Archive - February 2016

New Thinking on International Religious Freedom
Join a Conference Call on the Persecution of Christians
Joustra on Volf with ArcU shout outs.
The Pope, the Patriarch and the People: recovering common aspirations
More on the Pope and the Patriarch: Is Ukraine being sacrificed?
The Pope and the Patriarch: Something More Than Politics
More on laicite

New Thinking on International Religious Freedom

America magazine has just published an issue on international religious freedom — five feature pieces, all worth reading.  Two are by ArcU contributors, Mary Ann Cusimano Love and myself.  Mary Ann writes brilliantly on the responses of Catholic to persecution — echoing the theme of the Under Caesar’s Sword conference in Rome this past December, which she attended — and brings to bear her first-hand research on the plight of Iraqi Christians.  She shows how responses to persecution can be motivated by mercy and mesh with peacebuilding.

My own piece expands on an op-ed I published back in November arguing that the Catholic Church’s long historical road to religious freedom, culminating in the Declaration on Religious Liberty at Vatican II, can be a usable model for Islam to expand its religious liberty.

See the other pieces, too, by Fr. Drew Christiansen, S.J., Elias Mallon, and a jointly authored piece by Fr. Thomas J. Reese and Mary Ann Glendon.


Join a Conference Call on the Persecution of Christians

This coming Thursday, February 25th, I will be leading a conference call on the persecution of Christians, among other things engaging the findings of Under Caesar’s Sword: Christian Response to Persecution, a joint research project conducted by the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame and the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Georgetown University.

For information and to sign up, see here.

The Pope, the Patriarch and the People: recovering common aspirations

Observations on the momentous Pope Francis-Patriarch Kirill meeting – including Daniel Philpott’s helpful posts here and here on ArcU- have offered us much food for thought this week.
To recap: many commentators have focused on the Kremlin’s apparent interests in securing such a meeting, on Patriarch Kirill’s problematic dependency on Putin, or on the Patriarch’s personal motives for agreeing to meet with Pope Francis at this particular time.
Andrea Gagliarducci, on the other hand, offers a cautiously skeptical account of the Vatican’s emerging “Ostpolitik”, contrasting it to the approach of previous Popes, and questioning whether it will be “successful” in theological terms.
Several commentators have honed in on controversial passages of the joint declaration signed by the two religious leaders, noting in particular paragraphs 25, 26 and 27, which refer to Ukraine. Some suspect that Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church played a leading role in their drafting, leading to claims that his office “exploited” the co-authors – the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, with Cardinal Kurt Koch at its helm.
It seems to me that all of these reflections – while highly relevant – fail to appreciate the essence of this recent encounter. As regards the meeting itself, it was Pope Francis’ insistence that he would go wherever necessary to meet the Patriarch that seems to have created the opening in the first place. And as regards the declaration, judging by my own experience of Russian diplomacy, and my personal encounter with Cardinal Koch, I do believe we have much to be grateful for. While negotiations on the declaration must have been tough – in some ways even disappointing – I believe that Koch’s graciousness and docility – paradoxically perhaps – made him the right man for the job (for more on the Catholic Church’s approach to achieving Christian unity, see 821-822 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Furthermore, while Philpott rightly notes that, for all its apparent imperfections, “there is much in the declaration to appeal to”, there is one point that I believe has not yet resounded strongly enough: the declaration’s potential impact on ordinary members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Many of them are suspicious towards Catholics or members of other Churches independent of the Moscow Patriarchate. The meeting and joint declaration may encourage them to follow the example of their leader and seek out possibilities for encounter or dialogue with their brothers and sisters of other Churches or ecclesial communities. It is this kind of dynamic – this kind of renewed solidarity grounded in a reality that is greater than we are – that eventually led to the collapse of Communism following John Paul II’s visit to Poland in 1979. Just as ordinary people in Poland remember the transformative impact of John Paul II’s call on the Holy Spirit to “renew the face of the land” in 1979, the Orthodox faithful – particularly the youth – might rediscover in the joint declaration not only a common aspiration for peace and justice, but also a common language and deep common heritage so often betrayed during times of political propaganda, division and conflict. Sub Tuum…

More on the Pope and the Patriarch: Is Ukraine being sacrificed?

Following up on my last post on the Pope Francis-Patriarch Kirill meeting, I see that several of my favorite commentators are continuing to focus on the realpolitik behind the meeting.  See herehere and here.  One commentator sees the meeting as emblematic of a turn towards ostpolitik on the part of Pope Francis who, stressing “reality over ideas,” aims to establish relationships with leaders in places like Russia, Cuba, and China, even if this means compromising religious freedom and full human rights.

They focus especially on the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which has long been loyal to the Vatican but is beleaguered by the Russian Orthodox Church next door, and on Ukraine in general, which has been subject to the aggression of Russia under Vladimir Putin.  They focus, too, on the many political advantages that Putin and Kirill gained from the meeting while Pope Francis has stressed good will, exclaiming “finally!  We are brothers!” upon meeting Kirill.

These worries are not without foundation.  The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has been a brave voice for religious freedom, the freedom of Ukraine, and democratization, having played a pivotal role in the Maidan Square democracy protests of 2014.  Bishop Borys Gudziak, who spoke movingly of the experience of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church under communism and at Maidan at the Under Caesar’s Sword conference in Rome in December (see this previous post), just posted a beautiful piece at First Things just before the pope-patriarch meeting offering an appraisal of the meeting that was both gracious and cautious.

In the long-term, however, there is cause for optimism even with respect to these realpolitik concerns.  Meeting and signing a statement has implications for all parties who participate.  In 1975, the Soviets and Eastern European Communist regimes signed the Helsinki Accords, an agreement of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe declaring their commitment to human rights.  Realist skeptics dismiss such an agreement as worthless: law and institutions make little difference in the world of superpower relations.  But human rights dissidents in Eastern Europe did not think it worthless.  They took courage and gained psychological support from the accords and used it to make appeals to their governments: you committed to these ideals, now live up to them.  The dissidents were empowered, as was their determination to oppose their Communist regimes.  At the time, few people outside of these countries knew of this effect.  After the Communist regimes fell in 1989, though, the story became known.  It is told by political scientist Daniel Thomas in his book, The Helsinki Effect.

Might a similar dynamic take place, mutatis mutandis, with respect to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and perhaps with respect to Kirill’s yielding relationship to Putin?  There is much in the declaration to appeal to, including its strong words about religious freedom, its acknowledgment of the legitimacy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, however inadequate this acknowledgment might have been, and its claim to “deplore the hostilities in Ukraine,” again an inadequate description of what was surely “aggression.”  Defenders of Ukraine and its church — and hopefully Pope Francis himself — though, can now present these statements back to Kirill and even to Putin on behalf of these worthy causes in the context of the new relationship that has been forged.  Results will not be immediate, but Helsinki showed that declarations are not without consequence.






The Pope and the Patriarch: Something More Than Politics

Yesterday, the pope met with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church for the first time. Christians everywhere ought to celebrate the meeting. Jesus prayed “that they may be one,” as recorded in the Gospel of John, Chapter 17, and this is a momentous stride towards unity. Although the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church have been meeting and working towards reconciliation since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the meeting between the pope and the patriarch of the Orthodox Church’s largest autonomous church, sometimes called “The Third Rome,” has been elusive. Pope John Paul II had yearned for such a meeting, believing it to be the decisive move in realizing his dream of full unity between the churches, the healing of the rupture of 1054.  But he died without achieving it.

Commentators have raised their antennae for Machiavellianism, noticing motives for the meeting baser than sublime unity.  Most of the theories focus on Kirill.  Kirill wants to raise his stock in the Orthodox Church, especially in advance of a historical upcoming meeting of the Church’s patriarchs.  The leader of a Church that has long been intertwined with the power of the Russian state, Kirill may be boosting the prestige of Vladimir Putin, who, after all, portrays himself as the defender of Christians in the Middle East, where is intervening militarily and indiscriminately.  Kirill may also be providing cover for Putin’s designs in the Ukraine. Pope Francis is being taken for a ride. And so on.

