At the invitation of His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the 2nd FORUM Catholic-Orthodox was held in Rhodes, Greece, from 18th to 22nd October 2010, under the main theme being “Church and State Relations: from Historical and Theological Perspectives”. The Forum was organised under the auspices of brotherly hospitality of H.E. Metropolitan Kyrillos of Rhodes, to whom immense gratitude is hereby expressed. The Forum co-chaired by H.E. Metropolitan Prof. Dr Gennadios of Sassima from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and H.E. Cardinal Péter Erdö, President of the Council of the European Bishops’ Conferences of the Roman Catholic Church (CCEE).
Following along the lines of the positive experience of the 1st Catholic-Orthodox Forum held in (Trent, Italy, 11-14 December 2008), which dealt with the theme: “ The Family: a good for mankind”, 17 delegates of the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Europe, along with 17 representatives of the Orthodox Churches in Europe, have probed into the relations between their Churches and States in Europe.
Over the past two years, increasing progress has been made about the need for a co-operation between the Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church in Europe and has been considerably raised, as testified also by this ecumenical initiative. This Forum does not aim to replace the International Joined Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which was established in 1979/1980.
The actual aim of our Forum is to focus on anthropological, social and cultural issues, which are key for the present and the future of Europe and humankind, thereby identifying some common positions in regard to topical social and moral questions.
Through our participation, we have realised how close our respective moral and social doctrines are, sensitising, at the same time, Europe and the world at large to the concerns shared by our Churches.
The days spent in Rhodes were organised in moments of work and prayer in the spirit of a mutual respect and a brotherly cooperation.
More specifically, the two delegations have lingered over the theological vision underlying said relations. Thanks to the contributions of several delegates from the attending Churches, the Forum has dwelled on the different models and solutions adopted by the States as regards the legal framework for the Churches in their respective countries regulating pastoral, social and educational structures. The following aspects were specifically considered: Church and State relations from a theological and historical standpoint; the way in which the Churches experience their relations with the State; the common good and the diakonia/service of the Church in society.
In particular, the Forum has addressed the following points:
1. The Church having a theandric constitution, albeit limited to the created world, where its mission is accomplished, combines time with eternity. It does not ignore, refuse or reject history, but it takes stock of it, since its mission is not only eschatological, but also historical, for men live in history, time and space that is geographically limited. The Church is a mystery, a sign and a means of God’s presence in the world, but it is also a reality of the community, which belongs to history. United by the Holy Spirit, it has taken on from Jesus Christ the task of spreading the Gospel to the world till the end of time (Cf. Mt 28:19). This is why it is part of the society in solidarity with humankind and develops specific relations with the States.
2. To their satisfaction, the participants note that the respect of religious freedom as a fundamental right of the individual has been growing in the conscience of European peoples, as testified by some European legal instruments, such as the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights of 1950, enforced by 47 member states of the Council of Europe, the Nice Charter of Human Rights (2000) effective in the 27 member states of the EU, as well as many other national constitutions. Several countries in Europe have adopted new democratic constitutions, along with laws on religious freedom and religious communities, which ensure that all citizens have the right to profess their religions, respecting at the same time the beliefs of others. Conversely, some European countries have adapted their legislations with a view to meeting the common needs in terms of religious freedom, especially considering the charity work and social activities carried out by the Church as an integral part of its mission.
3. Those amongst us who come from EU member states might certainly know that in conformity with the Lisbon Treaty (2007), article 17, the Churches are considered under national legislation based on their statutes and are recognised for their specific contribution to the identity of Europe. Moreover, the European Union undertakes to guarantee an open and transparent dialogue with the Churches.
From time to time, each European nation has established special relations with the Church and the local religious communities. It can be easily understood that in certain countries, the Church of the overwhelming majority of citizens is still held in great esteem by the State, considering its past and present contribution to the life of people. The Churches take due note of the fact that pursuant to EU law and in line with the principle of subsidiary, the legal status of the Churches is deeply rooted in individual national legislation, along with cultural issues. Every attempt at reunification or levelling would not suit the specific needs of Church and State relations, as recorded in history.
The participants in the Forum believe that the role as dominating Church or State Church should not result in a legal discrimination for the other Churches and the members of minority religious groups, whose religious freedom should be fully guaranteed, including the right to profess their faith using any means respecting personal freedom.
4. Most our countries have introduced a registration system for religious communities. Provided that a few criteria are met – such as number of members, years of presence in the country – they can be qualified as incorporated cults (religions). When there is a clear separation between the Church and the State, and in those countries where an official religion is recognised, the cults (religions) will be considered as cultural associations in accordance with the civil code, which is sometimes contradicting the right to the self-determination of religious communities.
