Catholic-Orthodox Forum

RHODES, Greece (CNS) — European Catholic and Orthodox representatives praised a growing awareness of religious rights on their continent and urged governments to allow churches a more active role in ethical debates.

In a joint statement from the Greek island of Rhodes, the representatives said bishops and theologians at the second Catholic-Orthodox Forum had welcomed the legal protection given to religious rights by Europe’s democratic constitutions, as well as by international instruments such as the 2000 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

However, it said, “The legal system on which states and relations among citizens are based cannot depend on the changeable opinions of people, nor on action by pressure groups. Such a system should be based on the intangible human values which are intrinsic to humankind.”

“Our churches wish they could participate more actively in the ethical and moral debates concerning the future of the society,” the statement said.

“We ask our governments and politicians to commit themselves in guaranteeing religious freedom in Europe and promote it in the world, fighting against any form of discrimination based on religion,” it added.

The statement was published during the mid-October forum, co-chaired by Cardinal Peter Erdo, Hungarian president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, and Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The forum is the latest of several interchurch groups to discuss religious freedom in Europe, which was also raised by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant church leaders at an Oct. 12 meeting with the EU presidency, currently held by Belgium.

A resolution with recommendations for promoting religious freedom in the EU’s external relations, including a religious rights clause in agreements with third countries, is to be presented to the European Parliament this fall.

The Catholic-Orthodox statement said separation of church and state should “leave room for a specific and harmonious cooperation.”

It added that governments should not “impose an ideology through the school system,” and said recognition of Europe’s Christian roots was “key for our future in a globalized world.”

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