‘State must be secular, single-religion states end badly’ – Pope Francis to French Catholic paper

Pope Francis. © Alessandro Bianchi
Pope Francis believes that a healthy secularism paired with a strong law that grants above all a religious freedom is the key to a successful and peaceful state, while states tied to a single religion don’t have a future.

“Confessional states end badly…I believe that secularism accompanied by a strong law which guarantees religious freedom provides a framework for moving forward,” the Pontiff said in an interview with Guillaume Goubert, director of French Roman Catholic newspaper La Croix.

Addressing increasing worries of Christians that Islam is becoming ever more widespread in Europe, Pope Francis says that everyone has a right to exercise the religion he or she chooses, and a secular state as opposed to a single-religion one can grant this opportunity.

“We are all equal, as sons of God or [creations] of our personal dignity. But everyone should have the freedom to exercise their own faith. If a Muslim woman wants to wear a hijab, she should be able to. Similarly so, if a Catholic wants to wear a cross. We must have an opportunity to profess our faith not on the sidelines of the [national] culture but within it,” Francis said.

He mildly criticized France in this regard, where concerns over Islam and its confusion with extremism have been spreading exponentially following terror attacks that rocked its capital.

“The small criticism I’ll be addressing to France in this regard is that France exaggerates secularism. This stems from a way of considering religion as a subculture and not a whole culture. France should take a step forward on this issue to accept that openness to transcendence is everyone’s right.”

When asked about current controversial social issues, such as the legality of euthanasia or same-sex marriages, the Pontiff once again stated that social issues must be dealt with by secular authorities, but that people's personal beliefs and convictions should be respected when a certain law is adopted.

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“It is the parliament that must discuss, argue, explain, reason. Thus the society will evolve and grow. But when the law is passed, the state must respect [religious beliefs]. In each legal structure, objections of conscience must be present for it is a human right. Including for a government official, who is also a human being,” Francis said, adding that a truly secular state cannot exist without criticism and respect for its people and their beliefs.

“The state must respect criticism. That is true secularism,” Francis said.