Proclaiming freedom of conscience as mankind’s “inalienable right,” Pope John Paul II on Tuesday scored totalitarianism and intolerance and called religious fundamentalism a threat to world peace.
The 70-year-old pontiff returned to the theme of human rights for the third consecutive year in his message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace on Jan. 1.
Entitled “If You Want Peace, Respect the Conscience of Every Person,” the 6,000-word message urges world governments to respect the rights of minorities and to allow individuals to freely pursue their own beliefs.
“People must not attempt to impose their own ‘truth’ on others,” the Pope said. “The right to profess the truth must always be upheld, but not in a way that involves contempt for those who may think differently. Truth imposes itself solely by the force of its own truth.
“Unfortunately,” John Paul noted, “we are still witnessing attempts to impose a particular idea on others, either directly--by a proselytism which relies on means which are truly coercive--or indirectly, by the denial of certain civil or political rights.”
Published Tuesday at the Vatican in Italian, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and Arabic, the papal appeal will be distributed to governments around the world and read out in Catholic churches on New Year’s Day.
John Paul defended “the inalienable right to follow one’s conscience and to profess and practice one’s own faith,” warning that those who violate such a fundamental human right risk causing “strained and hostile relations within society or even . . . open conflict.”
“A serious threat to peace is imposed by intolerance, which manifests itself in the denial of freedom of conscience to others. The excesses to which intolerance can lead us has been one of history’s most painful lessons.”
Without naming them specifically, the Pope attacked governments and societies that ban religious practices--a reference to totalitarian Marxist states--and those that impose a single religion--a reference to countries in which Muslim fundamentalism is the ruling force.
When religious law becomes synonymous for civil law, the Pope warned, it “can stifle religious freedom, even going so far as to restrict or deny other inalienable human rights.”
“Intolerance can also result from the recurring temptation to fundamentalism, which easily leads to serious abuses, such as the radical suppression of all public manifestations of diversity, or even the outright denial of freedom of expression,” John Paul said.
Calling religion “a powerful force for liberation,” he warned that attempts to suppress it risk “fueling open or latent rebellion.”
He insisted that individuals must have the right to choose their own religion. Citing excesses in the history of his own church, he asserted that “no one ought to be compelled to believe” and noted that “even today much remains to be done to overcome religious intolerance which in different parts of the world is connected with the oppression of minorities.”
Peace-threatening intolerance is born, John Paul said, when individuals or minorities “are oppressed or relegated to the margins of society. In public life, intolerance leaves no room for a plurality of political or social options, and thus imposes a monolithic vision of civil and cultural life.”