VATICAN CITY - Most modern democracies have ended up hurting
religious freedom in their effort to be "neutral" toward
their citizens' diverse beliefs, said Cardinal Angelo Scola.
Under the guise of "objectivity" and respecting diversity,
many governments are really upholding and giving legitimacy
to a culture that is devoid of God and hostile to the
church's legitimate place in the public square, he said.
The cardinal-archbishop of Milan, a prominent theologian,
made his comments Dec. 6 during a prayer service on the eve
of the feast of St. Ambrose, a fourth-century doctor of the
church and patron saint of the city. The Vatican newspaper,
L'Osservatore Romano, published a large part of the speech.
Religious freedom was born with the Edict of Milan, Cardinal
Scola said. The edict, whose1,700th anniversary will be
marked next year, was a proclamation of tolerance of
Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.
The proclamation introduced, for the first time in history,
the cardinal said, the ideas of "religious liberty and
secularity of the state," which are "two critical aspects of
the good organization of the political realm."
St. Ambrose called on Christians to respect civil authority,
which, in turn, had to safeguard the personal and social
freedoms of its people so that both governments and citizens
would be cooperating for the common good, he said.
However, the separation of religion and state progressively
has lost a healthy balance, the cardinal said, with many
democracies questioning, if not outright eliminating, its
core "anthropological framework" that recognized the
"The classic problem of the moral assessment of laws has
increasingly turned into a problem of religious liberty," he
That problem was explicitly evident, Cardinal Scola said, in
the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' battle against the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contraception
mandate requiring employers to include in employee health
plans coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and some
abortion-inducing drugs free, even if the employer is morally
opposed to such services.
In governments' attempt to protect everyone's religious
freedom by being "neutral" or "indifferent" to religion, a
well-intentioned secularity "has ended up becoming a model
that is ill-disposed toward the religious dimension," he
People mistakenly believed a problem lay in divisions between
people of differing beliefs instead of the real dilemma of
the deep divide between secularism and religion, Cardinal
That confusion meant "the just and necessary
nondenominational character of the state ended up hiding -
behind the idea of neutrality - the state's support of a
secular world without God," he said.
Therefore, the so-called "neutral" state has actually ended
up belonging to "a specific culture - secularism - which,
through its legislation, becomes the dominant culture and
ends up adversely exercising power against other identities,
above all religious communities," by either marginalizing or
expelling them from the public sphere, the cardinal said.
In a pluralistic society, one can expect to encounter people
who are atheists, agnostics or simply indifferent toward God,
he said. However, the state itself should not be party to or
a proponent of that particular worldview. And when it is, the
state "inevitably ends up limiting religious liberty," he
The solution, Cardinal Scola said, is a nondenominational
state that has a "renewed" sense of religious liberty.
"A state is needed that, without making its own specific
vision, doesn't interpret its nondenominational character as
a 'detachment,'... but that makes room for every individual
and organization to contribute toward the building of the
common good," he said.
The threats against religious liberty, which needs to be seen
as the linchpin in the hierarchy of rights, indicate that
there is a much larger challenge at heart: respecting the
pluralistic nature of modern societies while bringing
everyone together to promote the common good, he said.
The church "is called to work for the transformation of its
presence in a pluralistic society," he said, showing how
"Christians can give witness to the importance and usefulness
of the faith in the public sphere."
"A good life and good government go hand in hand," he said.