Benedict XVI’s “state of the world” speech

When I look at issues having to do with the Church, especially how the Church interacts with (or resists) the “modern world”, I will usually try to see the issue from two perspectives: ad intra (from within the Church herself) and ad extra (from the perspective of the world).

In December the Holy Father gave his “state of the union/Church” address during his annual pre-Christmas meeting with the Roman Curia.   Now the other shoe has dropped.  He has given his “state of the world” speech to members of the diplomatic corp.

Benedict XVI’s speech to the Roman Curia (ad intra) was a grim assessment in which he spoke of a faith that is asleep and used the phrase, “The very future of the world is at stake.”

Here is the Holy Father’s address to the members of the diplomatic corps.

This is really long.  I will edit and add emphases and comments.

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


The religious dimension is an undeniable and irrepressible feature of man’s being and acting, the measure of the fulfilment of his destiny and of the building up of the community to which he belongs. Consequently, when the individual himself or those around him neglect or deny this fundamental dimension, imbalances and conflicts arise at all levels, both personal and interpersonal.  [This will be about religious liberty.]This primary and basic truth is the reason why, in this year’s Message for World Day of Peace, [Benedict has used these messages for important teachings.] I identified religious freedom as the fundamental path to peace. Peace is built and preserved only when human beings can freely seek and serve God in their hearts, in their lives and in their relationships with others. [No religious freedom, no peace.  It is a sine qua non.]

Ladies and Gentlemen, your presence on this solemn occasion is an invitation to survey the countries which you represent and the entire world. [He is getting ready to give examples of places where things aren’t going well.]


Looking to the East, the attacks which brought death, grief and dismay among the Christians of Iraq, even to the point of inducing them to leave the land where their families have lived for centuries, has troubled us deeply. To the authorities of that country and to the Muslim religious leaders I renew my heartfelt appeal that their Christian fellow-citizens be able to live in security, continuing to contribute to the society in which they are fully members. In Egypt too, in Alexandria, terrorism brutally struck Christians as they prayed in church. This succession of attacks is yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt, in spite of difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities. Need we repeat it? In the Middle East, Christians are original and authentic citizens who are loyal to their fatherland and assume their duties toward their country. It is natural that they should enjoy all the rights of citizenship, freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and freedom in education, teaching and the use of the mass media(Message to the People of God of the Special Asembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, 10). I appreciate the concern for the rights of the most vulnerable and the political farsightedness which some countries in Europe have demonstrated in recent days by their call for a concerted response on the part of the European Union for the defence of Christians in the Middle East. Finally, I would like to state once again that the right to religious freedom is not fully respected when only freedom of worship is guaranteed, and that with restrictions. [Note that “only”.  This isn’t about just being able to go to church without getting blown up or shot… though that’s a good start.  Above, be mentions “education, teaching and the use of the mass media”.  What else does he have in mind?] Furthermore, I encourage the accompaniment of the full safeguarding of religious freedom and other humans rights by programmes [“programmes” surely means “laws” and concrete measures] which, beginning in primary school and within the context of religious instruction, will educate everyone to respect their brothers and sisters in humanity. [A public education initiative in Islamic countries to teach children that killing Christians is wrong… hmmm.] Regarding the states of the Arabian Peninsula, where numerous Christian immigrant workers live, I hope that the Catholic Church will be able to establish suitable pastoral structures. [In other words, in a place where it is forbidden to have even an informal gathering, we would like to establish something like parishes, chaplaincies, something.  That’s going to happen.   But the fact that Benedict is bringing it up in this context points to the shameful injustice of those state’s where it is not possible for Christians to live openly as Christians.]Among the norms prejudicing the right of persons to religious freedom, particular mention must be made of the law against blasphemy in Pakistan: [My my!  VERY pointed condemnation of a specific law in a specific country.  The Pope is not holding back.] I once more encourage the leaders of that country to take the necessary steps to abrogate that law, all the more so because it is clear that it serves as a pretext for acts of injustice and violence against religious minorities. The tragic murder of the governor of Punjab shows the urgent need to make progress in this direction: the worship of God furthers fraternity and love, not hatred and division. [I guess it depends on which god you worship.] Other troubling situations, at times accompanied by acts of violence, can be mentioned in south and south-east Asia, in countries which for that matter have a tradition of peaceful social relations. The particular influence of a given religion in a nation ought never to mean that citizens of another religion can be subject to discrimination in social life or, even worse, that violence against them can be tolerated. In this regard, it is important for interreligious dialogue to favour a common commitment to recognizing and promoting the religious freedom of each person and community. And, as I remarked earlier, violence against Christians does not spare Africa. Attacks on places of worship in Nigeria during the very celebrations marking the birth of Christ are another sad proof of this. [While the comment about “south Asia” might include problems with radical Hindus, this is really about Islam, isn’t it.]

