. In its bilateral relations, the question of protecting religious freedom so as to allow the local Catholic Church to exercise its mission, remains an indispensable part of the scope and activity of the Holy See. Likewise, in various multilateral fora, the Holy See is attentive to the trends and attitudes of the international community as it addresses issues related to the freedom of religion and belief. It also pays particular attention to how other so-called “new rights” limit the full enjoyment of religious freedom, as well as the important role that the Church and other faith-based organizations play in numerous charitable, health, educational and humanitarian efforts throughout the world.

Religious freedom is not only important to the Holy See because it is governed by the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. Instead, the motivation for defending religious freedom rests primarily on its understanding and concern for the ontological reality of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God, the foundation of man’s inviolable dignity. The Creator has endowed human nature with knowledge and free will in order to come to know, to love and to serve Him in complete liberty. Freedom, and in particular freedom of conscience and religious liberty, is an essential component of man’s transcendent dignity. As such, coercion, violence and discrimination against religious liberty constitutes an attack upon the human person, his relationship with his Creator, and, indeed, an attack against society. It is from this perspective that the Holy See has even sought to defend this fundamental human right, because it is foundational to each person’s identity and to the free exercise of one’s liberty for the integral development of each person and of society as a whole.

It is in this context that the Holy See has been assiduously and constantly attentive to abuses to religious liberty, whether on the level of authoritarian/dictatorial State or non-State actors, most vividly witnessed in those instances where there is physical persecution and even murder of “religious minorities”, or whether through the ever more common tendency, especially found in the West, which promotes ideologies and even national legislation that conflicts with the exercise of religious liberty. I think it is important to be aware of the fact that attacks against religious liberty are not only coming in the form of physical persecution, but ever more through ideological trends and “silencing”, through what has often been called “political correctness”, which are taking ever larger liberties in the name of “tolerance” and “non-discrimination”. Rather, these inflexible ideologies, which are quick to denounce religious beliefs and persons that do not accept their position as “hateful”, are themselves rather “intolerable” and “discriminatory” against the freedom of religion.

There are a growing number of examples of this phenomenon, including a number of States passing legislation aggressively attacking both the freedom of conscience and the freedom of religion. It is even present within the certain sectors of multilateral diplomacy. A recent report from the UN Human Rights Council regarding the freedom of religion and belief actually claimed that “The Special Rapporteur is deeply concerned at numerous reports he has received, and at information provided to other United Nations human rights mechanisms, alleging that religious interest groups are engaged in campaigns characterizing rights advocates working to combat gender-based discrimination as ‘immoral’ actors, seeking to undermine society by espousing ‘a gender ideology’ that is harmful to children, families, tradition and religion. Invoking religious tenets as well as pseudoscience, such actors argue for the defence of traditional values rooted in interpretations of religious teachings about the social roles for men and women in accordance with their alleged naturally different physical and mental capacities; often calling on governments to enact discriminatory policies.” (n. 34).

The Holy See responded clearly to this report during the interactive debate with the following: “Particularly unacceptable and offensive are the numerous references that recommend that freedom of religion and belief and conscientious objection must be surrendered for the promotion of other so-called “human rights”, which certainly do not enjoy consensus, thus being a sort of “ideological colonization” on the part of some States and international institutions. As such, the report, at least in part, is actually an attack on freedom of religion and belief as well as freedom of conscience” (Holy See Mission, Geneva, 2 March 2020).

If I were a cynic, I would say that it seems that some of those who should be defending and promoting religious liberty either lack the willingness truly to do so or seem to be kowtowing to the prevalent ideological forces that see the exercise of religious liberty as a threat their own concept of liberty, which is understood in large part as the ability do whatever one wants, affirming oneself without any restriction whatsoever, including civil, natural and especially divine law.

Notwithstanding these difficulties and threats to religious liberty, including to the other fundamental human rights connected to it, the Holy See is convinced that remaining present and active in the debates and discussions on this topic must continue. Pulling away from the discussion is not only a disservice to those who are the voiceless, who are persecuted, mocked, discriminated against or even killed because of their religious convictions, but to those who disagree with us. They also need to understand the gravity of what is at stake. The Holy See, with its unique mission and according to its particular nature, utilizes the diplomatic tools at its disposal, especially that of providing a sort of “moral compass”, in building religious freedom and other fundamental human rights among other States and within the family of nations. While the Holy See lacks the “customary” diplomatic tools employed by most States, it does have a rich and long-standing body of social teaching that has been developed over the centuries and which it brings to the political and diplomatic discussion.

