Pope Francis’s Remarks on “Social Dialogue in a Context of Religious Freedom”

Pope Francis has issued an Apostolic Exhortation–Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”)–which ranges over many subjects, emphasizing in particular and in many places the obligations of Catholics toward the poor and toward realizing just social, political, and economic arrangements.

In a substantial portion of the Exhortation (beginning at paragraph 182), the Pope discusses the social teaching of the Church and he focuses on two issues: the alleviation of poverty and the Church’s special concern for the poor; and “The Common Good and Peace in Society.” As to the latter, and because they involve issues of religion and public life that we consider here at the Center, here are the Pope’s remarks (footnotes omitted) about the importance of “social dialogue in a context of religious freedom,” which conclude his reflections on the social dimension of the Gospel:

255. The Synod Fathers spoke of the importance of respect for religious freedom, viewed as a fundamental human right. This includes “the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public” A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism. The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions. In the long run, this would feed resentment rather than tolerance and peace.

256. When considering the effect of religion on public life, one must distinguish the different ways in which it is practiced. Intellectuals and serious journalists frequently descend to crude and superficial generalizations in speaking of the shortcomings of religion, and often prove incapable of realizing that not all believers – or religious leaders – are the same. Some politicians take advantage of this confusion to justify acts of discrimination. At other times, contempt is shown for writings which reflect religious convictions, overlooking the fact that religious classics can prove meaningful in every age; they have an enduring power to open new horizons, to stimulate thought, to expand the mind and the heart. This contempt is due to the myopia of a certain rationalism. Is it reasonable and enlightened to dismiss certain writings simply because they arose in a context of religious belief? These writings include principles which are profoundly humanistic and, albeit tinged with religious symbols and teachings, they have a certain value for reason.

257. As believers, we also feel close to those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, yet sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we believe have their highest expression and source in God. We consider them as precious allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building peaceful coexistence between peoples and in protecting creation. A special place of encounter is offered by new Areopagi such as the Court of the Gentiles, where “believers and non-believers are able to engage in dialogue about fundamental issues of ethics, art and science, and about the search for transcendence”. This too is a path to peace in our troubled world.

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