WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — Church representatives have accused the European Union of ignoring pledges to defend religious freedom, despite commitments set out in special 2013 guidelines.
Msgr. Duarte Nuno Queiroz de Barros da Cunha, secretary-general of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, told Catholic News Service that the Swiss-based organization, grouping 39 European bishops’ conferences, was disappointed by a lack of action since the guidelines were enacted.
“If officials talk about religious freedom, they usually do so abstractly and seem afraid or ashamed to name the communities actually suffering, especially in the Middle East,” he said.
“Freedom of religion is an absolute principle, and diplomatic and economic pressure should be used to defend it,” he said. “But the measures adopted four years ago are just words on paper, despite growing persecution. The EU should stop being hypocritical by saying one thing publicly and doing another behind the scenes.”
Msgr. Da Cunha said the ideology of secularization “views religion as a private affair of the individual; it has difficulty understanding the public dimension of religious communities.”
Church leaders welcomed Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief when they were adopted by the European Union’s Council of Foreign Ministers in June 2013.
The 18-page guidelines said the free exercise of religious freedom contributed “to democracy, development, the rule of law, peace and stability,” whereas violations were often “early indicators of potential violence and conflicts.”
It added that the European Union was concerned that religious rights abuses were now widespread “in all parts of the world, including Europe,” and would consider “the possible suspension of cooperation, notably as regards financial assistance” in response.
The secretary-general of the Brussels-based Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, Dominican Brother Olivier Poquillon, told Vatican Radio in late April that EU officials had ignored a requirement to report on the guidelines’ implementation during 2016.
He said the guidelines were not being reflected in EU diplomacy, and said many officials appeared unaware of their existence.
“European politicians at all levels have little understanding of religion and how to deal with it,” he said.
Msgr. Da Cunha told CNS the May 2016 appointment of Jan Figel as an EU special envoy on religious freedom outside Europe had introduced someone “very engaged and respected by the church” to top-level advocacy for religious rights. He said some feared Figel would just be “just a name,” without support and help from EU institutions.
“We’re still waiting to see if the special envoy will be given a structure and budget and have any real influence on EU policies,” he said.
“Today’s mass persecutions and human rights violations are demanding the EU and its member-states do something, and I think political pressure and trade leverage can rightly be used to force improvements,” he said.
In a time of crisis CatholicPhilly.com keeps the information flowing
During the current coronavirus crisis, you can help CatholicPhilly.com deliver the kind of news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live ― every day.
Budgets are tight at this time, and CatholicPhilly's is no different than those of most families. We make sure your donation in any amount will go a long way toward continuing our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103