Pilate, who was filled with fear in the presence of the God-Man, shielded himself with his temporal power to hide the dread and insecurity that was overwhelming him, threatening Jesus with his supposed authority, ‘Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?’ (Jn 19: 10). This gave the opportunity for our Divine Savior to confirm until the end of time the origin of any kind of worldly authority, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above’ (Jn 19:10). In consequence, within the development of Christianity it is entirely normal that the Western countries be configured in union with and under the influence of the Catholic Church, the promoter of universities, cultures and hospitals, etc., always spreading the light of the Gospel among all people with its beneficial action, and thus bringing them to surpass the pagans.
However, the great transformations in the Western world, provoked by the decadence of the Middle Ages, the calamitous convulsions of the French Revolution and finally the arrival at the modernization of the XIX century, fomented and reiterated the calumnious accusation that the Church was not a friend of the State, while affirming it incapable of promoting the development of a well constituted society. The separation between the two ambits was thus promoted, with all the consequences we are familiar with today. This is the topic that Leo XIII brought to light in his famous Encyclical Immortale Dei, regarding the Christian constitution of the State. Preoccupied with the winds of secularization and religious relativism of his time, the Pontiff recalled the Apostle’s avowal that ‘there is no authority except from God’ (Rom 13:1). And ‘since no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its reaching and practice-not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion – it is a public crime to act as though there were no God. So, too, is it a sin for the State not to have care for religion as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will. All who rule, therefore, would hold in honor the holy name of God, and one of their chief duties must be to favor religion, to protect it, to shield it under the credit and sanction of the laws, and neither to organize nor enact any measure that may compromise its safety’ (Immortale Dei, no. 6).
Regardless, and contrary to all historical evidence, in Francis’ view ‘the State should be secular’ and ‘confessional States end badly’…
[Francis] A state should be secular. The confessional states end up badly. This goes against History. I believe that secularism accompanied by a firm law guaranteeing religious liberty, proportions a framework to go forward. We are all equal, as children of God and with our dignity as people. But each one should have the liberty to express their own faith. If a Muslim woman wants to wear a veil, she should be able to wear it. In the same way as a Catholic who wants to wear a cross. All are free to profess their faith in the heart of their own cultures and not on the margin.
The modest critic that I would have of France regarding this intent is to exaggerate with laicism. This comes from a form of considering religions as subcultures instead of full-fledged cultures with their rights. I fear that this focus, a comprehensible patrimony of the Illustration, continues existing. France needs to give a step forward regarding this matter in order to accept the fact that openness toward transcendence is a right for all.
[La Croix]: In this secular framework, how should the Catholics defend their concerns regarding topics related to society, such as euthanasia and the union between persons of the same sex?
[Francis] It is the Parliament that should discuss, argue, explain, give reasons. This is how a society grows. However, once the law has been approved, the State should also respect consciences. The right to the objection of conscience should be recognized within the juridical structure, because this is a human right. Also for a public functionary, who is a human person. The State should also respect the critics. This is true laicity. We cannot put aside the arguments of Catholics, saying: ‘You speak like a priest’. No, they base themselves on Christian thought that France has developed in a notable manner.’ (Interview with Guillaume Goubert, director of the French daily La Croix, and Sébastien Maillard, May 16, 2016)
Enter the various parts of our study
I – The State must not be indifferent with respect to religion
II – Benefits for the State by the recognition of the true Religion
III – Pernicious effects of the laicity of the State