Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican’s secretary for Relations with States,
granted an interview with the Indonesian newspaper ‘Kompas’ this week,
in which he explained the Catholic Church’s unique role in public life
throughout the world, arguing its essential nature as a voice for
morality and the fundamental rights of mankind.
During the interview, the archbishop discussed the special governmental status of Vatican City State, the Holy See's diplomatic activity, the separation between Church and State, and inter-religious dialogue.
He began the interview by pointing out that the name "Vatican" is often used to refer to two very different things. First, the Vatican City State, which is a country in its own right, "though of minuscule political substance, and having the sole purpose of guaranteeing the independence of the Pope, as supreme authority of the Catholic Church, from any form of civil jurisdiction."
Second, he said, there is the Holy See, which is "the Pope and the Roman Curia, ... and is sometimes commonly though incorrectly referred to as the Vatican because it has its headquarters in Vatican City State.”
“But the Holy See”, he recalled, “is not an organ of civil government and hence does not have political functions. Therefore, the problem of confusion or overlap between the two functions - the political function of the State and the religious function of the Church - does not arise."
The archbishop explained that, while the external relations of Vatican City State "are of modest proportions and directed above all to Italy and to a few international organizations for such matters as post and telecommunications," the Holy See has "a vast network of embassies (known technically as 'apostolic nunciatures') all over the world."
Archbishop Lajolo contrasted these nunciatures with traditional embassies, pointing out that they do not concern themselves with "political questions, defense or trade, but with matters concerning the freedom of the Church and human rights.”
“Mostly,” he said, “the Holy See intervenes to guarantee the juridical status of the Church and, in some countries, to defend Catholic faithful who may be oppressed or subject to pressure and discrimination.”
“It does so”, he went on, “by invoking the rights endorsed in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or even those ratified by the Constitutions of particular States.”
Moving to the subject of the separation of Church and State, the prelate said that "The Church in no way seeks to impose any piece of civil legislation, if political forces do not themselves take it up.”
“The fundamental principle of distinction between political and religious spheres and firm protection for religious freedom applies,” he stressed, “according to which, just as the State does not interfere in the activities of the Church, so it does not take orders from her.
In practice, the archbishop continued, the Church and “the bishops in the countries concerned - seeks to illuminate Catholics and public opinion ... using public declarations to explain the Catholic position on the moral questions that arise from political activity and legislation, and adopting above all rational arguments accessible even to those without faith."
"At a universal level,” he explained, “the Holy See intervenes on the great moral questions posed by politics through such documents as papal Encyclicals and Apostolic Exhortations, and the instructions issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
He said that while “Various criteria are used to judge where it is appropriate to intervene,” the Church “cannot in any case remain silent when the dignity or the fundamental rights of mankind, or religious freedom, are in question."
Archbishop Lajolo closed his interview by turning to the question of dialogue with different faiths, affirming that Benedict XVI will continue, just as his predecessors did, "the commitment to inter-religious dialogue."
He stressed that "a conflict of cultures, or worse still of religions, could divide people even more than they are already divided," pointing out that "inter-religious dialogue aims at a better understanding of the faith of others and at making one's own faith better known, as well as at reinforcing mutual bonds of personal respect.”
“It does not”, he said however, “aim to make those who participate in it less faithful to their own profound religious convictions, but to open minds and hearts ever more to the will of God."