Speaking at a conference on the subject of international religious freedom, Cardinal Timothy Dolan described a “sense of urgency” in the world in light of recent events in Libya and Egypt that led to the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomats.
Citing Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Dolan, head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), told conference attendees at the Catholic University of America that “Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith.” Referring to “rampant” hostility against Christians as “Christophobia,” Dolan used his address to illustrate the sharp rise in religious persecution against Christians in our current day.
To an assembly that included government representatives from the Vatican and the United States, Dolan said, “events in Libya and Egypt point to what is at stake.” He went on to say that, while respect for other religious traditions is important, “at the same time we unequivocally proclaim that violence in the name of religion is wrong.”
In sharp contrast to recent speeches given by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both of whom have linked the murders of the four American diplomats on 9/11 to an obscure, amateur video that mocks the prophet Mohammed, Cardinal Dolan and two top Vatican diplomats urged the United States to address the increasing threats to international security posed by religious extremism.
In addition, while the bishops emphasized the danger of attacks by Islamist extremists, they were also critical of Western nations, like the United States, that no longer place the same value on religious freedom. Apostolic nuncio Archbishop Silvano Tomasi observed that, in emphasizing “religious tolerance,” political analysts and activists treat religion as “a source of conflict.”
Cardinal Dolan urged U.S. policymakers to make religious freedom a top priority in foreign policy discussions:
Today our focus is on threats to international religious freedom, but, as you are well aware, there are serious challenges to religious freedom within our own nation, serious problems the Church faces in her life and mission in the United States — threats that could marginalize the Church and her educational, charitable and health care institutions. As grave as these challenges remain, they are of a different order than those faced by Christians and other people of faith in many countries.
Dolan said, “Religious freedom is a value in its own right because it frees up individuals and communities to pursue ultimate truth…At the same time, religious freedom is related to the other essential human rights, including the freedoms of speech, association, and assembly.”