Vatican announces that 2011 "World Day of Peace" will be dedicated to Religious Freedom

Here is the full announcement from VIS with my emphases and [my comments]:


VATICAN CITY, 13 JUL 2010 (VIS) – “Religious freedom, the path to peace” is the theme chosen by Pope Benedict XVI for the celebration of the 2011 World Day of Peace.

“The World Day of Peace”, reads a communique on the subject released today, “will therefore be dedicated to the theme of religious freedom. It is well known that in many parts of the world there are various forms of restriction or denial of religious freedom, from discrimination and marginalisation based on religion, to acts of violence against religious minorities”. [note that denial of religious freedom begins with “discrimination and marginalisation” on the basis of religious identity.]

“Religious freedom is authentically realised when it is experienced as the coherent search for truth and for the truth about man. [one of these truths is that the religious impulse belongs to man’s nature] This approach to religious freedom offers us a fundamental criterion for discerning the phenomenon of religion and its expressions. It necessarily rejects the ‘religiosity’ of fundamentalism, and the manipulation of truth and of the truth about man. Since such distortions are opposed to the dignity of man and to the search for truth, they cannot be considered as religious freedom”.

The communique recalls words Benedict XVI’s pronounced before the United Nations General Assembly in 2008: “Human rights, of course, must include the right to religious freedom, understood as the expression of a dimension that is at once individual and communitarian [ie. we are not just talking about private or individual freedom of expression of religious identity] – a vision that brings out the unity of the person while clearly distinguishing between the dimension of the citizen and that of the believer”.

The text continues: “Today there are many areas of the world in which forms of restrictions and limitations to religious freedom persist, both where communities of believers are a minority, and where communities of believers are not a minority, and where more sophisticated forms of discrimination and marginalisation exist, on the cultural level and in the spheres of public, civil and political activity. ‘It is inconceivable’, as Benedict XVI remarked, ‘that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights. The rights associated with religion are all the more in need of protection if they are considered to clash with a prevailing secular ideology or with majority religious positions of an exclusive nature‘”. [That is a very good point: the exercise of religious positions “of an exclusive nature” can have the effect of limiting the right to freedom of religion.]

The communique concludes by highlighting how “man cannot be fragmented, and separated from what he believes, because that in which he believes has an impact on his life and on his person. ‘Refusal to recognise the contribution to society that is rooted in the religious dimension and in the quest for the Absolute – by its nature, expressing communion between persons – would effectively privilege an individualistic approach, and would fragment the unity of the person’. It is for this reason that: ‘Religious Freedom is the Path to Peace'”.

The interesting thing to note is that highlighting the right to freedom of religion cuts two ways:

1) The Pope is defending the right of Catholics to this freedom
2) This right of religious freedom extends to ALL religious people, whatever their creed.

This right does not extend, however, to “the ‘religiosity’ of fundamentalism, and the manipulation of truth and of the truth about man”. It is on this basis that the Holy Father identifies the two greatest threats to religious freedom today:

1) a prevailing secular ideology
2) majority religious positions of an exclusive nature

That ought to be enough to keep us going in the combox for a while… :-)

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14 Responses to Vatican announces that 2011 "World Day of Peace" will be dedicated to Religious Freedom

  1. Tony says:


    The first thing that occurs to me is, what is ‘prevailing secular ideology’?

    It seems to me that it’s one of those phrases that is very ambiguous and hard to pin down in any sort of reliable way; reliable in the sense of being useful in a discussion.

    Some secular governments, for example, can range in their attitudes to religion from encouraging and supportive to unsubtle hostility.

    So how, exactly, do batten down a phrase like that?

    • Schütz says:

      You are right. I am going to post something on this.

      • Tony says:

        While you’re there, David, I’d be interested in ‘religious positions of an exclusive nature’ too. So, for example, is a male-only, celibate priesthood ‘exclusive’ in nature?

        • Tom says:

          No – religion positions of an exclusive nature refers to religion that is not open to all. It does not matter who you are, you are always welcome in the Church. The Church says, clearly, time and again, God loves everyone and has mercy on the sins of all mankind, and that everyone can, through the love and mercy of Christ, be cleansed of their sins and enter into the sacramental life in The Church. The Catholic Church is the complete opposite of what the Pope meant by a ‘religious position of an exclusive nature’.

          • Schütz says:

            Correct, Tom. One could come back and say “But a lot of fundamentalist religions claim to be ‘open to all’ and yet are still dangerously exclusive to outsiders who don’t accept their teachings/worldview”. The thing about the Catholic Church is that this “openness to all” involves an attitude to all people which respects them as potential Catholics. That comment might be misunderstood, so let me elaborate further.

            Since all non-Catholic persons whom we encounter are “potential” Catholics, and since the Catholic Church regards only that as “true faith” which is accepted freely and without coercion (as Dignitatis Humanae makes clear: “the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God”), then the very “openness” of the Catholic Church to all people demands that all people be treated in such a way that they remain free in their religious convictions and activity.

    • Tom says:

      The ‘prevailing secular ideology’ – without defining it in a strict sense, I would argue is marked by a few defining features.

      First and foremost: a rejection of the possibility of religious truth (as envisaged by, say, Benedict). Attitudes about religion vary from sympathetic, to ambivalent, to outright hostility: all attitudes however hold that religion is ‘subjective’ and therefore ultimately lacks the genuine, or authoritative power of objective truth.

