Canadian Bishops on freedom of conscience

2012-05-15 Vatican Radio

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) on Monday released a pastoral letter on freedom of conscience and religion. Issued by the CCCB Permanent Council, the letter expresses concern about an “aggressive relativism” in Canada that seeks to relegate religion to the private sphere.

“The effective functioning of a democracy is absolutely dependent upon the protection of fundamental human freedoms,” says Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, the President of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference. “That includes freedom of conscience and freedom of religious expression. So for the sake of the common good and for the sake of protecting those who find their rights are being challenged, the bishops felt it necessary to speak by issuing this letter.”

Archbishop Smith says the letter was occasioned by “various threats to, or indeed sometimes overt attacks upon both of these fundamental human freedoms.” He notes examples of violent religious persecution in various countries throughout the world, including Egypt and Nigeria. While Canada does not face the same kind of violent challenges to religious freedom, he says, “we also notice, in our own country, far more subtle challenges to freedom of conscience, freedom of religion.”

He says that Church-state relations in Canada have historically been very good, but warns against a “radical secularity” that would exclude religious voices from the public square. ““We need to work towards having healthy church-state relations based not on radical secularity, but what we could call a legitimate one, wherein the political sphere, the religious sphere are recognised as having autonomous spheres of action — one does not run the other — but they do intersect in that our common life together, and our political life, can never be separated from morality or ethics.”

Freedom of conscience and of religion, he explains, “are inherited rights, they are not granted by the state, therefore they cannot be taken away by the state, but must instead be honoured and protected by the state. Where this does not happen, we feel impelled to speak.”

Listen here to Christopher Wells' complete interview of CCCB President, Archbishop Richard Smith: