Covid-19: Vatican urges OSCE to promote religious freedom amid rising intolerance

The Holy See warns that religiously-motivated hate crimes are on the rise, as the Covid-19 pandemic increases intolerance and inequality.

By Devin Watkins

Msgr. Janusz Urbańczyk took part this week in an OSCE conference aimed at raising awareness about intolerance and discrimination.

The Holy See’s Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe focused his remarks at the 25-26 May event on the impact that intolerance has on Christians.

The OSCE is an intergovernmental organization whose members include most countries of the Northern Hemisphere and is concerned with conflict prevention and crisis management.

Religious intolerance on the rise

Hate crimes against Christians and members of other religions, said, Msgr. Urbańczyk, negatively impact the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. “These include threats, violent attacks, murders and profanation of churches and places of worship, cemeteries and other religious properties,” he said.

The Vatican representative expressed “great concern” about a divide between religious belief and religious practice.

“The false idea that religions could have a negative impact or represent a threat to the well-being of our societies is growing,” he warned.

Believers are frequently told that prayer and religious convictions are a private matter that have no place in the public sphere.

Discrimination in digital space

The internet and social media, said Msgr. Urbańczyk, often become a place to put others down or incite hatred of cultural, national, and religious groups.

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the trend, since people are spending more time online during lockdowns.

Discrimination on social media, he noted, can lead to violence, the final step in a “slippery slope which starts with mockery and social intolerance.”

Dignity and unity

Msgr. Urbańczyk also urged OSCE member states to promote the inherent dignity of every person and the fundamental unity of the human race.

He said these two principles form the basis of all truly democratic societies. National minorities, he added, should be free to profess and practice their religion.

Rising inequalities

Lockdowns to stem the Covid-19 pandemic have contributed to rising inequalities and “de facto discriminatory treatment”.

“Rights and fundamental freedoms,” said Msgr. Urbańczyk, “have been limited or derogated throughout the whole OSCE area.” These include the closure of churches and restrictions on religious services.

Tolerance and freedom

In response to these threats, the Holy See’s representative urged OSCE member states to promote both tolerance and fundamental freedoms, which include religious liberty.

“Tolerance,” said Msgr. Urbańczyk, “cannot be an alibi for denying or guaranteeing fundamental human rights.”