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 CNS Story:

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM Dec-3-2004 (780 words) xxxi

No nation has perfect religious freedom record, Vatican official says

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Perfect religious freedom does not exist in any country in the world, said Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican's foreign minister.

"Even in states in which the right to religious freedom is taken very seriously," he said, perfection is missing, often because a concern for church-state separation leads to penalizing religious activity in the public sphere.

Archbishop Lajolo was the keynote speaker at a Dec. 3 conference in Rome sponsored by the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican.

While the conference focused on major violations of religious freedom around the world, particularly in China and the Middle East, Archbishop Lajolo said limits on religious freedom exist almost everywhere.

For instance, he said, government and taxation policies may limit the rights of parents to choose a religious education for their children or may penalize the charitable work of the church by not recognizing its nonprofit status.

Attempts to ban religiously motivated positions from public policy debates are also infringements on religious freedom, he said.

Archbishop Lajolo and other speakers at the conference also voiced concern about the increasing threats to Christians in Iraq and in other countries with a Muslim majority following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"It should be recognized that the war against terrorism, even though necessary, had as one of its side effects the spread of 'Christianophobia' in vast areas of the globe," the archbishop said.

In many places, he said, "Western civilization or certain political strategies of Western countries are considered to be determined by Christianity or, at least, not separated from it."

Archbishop Lajolo said the Vatican has asked the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to condemn "Christianophobia" along with "Islamophobia" and anti-Semitism.

Speaking to reporters later, the archbishop said anti-Christian or anti-Catholic sentiments are found not only in Muslim countries, but in other nations where church-sponsored educational or charitable work is seen as a thinly veiled attempt at proselytism or where Christianity is seen as Western colonialism or interference in the life of a nation.

John V. Hanford III, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, told the conference, "Far too many people continue to suffer for their faith. In fact, over half of the world's people live under governments that restrict religious freedom."

He said the U.S. State Department continues to list Myanmar, China, Iran, North Korea and Sudan as "countries of particular concern" for their restrictions on religious liberty, and this year the government added Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam to the list.

"It has been joked that the only countries that come off our CPC list are countries we've invaded," he said, but the fact is that the U.S. government has seen enough improvement in Afghanistan and Iraq to remove them from the list.

Still, Hanford said, the U.S. government is concerned about new threats against Christians in Iraq and the growing exodus of members of the country's Christian communities.

Hanford also said the decrease in the number of Christians arrested in China over the past year "is a statistical fluke" after several years of a strong crackdown on religious activity.

Paolo Carozza, a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, and Jesuit Father Daniel Madigan, director of the Institute for the Study of Religions and Culture at Rome's Gregorian University, spoke of the need to take a holistic approach to promoting the dignity and human rights of all people.

"Interreligious dialogue," Carozza said, "is critical for promoting the common good, for allowing each person and group to grow and flourish."

Tolerance for others' religious beliefs should lead to solidarity with them, which in turn will improve the chances for peace and security for all peoples, he said.

Father Madigan told the conference that many conflicts that seem to have a religious root are, in fact, conflicts in which religious differences are manipulated to defend economic or political power.

In addition, he said, "the global political situation, in its current critical state, is also played out on a local level" with some Christian communities suffering because of what some Muslim communities view as a global Christian offensive against Islam.

If religious freedom is intrinsically connected to all other human rights, he said, then those who want to promote religious liberty must also promote the other rights that are inherent to human dignity.

An international economic order that does not value the dignity of the human person more than "unbridled profit" cannot contribute to increased religious freedom, Father Madigan said.

And, he said, "we cannot expect that international relations not built on mutual respect, dialogue and consensus will ever contribute to the spread of religious freedom."

END


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