The commitment of the Holy See in the defence and promotion of religious liberty is guided by the teaching and engagement of Pope Francis, who has continually stressed the importance of dialogue and mutual understanding among peoples and societies, among those of different religious convictions, or those without, to work towards peaceful coexistence and reciprocal respect. This is the heart of the message on the Document on Human Fraternity of 4 February 2019 and will undoubtedly be a prominent theme in the Encyclical Letter “All Brothers” which the Holy Father will release in a few days’ time.

In closing, I would like to cite a line from the Document on Human Fraternity: “This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. Therefore, the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept.”

I hope that discussions and exchanges that take place here today may be productive, insightful and facilitate the protection and promotion of religious liberty, which we all hold very dearly.

Thank you for your kind attention.

***

**

Closing Remarks of His Eminence, Cardinal Pietro Parolin,

Secretary of State of His Holiness

at the Symposium on Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom through Diplomacy

Rome, Italy

30 September 2020

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I wish to thank Ambassador Gingrich and the staff of the Embassy of the United States of America to the Holy See for organizing this noteworthy one-day symposium, which has reflected upon the theme of “Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom through Diplomacy.” I am grateful for the invitation to offer some points of reflection for closing remarks.

Dear friends,

The protection and promotion of the freedom of religion is a hallmark of the diplomatic activity of the Holy See. This fundamental human right, together with the inviolable right to life, forms the indispensable and solid foundation for numerous other human rights. Violating this freedom jeopardizes the enjoyment of all rights and threatens the dignity of the human person. Indeed, in recognition of the centrality of this foundational right, freedom of religion is prominently enshrined in the constitutional legislation of many nations and is mentioned in a wide range of international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Second Vatican Council dedicated an entire document to religious freedom reflecting the growing awareness and importance of respecting this fundamental freedom. In Dignitatis humanae we read that this freedom “means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits” (n. 2).

At the heart of exercising the freedom to confess and practice a certain religion, or not to follow if one so chooses, is the exercise of freedom of conscience, that inner sanctum of man’s transcendent nature where “man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 16). The Church has always upheld the necessity to respect the internal forum of one’s conscience, not only because of its intrinsic link to the freedom of religion, but because it is the inner sanctum of the human person. Sadly, we are witnessing a growing number of examples where this freedom is being violated, even forcefully so by civil legislation, which effectively amounts to an attack on the dignity of the human person.

I would suggest that, at least in part, some of the difficulty that we are experiencing concerning the violation of freedom of religion at the global level comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of human freedom. Attacks on religious freedom are often driven by fear and ideology: whether by totalitarian regimes that use power to impose draconian restrictions, as witnessed, for example, in countries where the practice of certain religious traditions is prohibited and “minorities” are actively persecuted, or whether it be the intolerant voices of the “politically correct”, that “silence” and condemn those religious beliefs, traditions and practices that clash with their progressive ideology, labeling them as “hateful” and “intolerant”. It is time that we reflect more seriously about the root of “intolerance” in such situations and, in particular, the shrinking public space for dialogue for and with those that practice their beliefs openly. Indeed, the degree of respect for freedom of religion in the public sphere is a clear indicator of the health of any society; and, it follows, therefore, that it is also a “litmus test” for the level of respect that exists for all other fundamental human rights as well.

My suggestion that the freedom of religion is in crisis because our understanding of the truth of the human person and his anthropology is in crisis, is not a novelty. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council rightly noted that “a sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man, and the demand is increasingly made that men should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom” (Dignitatis humanae, n.1). “This heightened sense of the dignity of the human person and of his or her uniqueness, and of the respect due to the journey of conscience, certainly represents one of the positive achievements of modern culture. This perception, authentic as it is, has been expressed in a number of more or less adequate ways, some of which however diverge from the truth about man as a creature and the image of God, and thus need to be corrected and purified in the light of faith” (Pope John Paul II, Veritatis splendor, n. 31). Unfortunately, our growing awareness and affirmation of the dignity of the human person has not always been accompanied by an authentic understanding of the moral duty and responsibility that comes with the exercise of human freedom. This divergence, between dignity and the responsibility inherent to freedom, has a detrimental impact on the concept of religious freedom and its enjoyment in modern society.

