The four cases were related to freedom of conscience and religion of several employees in the UK. Two of the cases concerned employees who were dismissed from their workplace for refusing to not wear a small cross around their neck. The other two concerned freedom to object in conscience to the celebration of a civil union between people of the same sex and to conjugal counseling for same sex counseling.
Recently, the Holy See’s Mission to the Council of Europe published a Note on the Church’s freedom and institutional autonomy. The archbishop explained the context of the Note as "the issue of the Church’s freedom in her relations with civil authorities," which "is at present being examined by the European Court of Human Rights in two cases involving the Orthodox Church of Romania and the Catholic Church. These are the Sindacatul 'Pastorul cel Bun' v. Romania and Fernandez Martinez v. Spain cases. On this occasion, the Permanent Representation of the Holy See to the Council of Europe drew up a synthetic note explaining the Magisterium [official Church teaching] on the freedom and institutional autonomy of the Catholic Church."
"In these cases," the archbishop said, "the European Court must decide whether the civil power respected the European Convention on Human Rights in refusing to recognize a trade union of priests [in the Romanian case] and in refusing to appoint a teacher of religion who publicly professes positions contrary to the teaching of the Church [in the Spanish case]."
"In both cases, the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression were invoked in order to constrain religious communities to act in a manner contrary to their canonical status and the Magisterium. Thus, these cases call into question the Church’s freedom to function according to her own rules and not to be subject to civil rules other than those necessary to ensure that the common good and just public order are respected."
Archbishop Mamberti went on to say that a crucial issue in Western countries is how a materialistic, individualistic and relativistic dominant culture can understand a respect the nature of the Church, "which is founded on faith and reason."
The Secretary for the Holy See's Relations with States emphasized the necessity to maintain religious freedom in its social dimension. "This dimension corresponds to the essentially social nature both of the person and of the religious fact in general. The Church does not ask that religious communities be lawless zones but that they be recognized as spaces for freedom, by virtue of the right to religious freedom, while respecting just public order. This teaching is not reserved to the Catholic Church; the criteria derived from it are founded in justice and are therefore of general application," Archbishop Mamberti said.
The Italian prelate concluded his interview stressing that it is essential for the European Court of Human Rights recognize the juridical principle of the institutional autonomy of religious communities, a principle, he noted, that is recognized by states that respect both religious freedom and international law.
"It is nevertheless useful to recall and defend this principle of the autonomy of the Church and the civil power," Archbishop Mamberti said.
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On ZENIT's page:
For the text of Archbishop Mamberti's Interview, go to: http://www.zenit.org/article-36349?l=english
For the text of the Note on the Church's Freedom and Institutional Autonomy, go to: http://www.zenit.org/article-36350?l=english