I took a shot at translating Pope Francis’s remarks on religious freedom, which he addressed to the participants at our conference on international religious freedom. I have tried to be faithful to the text, sacrificing a bit of readability. I have done this in part because some partial translations I’ve seen are not true enough to the original, even if the resulting translation here still leaves some open spaces in meaning (which, at any rate, should not be filled by the translator). Here is the original in Italian. I’ve also got a few comments at the end of the translation.
I welcome you on the occasion of your international conference, dear brothers and sisters. I thank Professor Giuseppe Dalla Torre for his courteous words.
Recently the debate about religious freedom has become very intense, asking questions of both governments and religious denominations. The Catholic Church, in this respect, refers to the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae, one of the most important documents of the Ecumenical Council Vatican II.
In effect, every human being is a “seeker” of truth about his own origins and his own destiny. In his mind and in his heart arise questions and thoughts that cannot be repressed or suffocated, inasmuch as they emerge from the deeps and are by nature connected with the intimate essence of the person. These are religious questions and they demand religious freedom to manifest themselves fully. These questions seek to shed light on the authentic meaning of existence, on the ties that connect it to the cosmos and to history, and they mean to pierce the darkness by which the human condition would be surrounded if such questions were not asked or if they remained answerless. The Psalmist says: “When I see your heavens, work of your fingers/ the moon and the stars that you have fixed, / what then is man that you would remember him, / a son of man that you would care for him?” Psalms 8: 3-4.
Reason recognizes in religious freedom a fundamental right of man that reflects his highest dignity, that of the capacity to seek the truth and to adhere to it, and recognizes in that right an indispensable condition in order to deploy his own potentialities. Religious freedom is not only the freedom of a thought or of a private sect. It is freedom to live according to ethical principles consequent to discovered truth, whether privately or publicly. This is a great challenge in the globalized world, where weak thought—which is like a disease—lowers the general ethical level, and in the name of a false notion of tolerance ends by persecuting those who defend the truth about man and that truth’s ethical consequences.
Legal regimes, national or international, are called to recognize, guarantee, and protect religious freedom, which is a right that inheres intrinsically in the nature of man, in his dignity as a free being, and is also an indicator of a healthy democracy and one of the principal fonts of the legitimacy of the state.
Religious freedom, implemented in constitutions and in laws and translated into coherent behaviors, favors the development of relationships of mutual respect among the different faiths and their healthful collaboration with the state and political society, without confusion of roles and without antagonisms. In place of the global conflict of values, coming from a nucleus of universally shared values, a global collaboration in view of the common good becomes possible.
By the light of the acquisitions of reason, confirmed and perfected by revelation, and of the civil progress of peoples, it is incomprehensible and worrisome that, even today, in the world there remain discriminations and restrictions of rights for the sole reason of belonging to and professing publicly a certain faith. It is unacceptable that true and actual persecutions exist for reasons of religious membership! And wars too! This wounds reason, attacks peace, and humiliates the dignity of man.
It is a motive of great pain for me to observe that Christians in the world suffer the largest number of such discriminations. Persecution against Christians today is even more powerful than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs than in that era. This is happening more than 1700 years after the edict of Constantine, which granted freedom to Christians to profess their faith publicly.
I hope profoundly that your conference illustrates with depth and scientific rigor the reasons that today oblige the legal order to respect and defend religious freedom. I thank you for this contribution. I ask you to pray for me. From my heart I wish you the best and I ask God to bless you. Thank you.
Some brief thoughts:
1. A note on the fourth paragraph with Patrick Brennan’s good questions in mind. According to my translation, the Pope did not say that “every person has a right to seek the freedom to live according to ethical principles, both privately and publicly, consequent to the truth one has found.” The full paragraph fragment in Italian is:
La ragione riconosce nella libertà religiosa un diritto fondamentale dell’uomo che riflette la sua più alta dignità, quella di poter cercare la verità e di aderirvi, e riconosce in essa una condizione indispensabile per poter dispiegare tutta la propria potenzialità. La libertà religiosa non è solo quella di un pensiero o di un culto privato. E’ libertà di vivere secondo i principi etici conseguenti alla verità trovata, sia privatamente che pubblicamente.
The phrase in question, as well as the entire paragraph fragment, is more faithfully translated as “discovered truth” rather than “the truth that one has found” ; “discovered truth” refers back to the same truth that is being sought for in the previous section of this paragraph.
2. Note the reference to the “global clash of values” in paragraph six–a specific comment on our conference–and the Pope’s statement that such a clash can be overcome. That struck me as relevant to the discussion that Tom Berg and I have been having here, here, and here.
3. Nevertheless, in spite of his optimism about the prospects for religious freedom, the Pope expresses great distress about the plight of Christians in the world today, as can be seen in the paragraphs toward the close of the speech.