This point was masterfully elaborated in the insightful and in-depth reflection of Saint Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter, Veritatis splendor, the “Splendor of Truth”, wherein, among other things, he underscores the necessity of having the proper understanding of human nature, especially its transcendent dimension which is rooted in the powers of intellect and will, exercised through the responsible use of freedom in conjunction with the truth about the good. Although there are a number of current trends that undermine the proper perspective of human freedom, Saint John Paul II highlights two prominent ones. The first we may call “radical subjectivism” or the exaltation of “individual freedom as an absolute”.

As he explains: “Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent or which are explicitly atheist. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and “being at peace with oneself”, so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment” (VS, 32). In our contemporary societies, particularly in the West, there is a strong tendency to exaggerate one’s personal freedom, to purposefully decouple it from the pursuit of the good, or worse, to make it the only good. As a result, man turns inward, becoming self-referential and, what is good, becomes wholly subjective. From there, it is not long before man becomes an island, exercising his freedom, even apart from right reason. The “highest good” has now become the eradication of any obstacle to “radical autonomy”, such as the natural moral or divine law. Even other fundamental human rights must be abolished so as to no longer impede the desire of one’s choosing.

Indeed, another all too common modern misconception that interferes with a proper conception of human freedom is the denial of objective moral truth, conveniently replaced by an individual’s personal sentiment or feeling about the moral good.

The Polish Saint continues: “Once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its primordial reality as an act of a person’s intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now. Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others. Taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature” (VS, 32).

These reductive approaches to the good and conscience are at the heart of most modern currents of thinking, as well as the predominant liberal ideology, which places the moral law and conscience in drastic opposition, as well as our human nature and freedom. This perceived opposition has devastating consequences for arriving at the right understanding of human freedom, including the freedom of conscience and religious freedom.

Ultimately, the decision to root man’s freedom solely in the self, without any reference to the Creator, is unsustainable. It leads to a limited understanding of the freedom of religion and struggles to generate and maintain the space necessary for authentic pluralism and the search for objective truth, that is truth that does not finish with me, or with you. While we must continually repeat that religious liberty entails the ability for one to exercise, without coercion and without threat of persecution, one’s religious convictions, whether in private or in public, that is only part of the understanding of religious freedom. It is the via negativa approach, if you will, which states simply that there should be no coercion in the practice of religion. However, what we often fail to recognize is that freedom of religion is, at the same time, the freedom to seek the truth. Freedom of religion is also the freedom “for” belief. In other words, it must also be understood in the affirmative. To stress exclusively the expression of freedom of religion as “freedom from external coercion” without addressing what this freedom is properly ordered to, namely, the discovery of the ultimate truth of one’s existence, one’s origin and destiny, given by the Creator, is like giving a child a tool and telling them “you should not use this tool for such and such”, but never explaining to them “what purpose that tool was intended to serve”.

If I am not mistaken, there is a famous series of catechetical booklets, produced from the one of the Councils of Baltimore in the United States. One of the initial questions of that faith primer is: “Why did God make you?” and the proper response to be given is “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” The simplicity of this should not obfuscate the profundity of this truth. We are created for a purpose. We have received a nature that is ordered to a certain end, with the gifts of intellect and will to know and to choose the good, each in accord with one’s conscience. Without this objective end, an end that exists beyond the self, we cannot hope but to find society in crisis, with each of us unable to embrace anyone but ourselves.

In our discussion of religious liberty, including its promotion through diplomatic activity, it remains useful for us to remember not only of what we hope to defend and promote but also the threats that we face. This certainly includes physical oppression, persecution and ideological imposition, but it also includes the denying of man’s very nature. I hope I have helped to better illuminate that point here with you today.

And, as always, it is my hope that initiatives such as today’s Symposium might continue building momentum on the international level so that this fundamental human right may be enjoyed by all.

Thank you for your attention.

