Card. Parolin and Mike Pompeo on religious freedom. The negative path of denunciation; the affirmative path of truth

by Bernardo Cervellera

10/01/2020, 10.17

The communist government in China has promulgated a new set of rules for religious clergy to be implemented in two months, but they ignore the Sino-Vatican agreement on bishop appointments by asking people to elect their bishops democratically.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – There is a “via negativeor negative way” to defend religious freedom and there is an “affirmative” way: the first aims to remove all limits to the exercise of faith by believers; the second works to transform and correct the mentality that produces the oppression of the faithful, which is the “radical autonomy” with which contemporary man conceives himself, to allow him to discover “the ultimate truth of his existence”.

This is how Card. Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, yesterday concluded the symposium organised by the US embassy to the Holy See, on the theme “Advancing and defending religious freedom in the world through diplomacy”.

Card. Parolin drew the conclusions of the symposium. Before him, in addition to some testimonies from personalities committed to the defence of religious freedom, the symposium was addressed by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Msgr. Paul Gallagher.

The symposium took place in a civil and respectful manner, but before the meeting the atmosphere was polluted by controversy related to an article previously published by Pompeo, in which he advised the Vatican not to renew the provisional agreement with China on the appointment of bishops, because it risked losing all moral authority.

After the meeting – according to reports from various journalists – there was Vatican criticism of the American attempt to use the gathering in function of the upcoming presidential elections in the United States. There was also talk of an audience of Pope Francis with Pompeo, which would have been cancelled because the pontiff does not accept meetings with political figures during the electoral period; others said that the audience did not take place because it was never requested; others still that the pontiff is resentful of Pompeo’s undue interference in issues pertaining to the Vatican and China. Responding to Reuters’ request for a comment on these suppositions, Pompeo allegedly said: “They are madness.”

In the background to these tensions – again according to press reports – there is also the story of Card. Joseph Zen being denied an audience with Pope Francis. The bishop emeritus of Hong Kong reportedly came to Italy to beg the pontiff to give a bishop to Hong Kong, without allowing himself to be influenced by “political” motivations towards China, but deciding for a candidate who supports the mission of the Church in the territory and on the continent. The cardinal waited three days in vain, without being able to see the Pope, even though he was able to deliver him a letter (photo 2).

Pompeo: The “horrifying scale” of persecution in China

At the symposium, in the short time made available to the speakers (about 15 minutes), Pompeo based his address on the figure of Fr. Bernhard Lichtenberg, a German Catholic priest, who in the 1930s helped Jewish communities and denounced the Nazi ideology in Berlin, so much so that he was arrested in 1941 and deported to Dachau. He died on the way to the concentration camp. Today Like Fr Lictenberg, Pompeo concluded ” 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.”

Pompeo cited ” authoritarian regimes, terrorists, and even secularists, free societies are – in their different ways – trampling religious freedom all around the world.”. And he mentioned the names of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, Cuba. But above all he quoted China: “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”. And he listed the violations of religious freedom that the Chinese Communist Party carries out “to a horrifying scale” against Muslims, Tibetans, Falun Gong, Protestants, Catholics.

Citing John Paul II and Pope Francis, he said that a Church “in a permanent state of mission” also means “in permanent opposition to tyrannical regimes”. And again inviting all religious leaders to speak out on behalf of their persecuted co-religionists, he pointed out that in in this commitment, states are often held back by the “realities of the political world”, but people of faith must exercise a “moral witness against the persecution of believers”.

Archbishop Gallagher: The violence of “politically correct”

Archbishop Gallagher began by reaffirming the Holy See’s worldwide commitment to religious freedom. However, he then moved on to singling out the violations that occur above all in advanced (Western) societies, where there is an attempt to silence the voice of believers “also through ideology politically correct, in the name of tolerance and non-discrimination”. It is, he said, an “attack against society itself”. The Vatican Secretary for Relations with States cited “laws that go against freedom of conscience” and thinking in the name of an attitude that can be summarized in the formula of “do what you want”.

Against this secularizing attempt to stifle the voice of religion, he cited the role of religions in respecting everyone’s freedom, recalling the Declaration on Human Fraternity signed by Pope Francis in 2019 with the grand imam of Al Azhar in Abu Dhabi. And he stressed that this is the path that Pope Francis is following and that he will propose in the encyclical “Brothers all” which will be published on October 4 in Assisi.

According to some news agencies, on the side-lines of the conference Msgr. Gallagher would have complained about the short time made available to him, claiming the “diplomatic” practice of not mentioning any precise name of countries violating religious freedom.

Card. Parolin: Radical subjectivism causes oppression to faiths

Cardinal Parolin’s conclusion instead seemed to be a synthesis between the “negative way” of the commitment against oppression, and the “affirmative way” of a call to conversion to the religious dimension. He stressed that “the protection and promotion of religious freedom is a trademark of the diplomatic activity of the Holy See”. For the cardinal, contemporary problems arise from a “fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of human freedom”.

Attacks against religious freedom – he said – arise from ” 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”.”

” 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 – he added. Quoting John Paul II, he indicated as the root of this crisis “radical subjectivism”, or “the exaltation of individual freedom as an absolute The “highest good” has now become the eradication of any obstacle to “radical autonomy”, such as the natural moral or divine law.”

He continued: ” 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 negativaapproach, if you will, which states simply that there should be no coercion in the practice of religion.  “. Then there is “the affirmative way”, which is “the freedom to seek the truth”, a “freedom to believe”, so that there is “the discovery of the ultimate truth of a person’s existence”.

“In our discussion of religious liberty – he concluded – 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”.

The symposium on religious freedom – with strong accusations against China – was held at a very delicate moment for the Holy See: On 22 September the provisional agreement signed two years ago with China for the appointment of bishops and which the Vatican would like to renew for another two years expires. But no firm signals have yet come from China on their willingness to extend the deal. Many Chinese Catholics see the Agreement as an obstacle to the Church’s mission and a gag on complaints about violations of religious freedom. In an article in L’Osservatore romano (29 September 2020), the journalist Andrea Tornielli instead points out that “the results – also due to the pandemic which has effectively blocked contacts in recent months – have been positive, albeit limited, and suggest to go ahead with the implementation of the Agreement for another period of time “.

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