The corporative freedom of the Church is guaranteed when the Church itself is recognised for what it is. In most European legal systems, ecclesiastical structures are recognised as a legal person by the civil law. We hope that this form of recognition be adopted and applied everywhere.
5. In Europe, the system of separation, which guarantees a co-operation between the Church and the State is the most common. By separation, we mean the distinction between political and religious domains, rather than mutual neglect, since this would have been impossible to achieve otherwise. The State and the Church, each in their own domains, are independent and autonomous one from another. Said mutual independence and autonomy should leave room for a specific and harmonious cooperation between the two institutions. Cooperation is called for by the very same mission of the Church, which is not limited to the liturgical life, but includes, among other things, education, charity work and services for the common good.
To our satisfaction, we note that in several European countries, the Churches have the freedom to open schools and provide spiritual assistance to people in hospitals, in prisons, correctional facilities or drafted into the Army.
6. Our churches wish they could participate more actively in the ethical and moral debates concerning the future of the society. According to us, our countries in Europe cannot disregard their Christian roots without being destroyed, since these ethical stakes are key for our future in a globalised world. The Churches are willing to make themselves heard as regards the protection of life to be of the unborn child, the assistance to people close to death, the family created in line with the traditional Christian understanding of marriage, the care towards marginalised people, the acceptance of migrants, as well as the protection of the cultural and linguistic identity of European countries. The Churches have the obligation to sensitise to these issues and defend the dignity of the human being created in the likeness of God. In particular, the Churches reaffirm the right to conscientious objection for healthcare professionals not willing to practice abortion or euthanasia.
7. There exist considerable differences amongst our Churches as regards material life conditions. Some Churches are financed by the State budget; others have put in place a system of ecclesiastical tax which is levied in accordance with the law; others rely only on the offerings of their faithful. For many Churches, the latter are the main source of income. For a few years, the so-called mandated tax system has also been in place, which allows taxpayers to allocate part of their income to a Church or a charity. In certain European countries, in order to accomplish their pastoral, charity and social mission, the Churches are still waiting to have their assets returned, after the seizure on the part of the Communist regimes.
8. The participants in the Forum insist on the freedom of education, recalling that the duty of education lies with the parents, who must decide for the education of their children. The State must not impose an ideology through the school system for which it is responsible. As far as the Church is concerned, it has an inborn right to provide the children of requesting families with an education in conformity with Christian principles. Religious education must be made possible in public schools in agreement with the Churches. Schools and training institutes managed by the Church should benefit from the financial support of the State just like public schools, since they perform the task of forming responsible citizens acting for the common good.
9. We warn the citizens of our countries about the danger represented by a secularised society with no moral reference points and without a plan, which is worthy of humankind. There is no coexistence without a relation with the objecting reality of humankind and their need to be open to the reality in which they live, which is not only limited to the pursuance of material wellbeing, rather includes the quest for the meaning of life through an endless spiritual search. The image of man, which emerges in public debates and through the media, is often alien to this quest for the truth, since only the satisfaction of one’s wishes is taken into account. The legal system on which the States – and therefore relations amongst citizens – are based cannot depend on the changeable opinions of people, nor on the action of pressure groups. Such a system should be based on intangible human values. Moreover, we reaffirm that these are intrinsic values in humankind. They precede the law and the state. Religious freedom is at the centre of the fundamental rights of the human being, since it gives men the opportunity to freely search for the truth and act in line with it; it sheds light on the design of the Creator, Who wanted us to freely turn to Him.
On their turn, our Churches undertake to support these values, which represent the matrix of the European civilization and culture. We hope that the members of our Churches make every possible effort, on all levels of social life, to make the Christian vision of humankind and the human society continue to inspire the behaviour of people and the choices of legislators. We need to revitalise our Christian values and apply them to the current needs of the European society.
10. 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. Faced with the tricky phenomenon of multiculturalism in Europe, we reinforce the urgent need for each society to go back to the universal principles of natural ethics, which should set the stage for every form of harmonious coexistence. We confirm our availability to cooperate with public authorities in our own countries, thereby contributing to social cohesion and giving our peoples a reason to hope for their future.
The participants in the Forum have, in fact, rejoiced at the brotherly and stimulating atmosphere during the works and hope that their sense of Christian responsibility be enhanced in the role played by the Churches in the city and in connection with the challenges of our time.
We warmly welcome the invitation extended by H.E. Cardinal-Patriarch of Lisbon to organise the 3rd Catholic-Orthodox Forum in Portugal in 2012, on the occasion of which we hope we could get even closer with our theological and spiritual viewpoints for the common good of our Churches and the service to society.
Rhodes, Greece, 21st October 2010.