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Ambassador at Large Sam Brownback

Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom Through Diplomacy

September 30, 2020

Rome, Italy

[Remarks As Delivered]

Thank you very much John, I appreciate that greatly.

And thank you all for being here, and in person. It is so good to see a live audience. I’ve been speaking on Zoom meetings and virtual meetings for so many months now. I want to hug all of you. I know I can’t do that, so I won’t. I’ve got a stopwatch here that I’m going to get started so that I run on time for John, because I want to do that right.

I want to start off with a bold statement and back it up with diplomatic suggestions.

Number one, I believe the key to peace, in many of the conflicts around the world today, is the protection of religious freedom for all. The key to peace is the protection of religious freedom.

I submit, in front of you, the Abraham Accords, recently signed by UAE, Israel, and Bahrain. At the center of them, at the center of it, was the protection of religious freedom. Saying we need to protect everyone’s religious freedom regardless of what your belief is.

I put in front of you Sudan. Recently, there was a peace agreement entered into in Sudan. At the center of it was religious freedom. With a group that was at war with the government saying, “Look, if you protect our religious freedom for our religious minority, we’ll come in and join the government. We’ll be a part of it.”

This is a central piece for peace in the world: religious freedom. And we’ve really got to be about this. And if we don’t do this, if we don’t do this, and if the world doesn’t do this, there will be more conflict in the world. There will be more violence, and there will be more killing in the world. This is just the centerpiece issue, and we really got to be about it.

So, what are we doing? You’ve heard mentioned several of these activities going on.

One of them I want to put right at the outset is the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative that we launched here in Rome in January between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Top theologians getting together and saying, “Our faith does not support the use of violence in promoting the faith.” It does not support the use of violence in supporting the faith. Now I’m not talking about Just War doctrines and things like that, I’m talking about the promotion of the faith, no violence. And these top theologians agreed to it, and we’re seeing more of it. This is putting legs under the Human Fraternity Document — the Pope and the head of al-Azhar put together two years ago. That’s a key one.

The International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance. This is an Alliance of 31 nations promoting and pushing religious freedom as a group, which we invite the Vatican to participate in, in anyway they see fit, to be a part of this Alliance.

Rehman Chishti talked about how he was vice chairman of this group. This is a group that is pushing aggressively for religious freedom for everybody, everywhere, all the time.

One of the key things we’ve done in the COVID crisis is saying, if you’re in prison because you’re a prisoner of conscience, a prisoner based on your faith, for practicing your faith peacefully, you shouldn’t be in prison. You’re being subjected to the COVID virus in prison, and I’m sure you shouldn’t be there in the first place. But please, governments, let these people go. They shouldn’t be in prison in the first place and now you’re subjecting them to poor health and more problems. We’ve seen several hundred let free during the COVID crisis. Our hope and prayer, and our push as an Alliance, is that they will not be put back in prison afterwards.

We’re also advocating that the Archbishop of Belarus be allowed back into the country. And advocating that religious sites be protected in conflict zones. This is a key Alliance initiative that is moving forward.

There will be a Ministerial on religious freedom; the third of the Ministerials to take place, in Poland on November 16th and 17th. This will be done virtually this year, for obvious reasons, but I invite people to participate in this. Secretary Pompeo hosted the first two, the third one will be hosted by Poland. I hope people can participate in this. This is a chance for the world community to gather, and to push on the topic of religious freedom, various aspects of it, and there are a lot of different aspects of it. I invite people to participate in that.

Finally, I want to put forward religious freedom roundtables. These are being started in countries around the world, with 30 of them so far. Where religious adherents of all faiths or no faith at all get together around a table and stand up for each other’s religious freedom. This is not about establishing a common theology. It is about establishing a common human right. And that is the right to freedom of conscience, which is at the heart of us getting to peace in the world. There is a big movement of this going on around the world, as far as religious freedom. I think what’s happening is God is hearing the prayers of those, crying from the most desolate places of prisons around the world, that just need to be free to practice their faith. That’s why we’re here and that’s why we’re responding to this.

This “iron curtain” of religious freedom must come down, and it’s our generation and our time to do it.

Thank you.

[All Intervention Texts Provided by US Embassy to the Holy See on Their Website]

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