The concept of secularity, said the Holy Father in his address to the group, originally referred to “the condition of simple faithful Christian, not belonging to the clergy or the religious state. During the Middle Ages it acquired the meaning of opposition between civil authorities and ecclesial hierarchies, and in modern times it has assumed the significance of the exclusion of religion and its symbols from public life by confining them to the private sphere and the individual conscience. In this way, the term secularity has acquired an ideological meaning quite opposite to the one it originally held.”
Secularity today, then, “is understood as a total separation between State and Church, the latter not having any right to intervene in questions concerning the life and behavior of citizens. And such secularity even involves the exclusion of religious symbols from public places.” In accordance with this definition, the Pope continued, “today we hear talk of secular thought, secular morals, secular science, secular politics. In fact, at the root of such a concept, is an a-religious view of life, thought and morals; that is, a view in which there is no place for God, for a Mystery that transcends pure reason, for a moral law of absolute value that is valid in all times and situations.”
The Holy Father underlined the need “to create a concept of secularity that, on the one hand, grants God and His moral law, Christ and His Church, their just place in human life at both an individual and a social level, and on the other hand affirms and respects the ‘legitimate autonomy of earthly affairs’.”
The Church, the Pope reiterated, cannot intervene in politics, because that would “constitute undue interference.” However, “‘healthy secularity’ means that the State does not consider religion merely as an individual sentiment that can be confined to the private sphere.” Rather, it must be “recognized as a … public presence. This means that all religious confessions (so long as they do not contrast the moral order and are not dangerous to public order) are guaranteed free exercise of their acts of worship.”
Hostility against “any form of political or cultural relevance of religion,” and in particular against “any kind of religious symbol in public institutions” is a degenerated form of secularity, said the Holy Father, as is “refusing the Christian community, and those who legitimately represent it, the right to pronounce on the moral problems that today appeal to the conscience of all human beings, particularly of legislators.
“This,” he added, “does not constitute undue interference of the Church in legislative activity, which is the exclusive competence of the State, but the affirmation and the defense of those great values that give meaning to people’s lives and safeguard their dignity. These values, even before being Christian, are human, and therefore cannot leave the Church silent and indifferent, when she has the duty firmly to proclaim the truth about man and his destiny.”
The Pope concluded by highlighting the need “to bring people to understand that the moral law God gave us – and that expresses itself in us through the voice of conscience – has the aim not of oppressing us but of freeing us from evil and of making us happy. We must show that without God man is lost, and that the exclusion of religion from social life, and in particular the marginalization of Christianity, undermines the very foundations of human coexistence. Such foundations, indeed, before being of the social and political order, belong to the moral order.”
Benedict to the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists, which is being held in Rome on the theme: “Secularity and secularities.”