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Vatican official fears 'moral relativism' becoming European legal norm

Catholic World News - January 16, 2013

The Vatican’s top foreign-policy official has clarified the Holy See’s stand on religious freedom in an in-depth interview with Vatican Radio.

Responding to a series of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights—and referring to two other cases still pending before that court—Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Secretary for Relations with States, remarked that the growing religious diversity in European society has produced a “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 archbishop said.

Archbishop Mamberti argued that it is wrong to suggest that pluralism and toleration require a suppression of public expressions of religious beliefs. “Rather than being an obstacle to the establishment of a tolerant society in its pluralism,” he said, “respect for freedom of conscience and religion is a condition for it.”

The archbishop explained that the Church recognizes that tensions may arise between the public expressions of religion and the demands of public order. In resolving those tensions, he said, it is essential to recognize the prior claims of religious freedom. He explained:

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 application.

Archbishop Mamberti told the Vatican Radio audience that the Holy See has set forth a full argument for the proper understanding of religious freedom in a Note filed with the European Court of Human Rights in connection with two pending cases. In that Note, he said, the Church’s argument is based on four principles: “1) the distinction between the Church and the political community; 2) freedom in relation to the State; 3) freedom within the Church; 4) respect for just public order.”

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