In a number of countries, on the other hand, [moving away from religiously dominated states….] a constitutionally recognized right to religious freedom exists, yet the life of religious communities is in fact made difficult and at times even dangerous (cf. Dignitatis Humanae, 15) because the legal or social order is inspired by philosophical and political systems which call for strict control, if not a monopoly, of the state over society. [This is mostly about China, I think.  It is at least about Communism.] Such inconsistencies must end, so that believers will not find themselves torn between fidelity to God and loyalty to their country. I ask in particular that Catholic communities be everywhere guaranteed full autonomy of organization [This concerns the repression of the Catholic Church in China v. the Patriotic Association, the Communist Party puppet church.] and the freedom to carry out their mission, in conformity with international norms and standards in this sphere.

My thoughts turn once again to the Catholic community of mainland China and its pastors, who are experiencing a time of difficulty and trial. I would also like to offer a word of encouragement to the authorities of Cuba, a country which in 2010 celebrated seventy-five years of uninterrupted diplomatic relations with the Holy See, that the dialogue happily begun with the Church may be reinforced and expanded.

Turning our gaze from East to West, we find ourselves faced with other kinds of threats to the full exercise of religious freedom. [We have seen the dictatorship of religious state-religion fundamentalism, and state-materialstic domination, … now for .. what? … the dictatorship of relativism?] I think in the first place of countries which accord great importance to pluralism and tolerance, but where religion is increasingly being marginalized[The ad intra issue here is probably “New Evanglization” and the revitalization of Christian (Catholic) identity and, for the ad extra dimension, its voice in the public square.] There is a tendency to consider religion, all religion, as something insignificant, alien or even destabilizing to modern society, and to attempt by different means to prevent it from having any influence on the life of society. Christians are even required at times to act in the exercise of their profession with no reference to their religious and moral convictions, and even in opposition to them, as for example where laws are enforced limiting the right to conscientious objection on the part of health care or legal professionals. [An issue for the USA.]

In this context, one can only be gratified by the adoption by the Council of Europe last October of a resolution protecting the right to conscientious objection on the part of medical personnel vis-à-vis certain acts which gravely violate the right to life, such as abortion.

Another sign of the marginalization of religion, and of Christianity in particular, is the banning of religious feasts and symbols from civic life under the guise of respect for the members of other religions or those who are not believers. By acting in this way, not only is the right of believers to the public expression of their faith restricted, [NB.  This is an important stream of thought for Benedict.  For Benedict, Europe, indeed the West, is separable from Christianity in general, but certainly Catholicism in particular.  Without the Christian dimension, functioning and free in all spheres of life, there can be no “Europe” properly understood.  Indeed, no “West”.] but an attack is made on the cultural roots which nourish the profound identity and social cohesion of many nations. Last year, a number of European countries supported the appeal lodged by the Italian government in the well-known case involving the display of the crucifix in public places. I am grateful to the authorities of those nations, as well as to all those who became involved in the issue, episcopates, civil and religious organizations and associations, particularly the Patriarchate of Moscow and the other representatives of the Orthodox hierarchy, as well as to all those – believers and non-believers alike – who wished to show their sympathy for this symbol, which bespeaks universal values.

Acknowledging religious freedom also means ensuring that religious communities can operate freely in society through initiatives in the social, charitable or educational sectors. Throughout the world, one can see the fruitful work accomplished by the Catholic Church in these areas. It is troubling that this service which religious communities render to society as a whole, particularly through the education of young people, is compromised or hampered by legislative proposals which risk creating a sort of state monopoly in the schools; this can be seen, for example, in certain countries in Latin America. Now that many of those countries are celebrating the second centenary of their independence – a fitting time for remembering the contribution made by the Catholic Church to the development of their national identity [there it is again] – I exhort all governments to promote educational systems respectful of the primordial right of families to make decisions about the education of their children, systems inspired by the principle of subsidiarity which is basic to the organization of a just society.

Continuing my reflection, I cannot remain silent about another attack on the religious freedom of families in certain European countries which mandate obligatory participation in courses of sexual or civic education which allegedly convey a neutral conception of the person and of life, yet in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and to right reason. [I think this goes beyond contraception issues to the whole nasty homosexual agenda, the attempt to mainstream homosexuality as just another lifestyle choice.]

Ladies and Gentlemen,

on this solemn occasion, allow me to state clearly several principles which inspire the Holy See, together with the whole Catholic Church, in its activity within the intergovernmental International Organizations for the promotion of full respect for the religious freedom of all. First, the conviction that one cannot create a sort of scale of degrees of religious intolerance. Unfortunately, such an attitude is frequently found, and it is precisely acts of discrimination against Christians which are considered less grave and less worthy of attention on the part of governments and public opinion. At the same time, there is a need to reject the dangerous notion of a conflict between the right to religious freedom and other human rights, thus disregarding or denying the central role of respect for religious freedom in the defence and protection of fundamental human dignity. Even less justifiable are attempts to counter the right of religious freedom with other alleged new rights which, while actively promoted by certain sectors of society and inserted in national legislation or in international directives, are nonetheless merely the expression of selfish desires lacking a foundation in authentic human nature. Finally, it seems unnecessary to point out that an abstract proclamation of religious freedom is insufficient: [Actions, not words.] this fundamental rule of social life must find application and respect at every level and in all areas; otherwise, despite correct affirmations of principle, there is a risk that deep injustice will be done to citizens wishing to profess and freely practise their faith.

