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Joint Vatican, British declaration stresses commitment to religious freedom

Catholic World News - February 15, 2012

A February 15 meeting between Vatican officials and a visiting British diplomatic delegation ended in a joint statement emphasizing a shared commitment to promote and protect religious freedom.

Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi led the British delegation, which was in Rome to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Great Britain and the Holy See. After meeting with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State, the British government was received in a private audience by Pope Benedict XVI.

The joint statement released after the meeting stressed “the urgent need for action to strengthen the universal commitment to religious freedom as a fundamental human right, and to its practical application with a view to promoting respect for all religions in all countries.” The statement went on to list a number of shared interests: in the efforts to fight poverty and climate change, the push for global development, a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, support for the UN, peace in Syria, a restoration of order in Somalia, and more.

The statement also included a sentence reflecting the gentle insistence of the Vatican that the British government should be aware of dangers to religious freedom implicit in its own policies:

The Holy See emphasized the need to ensure that institutions connected with the Catholic Church can act in accordance with their own principles and convictions and stressed the necessity of safeguarding the family based on marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

England’s leading Catholic prelate, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, told Vatican Radio that the February 15 meeting had been “a historic visit,” showing the British government’s recognition that “the Catholic Church plays throughout the world on many crucial issues.”

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