ROME – The Vatican’s foreign minister told a group of his European counterparts on Friday that discrimination against Christians might well be termed “the last acceptable prejudice” in many societies, and warned against what Pope Francis calls a “reductionist approach” to religious freedom.
Quoting the pontiff, British Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, said that there’s a tendency to reduce religions “to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques.”
This, he argued, reveals not only a failure to appreciate “the true sense of freedom of religion or belief, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.”
Failing to understand this, he continued, feeds into sentiments of intolerance and discrimination against Christians, “what might well be termed ‘the last acceptable prejudice’ in many societies. If we truly seek a broad approach to prevent and combat intolerance and discrimination, we need to avoid a selective approach and give attention also to such manifestations of intolerance and discrimination.”
Gallagher was speaking in the northern Italian city of Milan, at the 25th gathering of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), held Dec. 6-7.
The OSCE is the world’s largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization, and has a mandate that includes issues such as arms control and the promotion of human rights and freedom. It has its origins in the 1975 Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) held in Helsinki, Finland during which, as Gallagher noted, the Holy See was an “active negotiator.”
According to the archbishop, the Catholic Church continues to be involved in this 46-year-old process for “one fundamental reason,” it continues to seek “peace, security and justice and the continuing development of friendly relations and co-operation” among the participating States, as the Helsinki declaration states.
“Unfortunately, also our present time is not immune to wars, conflicts and tensions, even within the OSCE region and neighboring countries,” Gallagher said. “In consideration of its particular nature and mission, the Holy See strongly encourages concerned actors to refrain from actions that destabilize neighboring countries, but rather engage in open and honest dialogue, in an effort to strengthen peace and justice and implement the commitments we have undertaken.”
He also said that the Holy See’s active engagement also applies to eradicating violence against women.