[…]Before this distinguished assembly, I would like once more to state forcefully that religion does not represent a problem for society, that it is not a source of discord or conflict. I would repeat that the Church seeks no privileges, nor does she seek to intervene in areas unrelated to her mission, but simply to exercise the latter with freedom. I invite everyone to acknowledge the great lesson of history: “How can anyone deny the contribution of the world’s great religions to the development of civilization? The sincere search for God has led to greater respect for human dignity. Christian communities, with their patrimony of values and principles, have contributed much to making individuals and peoples aware of their identity and their dignity, the establishment of democratic institutions and the recognition of human rights and their corresponding duties. Today too, in an increasingly globalized society, Christians are called, not only through their responsible involvement in civic, economic and political life but also through the witness of their charity and faith, to offer a valuable contribution to the laborious and stimulating pursuit of justice, integral human development and the right ordering of human affairs” (Message for the Celebration of World Peace Day, 1 January 2011, 7).


I have to cut it off here.   He goes on and on, great for the diplomatic corps, I’m sure, but lousy for a blog readership… especially a readership with a short attention span.

I recommend that to get a handle on the Holy Father’s views about the forces that undermine peace, that you take a look at Benedict’s first Message for the World Day for Peace, 1 January 2006.  He really lays it out there and many of these subsequent speeches echo that Message.

What struck me about this was how pointed he was.  He pointed a finger and named names.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Centristian says:

    Well, perhaps His Holiness might point the finger at some of his predecessors, at least with respect to the secularization of society in once Catholic Europe. Let’s face it, the post-Conciliar Church was awfully adept at shaming once officially Catholic states into modifying that aspect of their character to better accomodate the sensibilities of religious minorities in Europe. Rome’s own ecumania is largely responsible for today’s state of affairs in the West, and, with all due respect to the Holy Father, it seems less than courageous to scold contemporary governments and systems without first acknowledging the Vatican’s own sins in this regard.

  2. Jason Keener says:

    Pope Benedict XVI stated,
    “I would repeat that the Church seeks no privileges, nor does she seek to intervene in areas unrelated to her mission, but simply to exercise the latter with freedom. ”

    In Immortale Dei #6, Pope Leo XIII wrote,
    “As a consequence, the State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, which command every individual devoutly to worship God in holiness, because we belong to Him and must return to Him, since from Him we came, bind also the civil community by a like law. For, men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, no less than individuals, owes gratitude to God who gave it being and maintains it and whose ever-bounteous goodness enriches it with countless blessings. Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its reaching and practice-not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion -it is a public crime to act as though there were no God. So, too, is it a sin for the State not to have care for religion as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will.”

    How can Pope Leo XIII have insisted that the state is bound to recognize the unique nature of the Catholic Church while Pope Benedict XVI now insists that the Church asks for no special privileges or recognition? This seems to be an area of discontinuity in the Church’s teaching. Must the state profess the true Catholic Religion or not? Has the current Magisterium renounced IN PRINCIPLE the entire idea of civic states giving privileges to the Catholic Church, or is the Church only not asking for privileges at this point in history because it would be difficult for civil societies to recognize the True Religion due to pluralism, etc.? To me, it does not make sense to insist that it is legitimate for the true Catholic Religion and non-Catholic religions to be put on an equal footing in the life of the state as a MATTER OF PRINCIPLE, if that is what is now being presented by the Magisterium.

  3. Arieh says:

    Hey! I don’t have a short attention . . . umm . . . I think I am going to have a ham sandwich for lunch.

  4. Tim Ferguson says:

    I just had a lengthy, and quite salubrious conversation yesterday with three priests. One of the topics that came up was how “toothless” so much of the documentation has been in the Church. Even stretching back as far as the condemnation of Americanism, the fact that specific names were not mentioned has led to confusion – and has allowed those legitimately called out by the Church to obfuscate (e.g. “No, he’s not saying that I’m a liberation theologian, he’s just condemning some extreme aspects that some people teach under the guise of liberation theology”). Having the Holy Father be so frank and explicit in naming names and citing specific situations and circumstances can only advance the cause of clarity and honesty. It’s especially refreshing to see this in a diplomatic communique, since these have tended to be the worst in terms of calling out specific problems.

  5. Joseph-Mary says:

    The Holy Father is not afraid of stepping up to the plate.

    But for years many, even in our heirarchy, have turned a deaf ear to the Vicar of Christ. Proof of this was given once again just last week when a pro-abortion governor of an eastern state sat in the front pew with his concubine and was feted by a bishop and then all received Communion. There was no love for his soul exhibited there as the man continues on in manifest grave error with impunity and so also with impunity continues the infamous bishop. I did not name names here though.

  6. Brad says:

    Father, how dare you accuse us of having a short atten…oh look, my kitty just came in the room!!!

  7. Eric says:

    Surely the Holy father knows where Cuba can be found on a map.

    Maybe he is talking about ideology.

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