ARCHBISHOP MAMBERTI AT TENTH CUBAN CATHOLIC SOCIAL WEEK
VATICAN CITY, 18 JUN 2010 (VIS) - On 16 June Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States, attended the opening of the tenth Cuban Catholic Social Week, during which he delivered a speech entitled: "Certain considerations concerning the secularism of the State".
"Although the term 'secularism', both in the past and in the present, refers first and foremost to the reality of the State and not infrequently assumes forms that run counter to the Church and Christianity", the archbishop noted, "it would not exist at all were it not for Christianity".
"In fact, without the Gospel of Christ the history of humankind would not have known the fundamental distinction between what man owes to God and what he owes to Caesar; in other words, to civil society. ... The word 'secularism' itself ... has its origins in the ecclesiastical sphere. ... A lay person is ... one who is not of the clergy. ... This is the original, completely intra-ecclesial, definition of the word", he said.
In the Middle Ages, the archbishop went on, "sovereigns who sought to avoid being subject to the Pope did not for this reason consider themselves as being outside the Church. At most they wanted to play a role in controlling and organising the Church, but they had no desire to separate themselves from her or exclude her from society. It was with the Enlightenment, and in a particularly dramatic way during the French revolution, that the term 'secularism' came to designate quite the opposite: complete alterity, a net opposition between civil life, and religious and ecclesial life".
"Although secularism today is not infrequently invoked and used to hinder the life and activity of the Church", said the secretary for Relations with States, "in its profound and positive sense it would never even have existed without Christianity. The same is true for other values which today are considered as typical of modernity and often invoked to criticise the Church, or religion in general, such as respect for the dignity of the person, the right to freedom, equality, etc. These are to a large extent the fruit of the profound influence of the Gospel in various cultures, though later they were separated and even set in conflict with their Christian origins".
"Much State legislation", he observed, "affirms that secularism is a fundamental principle; above all, as concerns the State's relationship with the religious dimension of man. ... In this context we cannot overlook the fact that, in the name of this concept, decisions are sometimes taken and norms published with objectively affect the individual and collective practice of the fundamental right to religious freedom".
"If secularism is not made logically and ontologically subordinate to full respect for religious freedom this can represent a real threat to that freedom. ... In such a case the State, paradoxically, becomes a confessional state, no longer truly secular, because it would make secularism a supreme value, a dominant ideology, a kind of religion with its own civil rites and liturgies".
"The full concept of the right to religious freedom must be reaffirmed. Because respecting this right does not just mean avoiding coercion and allowing personal and interior adherence to the faith. Although respect for the individual act of faith is fundamental, the State's stance towards the religious dimension does not end there, because this dimension ... must find expression in the world and be lived, not only individually but also in the community".
Referring finally to the mission of lay people themselves, Archbishop Mamberti highlighted how "the role of the Magisterium is different from that of the laity, for while pastors of the Church must illuminate minds with their teaching, 'the direct duty to work for a just ordering of society', as Benedict XVI says in his Encyclical on charity, 'is proper to the lay faithful', who achieve this by 'co-operating with other citizens.'"
If we forget or denigrate the origin of so much that we value in our Western cultures, we may end up losing what those origins gave us in the first place. I am fond of a quote from the famous economist John Maynard Keynes (who was not religious at all, as I recall from his biography) bemoaning the fact that so many of his time (and also today) are living off the moral capital built up by previous Christian generations. But if this "fund" is not replenished by later generations, sooner or later, the West will be morally and culturally bankrupt like a degenerate, spoiled brat living off an inheritance or trust fund exclusively built up by previously self-sacrificing generations. May this prophetic critique not come true.