Pope Benedict XVI warned members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences that religious freedom is coming under a renewed attack, from forces he compared to the totalitarian powers of the twentieth century.
The Pope observed that religious freedom was among the rights that underwent a “systematic denial by atheistic regimes of the twentieth century” such as Communism and Nazism.
“Today,” he warned in an address made public May 4, “these basic human rights are again under threat from attitudes and ideologies which would impede free religious expression.”
“Consequently,” he told the social scientists, “the challenge to defend and promote the right to freedom of religion and freedom of worship must be taken up once more in our days.” The pontifical academy's most recent gathering, held in Rome from April 29 to May 3, took up the theme of “Universal Rights in a World of Diversity: The Case of Religious Freedom.”
The Pope noted in his address that “the roots of the West's Christian culture remain deep,” and that it was “that culture which gave life and space to religious freedom” and continues to provide for religious liberty where it exists. He observed that an early Christian writer, Tertullian, was the first author to use the phrase “religious freedom.”
The second-century Christian apologist “emphasized that God must be worshiped freely, and that it is in the nature of religion not to admit coercion,” the Pope explained. “Since man enjoys the capacity for a free personal choice in truth, and since God expects of man a free response to his call, the right to religious freedom should be viewed as innate to the fundamental dignity of every human person.”
He acknowledged the world outlook as a mixed one. “There are some states which allow broad religious freedom in our understanding of the term, while others restrict it for a variety of reasons, including mistrust for religion itself.”
Pope Benedict made if clear that the Vatican “continues to appeal for the recognition of the fundamental human right to religious freedom on the part of all states,” including a special concern for “religious minorities who … aspire to live with their fellow citizens peacefully and to participate fully in the civil and political life of the nation.”