Officials from Iran and the Vatican, meeting in Tehran, announced agreement on a set of principles concerning freedom of religion and government.
Governments, the officials said, must “respect” religious freedom as “a right inherent to human dignity,” and must respect the equal rights of religious groups to participate in the political life of their nations.
The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and the Iranian-based Center for Inter-Religious Dialogue of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization held their seventh colloquium in Tehran Nov. 9-11.
On Nov. 16, the Vatican released a statement of six principles the group agreed upon.
Among them, the group urged Christians, Muslims and all believers, to “cooperate in the search for the common good.” They also promised to work together in “answering modern challenges, promoting moral values, justice and peace and protecting the family, environment and natural resources.”
On the sensitive issue of religious freedom, the two sides agreed that religion cannot be “confined to the private sphere,” as a matter of personal preference. Religion, they said, has “an inherent social dimension,” and believers and religious communities “have a specific role to play in society, on an equal footing with other citizens.”
“Faith, by its very nature, requires freedom,” the two sides agreed. “Therefore, religious freedom, as a right inherent to human dignity, must always be respected by individuals, social actors and the State. The cultural and historical background of each society which is not in contradiction with human dignity should be taken into consideration in applying this fundamental principle.”
The next colloquium will take place in Rome in 2012.
The Vatican was represented by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the pontifical council. While in Tehran, Cardinal Tauran delivered a letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Pope’s letter was a response to an October letter from Ahmadinejad in which he asked the Vatican’s help to address issues of religious intolerance, secularism, and the breakup of families.
In his response, the Pope issued a pointed call for Iran to open bilateral talks on “the juridical status of the Catholic Church in the country.”
Currently, Catholics are relatively free to worship but the Church has no official legal standing in Iranian society.
Pope Benedict said that “the ultimate foundation” of human dignity is the individual’s relation with God.
"When the promotion of the dignity of the human person is the primary inspiration of political and social activity that is committed to search for the common good, solid and enduring foundations are created for building peace and harmony between peoples," the Pope said.