In church politics, as in secular politics, major events are rarely free from the sorts of dynamics picked up by antennae attuned to power and prestige. Such dynamics, though, do not rob this event of its significance for the unity of the Christian church. The declaration that the pope and the patriarch jointly signed reveals this stride towards unity to be broad and deep, built around some of the most important purposes and struggles of the Christian church in today’s world. There is nothing anodyne or cosmetic about it.

Consider some of the declaration’s points:

  • Early in the document, the leaders note the wounds that have divided the churches for centuries, declare that “we are pained by the loss of unity,” and “call for the re-establishment of this unity.” Their goal is full reconciliation in the Christian church.
  • The first of the many issues of justice they cover is the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, where Christians have it worse than virtually anywhere else (except perhaps North Korea).  They devote eight paragraphs to the issue in a document of thirty paragraphs. Most of these Christians are members of a Catholic or Orthodox church of some variety.  They also “bow before the martyrdom” of Christians losing their lives for their faith, thus invoking what Pope Francis has called “the ecumenism of blood,” arguably the most powerful force for bringing divided churches together.  Having the two leaders speak in unity on behalf of these beleaguered Christians can only help their cause.
  • The two leaders speak more broadly about the suffering of all of the victims who have died or been displaced in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and call for humanitarian aid.
  • Two paragraphs focus on religious freedom around the world. The leaders give thanks for the rise in the freedom of churches in the aftermath of decades of “militant atheism” in Russia and Eastern Europe. Indeed, the persecution of the Orthodox Church under Soviet communism in the 1920s and 1930s was one of the worst attacks on any Christian church at any time. The document rightly notes the “situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom.”
  • Evincing holism, the leaders call attention to global poverty, migration, environmental degradation, refugees, and global inequality and devote an entire paragraph to the “inalienable right to life” and the millions who are “denied the right to be born in the world.” In Russia, abortion rates are at or close to the highest in the world, one of the few places where more babies are aborted than are born.
  • Two paragraphs are devoted to family and marriage.
  • The declaration also speaks honestly of matters that divide the two churches. It calls Christians to refrain from stealing sheep from other churches. In concrete terms, it addresses the issue of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, perhaps the most difficult point of division over the past few centuries. The Orthodox Church protests that this church broke from the Patriarch of Constantinople and entered into full communion with the pope in the Union of Brest in 1595. The declaration affirms that this “uniate” method of establishing unity, involving a community leaving its church to join another, is not the way to establish unity but that nevertheless communities that were established in this way have the right to exist and to be respected.
  • My favorite paragraph was this one, addressed to youth:

“God loves each of you and expects you to be His disciples and apostles. Be the light of the world so that those around you may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:14, 16). Raise your children in the Christian faith, transmitting to them the pearl of great price that is the faith (cf. Mt 13:46) you have received from your parents and forbears. Remember that “you have been purchased at a great price” (1 Cor 6:20), at the cost of the death on the cross of the Man–God Jesus Christ.”

Not only have the pope and the patriarch conducted a historical meeting but also they have set forth a substantive foundation for unity and reconciliation – one that will outlast the political motives of the day. It is a meeting that is likely to be repeated and a foundation that is likely to be deepened.

Correction recorded February 15, 2016: A reader wrote to me to report that my description of Russia’s abortion rates is outdated.  It describes the situation during the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s, when abortions indeed exceeded live births.  Since that time, though, rates have gone down.  The 2014 report of the Russian Statistical Agency claims that in 2013, 53.7 abortions took place per live birth, whereas in 2005, the number was 117.4 abortions per 100 live births.  Many thanks to this reader for this correction.  


More on laicite

Here at ArcU we’ve been commenting on France’s laïcité.  The Wall Street Journal‘s Bill McGurn ran an an op-ed piece last week offering a sharp critique of laïcité and its consequences for minorities.  He shows that the principle is having exactly the opposite effect of an inclusive, liberal society.  A better secularism is the United States’s, which is grounded in transcendently based rights.  He cites another piece along the same lines and worth reading by Elizabeth Winkler in The New Republic,  “Is It Time For France to Abandon Laïcité?”

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.