Religious Liberty Incompatible With Secularism, Says Pope

Faith Shouldn't Be Silenced, He Tells Visiting Bishops From Spain

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 24, 2005 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II says that secularist ideology is incompatible with religious liberty.



In an address today to a grouping of visiting Spanish bishops, the Pope analyzed some of the challenges the Church faces in that country, amid the differences that have arisen with the Socialist government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

The Holy Father pointed out that "also spreading in the social realm is a mentality inspired by secularism, an ideology that leads gradually, in a more or less conscious way, to the restriction of religious liberty to the point of promoting contempt or ignorance of the religious, relegating faith to the private sphere and opposing its public expression."

In his address to the diplomatic corps on Jan. 12, 2004, the Holy Father clarified the difference that exists between the "principle of secularity" and secularism.

The former is legitimate, he said, "if it is understood as the distinction between the political community and religions." The latter implies a system that deliberately excludes religious expression.

Referring to anti-religious secularism, the Pope told the Spanish prelates: "This does not form part of the most noble Spanish tradition, because the mark that the Catholic faith has left on the life and culture of the Spanish is too profound to yield to the temptation of silencing it.

"A correct concept of religious liberty is not compatible with that ideology, which at times presents itself as the only voice of rationality. Religious liberty cannot be restricted without depriving man of something fundamental."

In this context, John Paul II continued, "are growing the new generations of Spaniards, influenced by religious indifferentism, ignorant of the Christian tradition with its rich spiritual heritage, and exposed to the temptation of moral permissiveness."

Young people have the right, he said, "from the beginning of their formative process, to be educated in the faith. The integral education of the youngest cannot do without religious teaching also in school, when parents request it, assessed academically in keeping with its importance."

One of the first measures of the Rodríguez Zapatero government was precisely to freeze the plan for educational reform which gave academic recognition to the subject of religion, as established by the Church-state agreements in Spain.

The Catholic Confederation of Parents' Associations announced last Thursday the end of the campaign to collect signatures in favor of the religion course, which obtained more than 3 million signatures. It was an unprecedented campaign in Spain, a country of 40 million inhabitants.

"For their part, the public powers have the duty to guarantee this right of parents and to assure the real conditions of its effective exercise, as included in the 1979 Partial Agreements between Spain and the Holy See, currently in force," added the Pope.

The bishops who are making their five-yearly visit to Rome come from Madrid, Aragon, Asturias, Castile-La Mancha, Castile-Leon, Navarre and the Basque Country.