"The Church seeks to defend individual freedoms of conscience and religion in all circumstances, even in the face of the 'dictatorship of relativism'," which tends to impose a "new social norm" and "undermine the foundations of individual freedom of conscience and religion," this according to Mgr Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States, who spoke about recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights in four cases involving freedom of conscience and religion in the United Kingdom, which by their very nature transcend national boundaries.
In an interview with Vatican Radio,
Mgr Mamberti discussed two cases involving the right of two workers to wear a
cross around the neck in their workplace and the right of two other employees not
to perform civil unions or provide counselling to gay couples.
"These cases show that questions relating to freedom of conscience and
religion are complex, in particular in European society marked by the increase
of religious diversity and the corresponding hardening of secularism. There is
a real risk that moral relativism, which imposes itself as a new social norm,
will come to undermine the foundations of individual freedom of conscience and
religion. The Church seeks to defend individual freedoms of conscience and
religion in all circumstances, even in the face of the "dictatorship of
relativism". To this end, the rationality of the human conscience in
general and of the moral action of Christians in particular requires
Regarding morally controversial subjects, such as abortion or
homosexuality, freedom of consciences must be respected. Rather than being an
obstacle to the establishment of a tolerant society in its pluralism, respect
for freedom of conscience and religion is a condition for it.
Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See last week Pope Benedict XVI
stressed that: "In order effectively to safeguard the exercise of
religious liberty it is essential to respect the right of conscientious
objection. This "frontier" of liberty touches upon principles of
great importance of an ethical and religious character, rooted in the very
dignity of the human person. They are, as it were, the "bearing walls"
of any society that wishes to be truly free and democratic. Thus, outlawing
individual and institutional conscientious objection in the name of liberty and
pluralism paradoxically opens by contrast the door to intolerance and forced
"The erosion of freedom of conscience also witnesses to a form of
pessimism with regard to the capacity of the human conscience to recognize the
good and the true, to the advantage of positive law alone, which tends to
monopolize the determination of morality. It is also the Church's role to
remind people that every person, no matter what his beliefs, has, by means of
his conscience, the natural capacity to distinguish good from evil and that he
should act accordingly. Therein lies the source of his true freedom."
At present, the European Court is also examing two other cases that
involve state-Church relations. Speaking about them, Mgr Mamberti said, "The
Church has always had to defend herself in order to preserve her autonomy with
regard to the civil power and ideologies. Today, an important issue in Western
countries is to determine how the dominant culture, strongly marked by
materialist individualism and relativism, can understand and respect the nature
of the Church, which is a community founded on faith and reason."
"The Church is aware of the difficulty of determining the relations
between the civil authorities and the different religious communities in a
pluralist society with regard to the requirements of social cohesion and the
common good. In this context, the Holy See draws attention to the necessity of
maintaining religious freedom in its collective and social dimension. This dimension
corresponds to the essentially social nature both of the person and of the
religious fact in general. The Church does not ask that religious communities
be lawless zones but that they be recognized as spaces for freedom,
by virtue of the right to religious freedom, while respecting just public
order. This teaching is not reserved to the Catholic Church; the criteria
derived from it are founded in justice and are therefore of general
"Furthermore, the juridical principle of the institutional autonomy of
religious communities is widely recognized by States which respect religious
freedom, as well as by international law. The European Court of Human Rights
itself has regularly stated this principle in several important judgments.
Other institutions have also affirmed this principle. This is notably the case
with the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and also
with the United Nations Committee for Human Rights in, respectively, the Final
Document of the Vienna Conference of 19 January 1989 and General
Observation No. 22 on the Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion
of 30 July 1993. It is nevertheless useful to recall and defend this principle
of the autonomy of the Church and the civil power."