ROME, March 4, 2014 ( – Speaking today at a conference in Rome on human rights, Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, warned against the increasing threat of anti-Christian and “relativistic” interpretations of human rights that result in the repression of the right of freedom of religion.

Citing the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Turkson said that while the Church’s commitment to human rights remains, she “rejects the relativism that some national regimes and interest groups increasingly apply to rights.” He quoted Pope Francis on his first address on the World Day of Peace, who said, “In many parts of the world, there seems to be no end to grave offences against fundamental human rights, especially the right to life and the right to religious freedom.”

He warned against the growth of a human rights philosophy that is not based on universal principles, but instead “depend upon the fashions and trends of societies or on the will of governments.” He noted a growing concern over “ideologies that attempt to rewrite human rights or create new ones,” suggesting that “a healthy realism” is needed to “block the misguided proliferation of pretended rights.”


“When a breach is caused between what is claimed and what is real through the search of so-called ‘new’ human rights, a risk emerges to reinterpret the accepted human rights vocabulary to promote mere desires and measures that, in turn, become a source of discrimination and injustice and the fruit of self-serving ideologies.”

The Church “has a serious concern” when such ideologies “can somehow create a new human right.” The cardinal spoke out against the recent decision by the Belgian government to allow euthanasia for children, saying it has opened the door “to the extension of euthanasia to the handicapped” and other vulnerable persons.

“One example is the attempt on the part of some to legitimize the killing of an unborn child through the promotion of so-called ‘reproductive rights,’ ‘reproductive services’ and other loaded terms which mask the tragedy of abortion.”

He added that this also includes “attempts to recognize those engaging in homosexual behaviour as a specific group to be accorded human rights [that] go beyond the protection to be guaranteed to all people under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” This includes as well the ongoing attempts to re-define marriage to include same-sex partners, “despite the fact that marriage is, by nature, between one man and one woman for their mutual love and increase of the human family, as affirmed in international law.”

“Such positions distort reality because they attempt to rewrite human nature, which de natura cannot be rewritten.”

In contrast to these movements, he said, “The Church regrets the discordance between homosexual behaviour as such and what we understand as the norm for God-given human nature, she upholds the integrity of everyone’s rights” but at the same time “vigorously upholds the rights to life and bodily security of everyone, everyone, regardless of their perceived ‘sexual differences.’”

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The cardinal added, “The Church urges that religious freedom be treasured and defended by all, whatever their own convictions, because it epitomizes the freedom to live by one’s deepest understanding of truth.”

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, formulated in response to the atrocities of Nazism, says, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Turkson observed that “violence against religion is suffered disproportionately by Christians,” in our times. He said the threat to religious freedom comes from opposite directions, with “the aggressive secularism that attacks any beliefs that it does not share,” on the one hand, and “and by some religious fundamentalists with the same tendencies” on the other.

The great majority of religious persecution today, he said, is directed at Christians who “experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their faith in Christ, their pursuit of truth, and their plea for respect for religious freedom.”

“This situation constitutes a grave violation of human rights and must be confronted on all levels. Governments have a responsibility to their people, whatever their religion, to protect them from violations of their human rights, including their right to freedom of religion.”

Turkson said that the true foundation of any human rights are found in the “inherent dignity” of the human person and “in God, his creator,” and not in the will of any government.

“This is utterly radical. Your human rights and mine do not depend upon the will of other people. Human rights arise from our dignity as created in the image and likeness of God,” he said. 

“Thus we should not be surprised that the Catholic Church regularly affirms the inherent dignity of the person as the foundation of human rights, and the right to life from conception to natural death as the first among all human rights and the condition for all other rights of the person.”

The “relativistic” secularist approach to rights, however, proposes that rights are “not based on the natural law inscribed on our hearts and thus not present in all cultures and civilizations,” Turkson said. This “permits the meaning and interpretation of rights to vary and their universality to be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks.”

“Quite to the contrary, a great variety of viewpoints must not be allowed to obscure the basic truth: rights are universal, and so too is the human person who is the subject of these rights.”


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