"Right now the Holy See is engaging in many different levels with world governments," reported Father Cuong M. Pham, an official at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the department that oversees the Church's laws.
"We have a growing tension between world governments and the Church because there's a lot of misunderstanding, and some see the Church as a threat," said Fr. Pham, who is from the Diocese of Brooklyn and currently works in Rome.
Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, explained in a Jan. 28 interview that canon law is different from civil law "because it pursues spiritual ends and not economic ends or those of power."
"There are laws in the Church that cannot change because they were set up by Christ. But society is constantly changing, and so we (the Church) can introduce certain changes when appropriate," he said as he explained why the Church updates its laws.
While there are many international agreements between the Holy See and local governments, but Fr. Pham says his office hopes to help lawyers "get to know the law of the Church better, to see what can and cannot be done."
"Many countries who aren't friendly to Christianity are increasing their level of supervision and control over freedom of religion," he observed.
"Christians have a very hostile climate in the United States, 'the land of the free,'" he remarked, also listing Middle Eastern, Asian, South American countries and the United Kingdom as places that are unwelcoming for Christians.
But he hopes there will be a growing number of "concord acts" between Church law and civil law around the world which might help create a friendlier environment for Christians.
At the same time, Fr. Pham noted that canon law sometimes completely opposes civil law, leaving Catholics confused about which one to follow.
"If I want to be a good Catholic, I have to disobey civil law. And if I want to be a good citizen, I can't be a good Catholic," he said, summarizing the predicament.
His comments come after the Church celebrated the 30th anniversary of the current code of canon law on Jan. 25.
Pope Benedict XVI recently met with a top communist leader of Vietnam for the first time to cut down on the country's harassment of Christians.
"We need to show people that many of their laws are based on our system and this isn't only the oldest system in the world, but also the most cohesive," remarked Fr. Pham.
As the Church celebrates the 30th anniversary of canon law, legal experts at the Vatican are continuing their push for dialogue with their counterparts in other countries, hoping that these talks could reduce the hostility Christians are experiencing worldwide.
Religious freedom, Persecuted Christians