Cardinal O'Brien contributes to Summit on Sectarianism.
Speaking at this morning's ' Summit on Sectarianism' hosted by Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell Cardinal Keith O'Brien welcomed the initiative and stressed the willingness of the Catholic Church to contribute to such an anti-sectarian event.
In his contribution, the Cardinal highlighted two themes; the Act of Settlement as a hindrance to religious tolerance and the benefits of a Charter of Religious Freedom.
Referring to the Act of Settlement, the Cardinal said;
"Although it may be argued that this is a piece of arcane legislation very unlikely to affect any of Scotland s Catholics directly “ that would be to miss the point, which is that its effect is indirect “ it causes offence and is hurtful. No other religious group in the UK is similarly excluded or stigmatized in law."
"While the Scottish Executive is not responsible in any way for this legislation nor able to repeal or amend it “ an acknowledgement from them that they; Accept it is offensive, and encourage their Westminster colleagues to repeal it, would be symbolically important and warmly welcomed."
Cardinal O'Brien also proposed that consideration be given by the Executive to promoting a Charter of Religious Freedom containing six key principles.
The full text of Cardinal O'Brien's contribution is shown below.
Catholic Media Office
5 St. Vincent Place
0141 221 1168
Cardinal O Brien
Address to Summit on Sectarianism
Thank you for this opportunity to contribute to this important event. I congratulate the First Minister and all in the Scottish Executive in their determination to challenge the bigotry which can accompany sectarianism. We all know that tensions and friction inevitability arise between individuals and between groups in society. Differences of opinion or customs or religious practice can sometimes be an excuse for some to resort to violence, intimidation or unjust discrimination.
The Scottish Parliament made a notable contribution in combating unjust discrimination when it stated as far back as December 1999 That the Parliament believes that the discrimination contained in the Act of Settlement  has no place in our modern society . It is beyond the powers of the Scottish Parliament to make a change in this area but its powerful message was an important gesture in recognising the injustice of legislation which discriminates solely against Catholics. My predecessor Cardinal Winning spoke strongly on this issue declaring of the Act of Settlement, its continued presence on the statute books is an offensive reminder to the whole Catholic community of a mentality which has no place in modern Britain.
I also raised the issue last week in regard to the announcement that Prince Charles is to marry when I said I am saddened to think that were Mrs Parker-Bowles a Catholic, the Prince of Wales would by marrying her, automatically lose his right to succeed to the Throne as would his heirs .
Other forms of unjust discrimination can be manifest as anti-social behaviour and the Executive has made great efforts in tackling anti-social behaviour in our communities through recent legislation. It is consistent with that approach that various causes of anti-social behaviour be addressed. Today s conference highlights an important strand in that work.
It is important that we work together in addressing the tensions that arise out of living together in society and encountering the diversity of faiths which are the reality in many communities. Where these differences lead to tensions of whatever level the answer is not to eradicate differences. The One Scotland Many Cultures campaign is I believe a good illustration of this fact. Diversity is often a strength and a good; it respects human freedom and dignity. Fostering the good of every member of society means protecting the legitimate rights of people to hold to their legitimate beliefs and values and to manifest these publicly with respect for the common good of all.
I assure the First minister that his endeavour to do this, he has the support of the Catholic community.
Recently we have had much media attention around the health of Pope John Paul II, it has been heartening to see and hear the concerns of so many people of all faiths. Only just over a week ago, Dr Alison Elliot, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland took the opportunity at the Time of Reflection in the Scottish Parliament to convey her good wishes for the pope. I think that exemplified the good relations among the Christian Churches in Scotland.
I would like to make two proposals today.
Firstly, that the Act of Settlement 1701 be the focus of investigation with a view as to how the offensive elements of it can be repealed.
Secondly, I would like to propose that to foster goodwill among people of all faiths and none that a Charter of Religious Freedom be promoted.
I say this following on the words of Pope John Paul II in a recent address to diplomats of the world.
He said In your service as diplomats you are rightly concerned to protect the freedom of the peoples you represent ¦Freedom is a great good, because only by freedom can human beings find fulfilment in a manner befitting their nature. Freedom is like light: It enables one to choose responsibly his proper goals and the right means of achieving them. At the very heart of human freedom is the right to religious freedom, since it deals with man's most fundamental relationship: his relationship with God. Religious freedom is expressly guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ¦.
There need be no fear that legitimate religious freedom would limit other freedoms or be injurious to the life of civil society. On the contrary: together with religious freedom, all other freedoms develop and thrive, inasmuch as freedom is an indivisible good ¦ Neither should there be a fear that religious freedom ¦ would intrude upon the realm of political freedom and the competencies proper to the State: The Church is able carefully to distinguish, as she must, what belongs to Caesar from what belongs to God
In a charter of Religious Freedom, if it be accepted, I suggest the following principles as a basic model:
1. The right to religious freedom is grounded in respect for human dignity.
2. Individuals should not be forced to act in a manner contrary to their religious beliefs, nor should they be restrained from acting in accordance with their religious beliefs.
3. Religious bodies have a right to manifest and teach the social relevance of their religious beliefs.
4. Religious bodies have a right to establish and maintain corporate institutions and services and conduct them in accordance with their religious beliefs and values.
5. Because the right to religious freedom is exercised within society, it ought to be subject to the laws which ordinarily safeguard justice and civil order.
6. Civil authorities do not have the right to command or inhibit acts of religion which are outside their proper competence.
In working for the common good of Scottish society a climate of tolerance in regard to the rights of others to follow their faith will contribute to a stronger nation. I sincerely hope today s efforts and the work surrounding this event will help bring about that climate.