Pope's Equality Position Misunderstood, Says Aide

Father Lombardi Analyzes Comments on UK Legislation

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI has been under fire this past week for supposedly condemning equality legislation in the United Kingdom that seeks to protect gays and women in the workplace. His comments, however, were misunderstood, says a Vatican spokesman.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press service, noted in the most recent installment of the Vatican Television program “Octava Dies” that “assuring equal opportunity to all members of society is a noble objective.”

“Nevertheless,” he added, “in certain cases one tries to achieve it with laws that impose unjust limits on the freedom of religious communities to act according to their own convictions.”

“If then these laws contradict the natural law, one undermines the foundation that guarantees equality and therefore the right to enjoy equal opportunity,” the priest explained.

Last Monday, the Holy Father addressed the bishops of England and Wales on the occasion of their five-yearly “ad limina” visit to Rome. In his address he noted: “Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society.

“Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.

“In some respects, it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed.”

The Pope’s words, according to Father Lombardi, “touch on a critical point in the debates over equality and rights that are much in focus in many countries of the world; debates that involve fundamental aspects of the understanding of man: right to life, sexuality, the family.”

“It is not at all a matter of the Church’s interference in the social and political arena,” he said, “but of a right and proper — and thus courageous — manifestation of her positions at the service of the common good.”

Father Lombardi then cited Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, who cautioned against an ideological use of the theme of equality of rights in the U.K. daily The Times.

He wrote: “Rather than regard the Pope’s remarks as an inappropriate intervention, we should use them to launch an honest debate on where to draw the line between our freedom as individuals and our freedom as members of communities of faith. One should not be purchased at the cost of the other.”

“So it is not only the Catholics who see a problem,” the Vatican spokesman concluded, “it is a problem for everyone to honestly confront if they truly want to build a better society together.”

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