Tuesday April 27, 2010

Church has a Right to Speak in Public: Pope to Belgian Ambassador

By Hilary White

ROME, April 27, 2010 ( – In a few pointed phrases addressed to the new Belgian ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI gently chided the Belgian government for seeking to suppress the Church’s right to speak on moral issues – an apparent reference to the Belgium Parliament’s decision last year to pass a motion criticizing remarks made by the pope about Catholic teaching on condoms.

While receiving the letters of credence of Charles Ghislain, the pope called upon the Belgian government to protect the right of the Catholic Church to speak out on issues of concern to it.

“It is worth pointing out,” he said, “that the Church, as an institution, has the right to express herself in public.

“She respects the right of everyone to think differently from herself, and would like to see her own right to expression respected. The Church, having the common good as her objective, wants nothing other than the freedom to be able to present this message, not imposing it on anyone, and respecting people’s freedom of conscience.”

The pope’s comments follow an incident last year after Benedict commented that the wide distribution of condoms for AIDS prevention in Africa has exacerbated the problem. Amidst a frenzied international media response, the government of Belgium voted to adopt a motion condemning the Catholic Church for its teaching on artificial contraception, and demanding that the government make a formal diplomatic protest.

France and Germany also criticized the comments, calling them “irresponsible.”

Benedict also warned the Belgian ambassador that, “Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation, especially in a globalized society at difficult times like the present.”

In what might be seen as remarks aimed at Belgium’s laws allowing abortion and euthanasia, Pope Benedict said, “Human life and dignity are a precious resource to be defended and promoted resolutely, especially on the basis of natural law.”

The pope also said that despite “recent social developments” Belgium “remains rich in Christian soil.” He expressed his hope that Belgian citizens will “exercise their right to propose values that respect human nature.”

Defending the right of Christians to disagree publicly with the European secularist consensus is becoming a theme of Pope Benedict’s papacy. Such remarks come as European governments are displaying increasing hostility towards traditional “conservative” moral and social values, as well as freedom of religious expression.


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