      As an addendum to the first point: science is usually seen as the arbiter of objective truth, that is, the one’s who discover ‘Truth’ as it is, in the world and in relation to us, are scientists.

      Secondly: it contains a general world view that is materialist, or sometimes dualist. Generally materialist, however dualism is the typical ground out of which people can be sympathetic to religion – it does however reinforce the first point, that religious truth is subjective, and inaccessible to all equally (what is true for you is not true for me). By and large, this view of the world rejects holism and hylomorphism.

      Finally, it is marked by (which is generally seen as a logical consequence of the first two) a hostility toward religion in the public square. This isn’t always expressed as an outright hostility against religion itself, but is sometimes seen as saying that religion simply has no place in the public square. Debates about abortion, embryonic stem cell research, the nature of marriage etc. are all debates that should be conducted in a ‘rational’ and ‘objective’ manner. Therefore, by point 1, religion is per se nota excluded. All questions of morality must be worked out completely without reference to belief (which is subjective) and only according to principles accessible to all, i.e.: reason – which is taken explicitly to be objective. At the same time reason is also taken to be explicitly ‘not true’ since reason can also be wrong. Therefore what comes out as truth is more like ‘our best guess’.

      Those are the three main features of the ‘prevailing secular ideology’ that I would suggest give at least a characterisation of what the term means. I would like to make one point though – this entire enterprise is extremely problematic however. The whole notion of ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ is utterly false, however Kant has been taken so seriously by contemporary philosophy, that it constitutes almost all of current analytic and continental thought. Without going into an extended discussion as to why I think the subject-object divide is nonsense (there is not a combox in the world big enough!), I will simply say that it is, and say that the reason I reject this world view (which is the prevailing attitude; at least so far as I have experienced teaching and otherwise engaging with the world) is that in the end it does not give one group or set of people a privileged access to Truth – it destroys Truth all together and therefore makes being-human a destructive and lonely experience. In short; the subject-object divide is one of the principle causes of bad thinking (and as a result) bad living today. Our society is plagued by the notion of ‘objectivity’ as being the core of what it means for something to be true – as a result anything that can’t be measured must not be objective, and therefore not true. Things like Love, or Courage, or Honesty either don’t exist, or are just chemicals in our brains. This view of the world is just so terribly bleak and depressing, I don’t know why anyone adopts it, but for some reason scientism has caught on like wildfire.

  2. There was a good discussion on that communique at the Angelqueen forum:

    • Tony says:

      A few samples from Angelqueen:

      Truth is compromised by liberty and peace. This pope is promoting religous indifference

      and (combining posts)

      Once upon a time, the Catholic Church celebrated the first day of every year as the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord.
      ….and the second vat council was condemned never to be heard from again! and they all lived happily everafter.

      or, better still,

      This is a scandal and an implicit denial of the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

      which draws a pithy response,



      Makes this blog look like a hot-bed of liberals!

  3. Marcel says:

    Cardinal Pole refers to a discussion at a website where many contributors are sympathetic to the positions of the SSPX.

    It illustrates how communique’s like this will not be met enthusiastically by the traditionalist camp at a sensitive time in history.

    There was a time when the Catholic Church itself adopted “a religious position of an exclusive nature” within Western ‘secular’ democracies. Rome’s denunciation of Americanism under Leo XIII comes to mind.

    The conclusion that ‘religous freedom is the path to peace’ is only a partial truth and quite scandlous if not qualified by specifically pointing out that the full liberty of the Catholic Church to pursue its mission is the first step on the path to peace. It is only in Jesus Christ where true peace lies, not in a mutliplicity of creeds and sects vying for an equal footing where they obscure, deceive and confuse with their false doctrines and false gods.

  4. Tony says:

    In the context of this post and the one above, is it not at least reasonable to say that a useful definition of ‘prevailing secular ideology’ is not that easy to come by?

    If that is the case, what value has such a phrase when directed at a general audience?

    In other words, if it’s not that clear what a ‘prevailing secular ideology’ is, surely it’s difficult to identify it as threat to religious freedom?

    • Schütz says:

      As I say in the combox to the post above, we need to distinguish between “secular philosophies”, of which there are many, and “secular ideology” or “secularism” which is rather more monolithic. What impressed me about Fr Gleeson’s four points of secularist ethics is that he was so easily (and correctly!) able to sum up the ethical assumptions of prevailing “secularist ideology”. In other words, it isn’t that difficult to identify if you put a bit of thought into it. Of course, there are hundreds of variations, but they are variations on an identifiable theme.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Tony, I don’t read HH as suggesting that there is a single “secular ideology” which, if it prevails, will infringe on the rights of religion. Rather, where a secular ideology prevails, it may or may not – depending on the particular ideology – infringe on the rights of religion.

      I don’t think we need to identify, describe and name a specific secular ideology which is inconsistent with religious rights, still less all the possible secular ideologies which are inconsistent. It makes more sense to identify the “rights associated with religion”. Once we do that, any secular ideology (or any religious ideology, as he points out) which clashes with those rights is a matter of concern.

      • Tony says:

        I dunno Pere, if this message was directed to Canon Lawyers or Philosophers maybe, but it’s directed to Tom’s ‘public square’.

        The Pope — at least according to David — is identifying a threat to religious liberty called ‘prevailing secular ideology’.

        We can come up with what we think that means (or what it doesn’t mean) but what value has it if, in the public square, it’s ambiguous?

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