The Church's role in upholding human rights
The EU Fundamental Rights Agency describes its Fundamental Rights Forum as “...an inclusive and innovative platform to draw in contributors including leading experts, policy makers and practitioners from all walks of life.” The 2016 Forum provided a fitting context for a contribution by the Church. COMECE took part and was represented by H.E. Mgr. Theodorus C.M. Hoogenboom, COMECE Delegate for the Netherlands and Chairman of its Legal Affairs Commission. This article presents a brief overview of his intervention at the workshop on “The common space between religious traditions and human rights”.
Agency Forum points of reference
In today’s current setting marked by the widespread – but misleading – idea of associating “religion and human rights” with “division and difference”, the departure point was the key role played by religious convictions in the formulation of human rights principles. The main points of reference were firstly Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU), which describes the Union's non-interference in Church-State relations at national level and the EU's Dialogue with Churches and religious associations or communities. Secondly the concept of freedom of thought, conscience and religion was declared to be one of the foundations of a democratic society, and one that is vital for believers, giving them identity and guidelines for living.
Christianity and the origins of human rights
In accordance with Catholic tradition, our belief in Jesus Christ encourages and urges us to defend human dignity and natural rights and to promote inter-religious dialogue. Christian thinkers have reflected on man’s dignity, his rights and duties, helping to shape a universal perspective of equal transcendent dignity, a free and responsible conscience, and brotherhood, as we are all creatures of God the Father. As a result, many human rights terms, principles and concepts are in fact rooted in or have been developed by/in the context of Christianity.
The source and synthesis of natural rights is religious freedom: the right to live in the truth of one’s faith and in conformity with one’s transcendent dignity as a person. Respecting this is an indication of “man’s authentic progress in any regime, in any society, system or milieu”. Bearing this in mind, it is important to recall that the State, while distancing itself from all extremes of fanaticism and secularism, should encourage a harmonious social climate and an appropriate body of law which enables every person and every religious confession to live their faith freely, to express that faith in the context of public life, and to be able to count on adequate resources and opportunities to bring its spiritual, moral and civic benefits to bear on the life of the nation. Furthermore, religion should not be seen as a problem/obstacle, but rather as an asset for our societies.
Reasons for and benefits of inter-religious dialogue
There are many substantial arguments in support of the view that inter-religious dialogue is “a duty and a responsibility” for the Church. Christians believe that God is the creator of all mankind and that He wants every person to live a dignified life on Earth and reach salvation. They have a responsibility to witness that all men – male and female – are made equally in the image of God, thus deserving love, friendship and communion, enjoying the same dignity and natural rights, and being equal to the others, from conception to natural death, in dignity and rights. Moreover, the Second Vatican Council's call to inter-religious dialogue is now more current than ever before.
Pleading for a vigorous and correct interpretation of Article 17 TFEU
As an entity founded by God, the Church is not by nature an NGO. In this sense, Article 17 TFEU Dialogue is essential to ensure that the profound specificity of the contribution of the Church to the guidance of European societies and the European Union is fully taken into account. Dialogue Seminars constitute a solid good practice, but the term ‘Dialogue’ also implies that the EU institutions should strive to organise timely ad-hoc pre-consultations with Churches and religious communities or associations, especially with reference to legislative proposals that present clear and relevant implications for their activities and status.
The current EU context also calls for a firm clarification that Article 17 TFEU does indeed formulate an obligation for a Dialogue to be maintained between the EU institutions and Churches, religious associations or communities: it does not “foresee inter-religious dialogue” or provide the EU institutions with the legal basis for organising inter-religious dialogue. Additionally, Article 17 TFEU should not be confused with the distinctly different Dialogue between the EU and Civil Society.
Alessandro Calcagno, José Luis Bazán