In an address during his visit to Cuba, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti spoke on the relationship between secularism and Christianity, saying that the former “would not exist at all” without the Church.
During his remarks, the prelate also stressed the need for religious freedom to be “reaffirmed” within the country.
Archbishop Mumberti, who is secretary for Relations with States, gave his comments at the opening of the 10th Cuban Catholic Social Week during his apostolic visit which runs through June 20.
The prelate began his talk by discussing the interrelation between secularism and Christianity, saying that contrary to popular belief, the two are not at odds with one another.
“Although the term 'secularism,' both in the past and in the present, refers first and foremost to the reality of the State and not infrequently assumes forms that run counter to the Church and Christianity,” the archbishop noted, “it would not exist at all were it not for Christianity.”
“In fact, without the Gospel of Christ the history of humankind would not have known the fundamental distinction between what man owes to God and what he owes to Caesar; in other words, to civil society.”
Speaking on the historical underpinnings of the break between the Church and secularism, the archbishop explained that in the Middle Ages, “sovereigns who sought to avoid being subject to the Pope did not for this reason consider themselves as being outside the Church. At most they wanted to play a role in controlling and organizing the Church, but they had no desire to separate themselves from her or exclude her from society.”
“It was with the Enlightenment, and in a particularly dramatic way during the French revolution, that the term 'secularism' came to designate quite the opposite: complete alterity, a net opposition between civil life, and religious and ecclesial life,” he clarified.
“Although secularism today is not infrequently invoked and used to hinder the life and activity of the Church,” said the Vatican official, “in its profound and positive sense it would never even have existed without Christianity.”
“The same is true for other values which today are considered as typical of modernity and often invoked to criticism the Church, or religion in general, such as respect for the dignity of the person, the right to freedom, equality, etc.,” he observed. “These are to a large extent the fruit of the profound influence of the Gospel in various cultures, though later they were separated and even set in conflict with their Christian origins.”
Archbishop Mamberti then warned of secularism hindering true religious freedom by becoming a “dominant ideology” – a religion itself.
“If secularism is not made logically and ontologically subordinate to full respect for religious freedom this can represent a real threat to that freedom. ... In such a case the State, paradoxically, becomes a confessional state, no longer truly secular, because it would make secularism a supreme value, a dominant ideology, a kind of religion with its own civil rites and liturgies.”
In light of this, he added, the “full concept of the right to religious freedom must be reaffirmed.”
“Although respect for the individual act of faith is fundamental, the State's stance towards the religious dimension does not end there, because this dimension ... must find expression in the world and be lived, not only individually but also in the community.”
Archbishop Mamberti then referred to the mission of the laity in secular society, explaining that “the role of the Magisterium is different from that of the laity, for while pastors of the Church must illuminate minds with their teaching, 'the direct duty to work for a just ordering of society', as Benedict XVI says in his Encyclical on charity, 'is proper to the lay faithful', who achieve this by 'co-operating with other citizens.'”