Cardinal: Danish bill requiring translation of homilies threatens religious freedom

CNA 5d9f6958b9067 165860 Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg, at the Vatican, Oct. 5, 2019.

A cardinal said on Friday that a proposed law in Denmark requiring the translation of all homilies into Danish is a threat to religious freedom. 

In a Jan. 22 statement, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, president of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), objected to the bill demanding that all addresses in a liturgical setting are either given in Danish or made accessible in the language.

"De facto, the impact would be of imposing undue hindrance on the fundamental right to freedom of religion," he said.

The Catholic Church in Denmark has also expressed concern about the bill, which is thought to be directed primarily at the country's Muslim congregations where sermons are often preached in Arabic. 

Catholics comprise 1.3% of the 5.8 million population of Denmark, a historically Lutheran country neighboring Germany, Norway, and Sweden. 

Roughly a third of Catholics in Denmark are born outside the country, according to the Catholics & Cultures website. Masses in Metropolitan Copenhagen, the area surrounding the capital city, are conducted in Polish, English, Ukrainian, Croatian, Chaldean, French, Spanish, and Italian, as well as Danish.

The Catholic Church believes that, in addition to infringing on religious freedom, the translation requirement would impose an undue financial burden.

Denmark's parliament is expected to debate the draft legislation, known as the "Law on sermons in languages ​​other than Danish," in February.

Hollerich, the archbishop of Luxembourg, said that the bill was part of a growing trend among EU member states "and even at the EU Court's level" of curbing religious freedom.

"COMECE's concerns on the general state of freedom of religion in the EU had already been expressed in reacting to extremely rigid national measures imposed on churches and religious communities with regard to religious ceremonies, in view of COVID-19," he said.

"Eroding specific rights in such a way endangers the whole architecture of fundamental rights, based on the idea of universality and interconnectedness of rights."

He continued: "While we understand that the goal of the proposal is to prevent radicalization and counter incitement to hatred and terrorism, any negative or discriminatory impact should be avoided with regard to churches and religious communities that are averse and alien to such actions, acting in a spirit of peace and integration."

COMECE, founded in 1980, consists of bishops delegated by the bishops' conferences of the 27 member states of the European Union. A single bishop represents Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, which are all EU members.

Hollerich said: "The recent EU counter-terrorism agenda underlines that freedom of religion is among the foundations of the European Union. This should be taken in consideration by member states when devising anti-radicalization and anti-terrorism policies." 

"The EU Agenda provides a welcome, strong focus on the fight against radicalization and support to the member states in this sense. We support the EU in its effort to help identifying effective alternatives to invasive and potentially damaging legal solutions."

He concluded: "COMECE stands in solidarity with the Scandinavian Bishops' Conference, and with Catholic and other affected communities in Denmark, encouraging an intense and fruitful dialogue of the relevant national public authorities with the impacted churches and religious communities."

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