PDF-Download of the 12 Theses on “Pacem in Terris”

International Expert’s Panel „Measure Human Rights 23.-24.10.2013: 50 Years of Encyclica ‚Pacem in terris’ and its Application in the Catholic Church“, University of Muenster, Excellence Cluster „Religion and Politics“, chaired by Prof. Dr. Marianne Heimbach-Steins, Institute for Christian Social Sciences, Muenster, and Prof. Dr. Daniel Bogner, Institut de Pédagogie Religieuse, University of Luxemburg

A. On its External Significance

Schirrmacher im Gespräch mit Kardinal Turkson, Präsident des Päpstlichen Rates Iustitia et Pax, im Deutschen Bundestag

Schirrmacher im Gespräch mit Kardinal Turkson, Präsident des Päpstlichen Rates Iustitia et Pax, im Deutschen Bundestag

1st Thesis: A central significance of PiT lies in its absolute acknowledgement of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights dating from 1948 (above all PiT 143-144). Since this declaration is not legally binding and effective but rather has its effect due to its enormous moral value, it was important that the largest religious community in the world gave it moral backing at a time when it was so not undisputed as a sign of the world’s conscience, as it is today.

2nd Thesis: In the process, human rights are placed in a very broad context in PiT and not only in an individualistic sense. Rather, human rights are understood in a cooperative and universal sense, for instance when disarmament and the situation in ‘developing countries’ are addressed as well as the fate of political refugees. Even if PiT is overall still somewhat reserved insofar as it relates to questions of human rights, and even if it uses formulations which partly indicate an attempt to feel one’s way forward, it is in some ways ahead of its time with respect to these questions and substantiates what we now call second and third generation human rights.

3rd Thesis: Advocating democracy in religious ethics has, as a general rule, preceded the major waves of democratization of nations with clear confessional majorities. Is it truly by chance that the Catholic Church’s turn toward religious freedom, human rights, and democracy in the Second Vatican Council preceded the third global wave of democratization from 1974-1990, which took in almost all Catholic countries in Europe and Latin America? At this point I do not want to establish a purely monocausal dependency but rather initiate discussion and research.

4th Thesis: Without PiT the upheaval which was signified by the Second Vatican Council would have lacked a major building block. The commitment to religious freedom (Dh) would have remained a topic limited to religion – it was not until there was the background of PiT and acknowledgement of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that religious freedom was classified as one of the central human rights in the overall dialog on human rights. For within the declaration on religious freedom (Dh), human rights argumentation is not the keystone, and in general, thinking on human rights plays a marginal role in the declarations of the Second Vatican Council.

5th Thesis: As in the case of religious freedom (Dh), the decisive point also in the case of human rights was that the church was not externally forced to recognize human rights simply as positive, legal rights. Rather, the church declared that human rights are indispensably taught within the Christian faith and Christian view of humankind.
Even if human rights connect “men of good will” (PiT) – as it was so famously stated for the first time in the salutation of an encyclical – and, with that said, point beyond the church and Christianity and are able to be recognized and followed by non-Christians, human rights are at the same time also something which integrally arise from within the Christian faith. Human rights only make sense if they can be derived from a particular worldview people hold. In PiT, human rights are connected to all the classical ethical justifications of Catholic theology, natural law, moral law, eternal law, conscience, Scriptures, and the teaching office of the Church.

6th Thesis: No contradiction should be perceived between the two manners of access to the recognition of human rights – connecting comprehensively all worldviews and religions, on the one hand, and specifically Christian, on the other hand. Together they make sense, while separated and placed against each they endanger the acknowledgement of human rights.

Excursus: On the one hand, human rights naturally have to be recognized in advance as a basis for legitimacy, not only for all states but rather also for all religions and worldviews; otherwise, they do not function properly. The Christian church is also not allowed to co-opt them for itself.

As much as I have repeatedly put forth a Christian justification for human rights as a theologian and a sociologist of religion, and as much as I am convinced that historically viewed there are central elements of the idea of human rights which stem from the Judeo-Christian tradition, even if often secularized, and indeed as much as I have issued repeated reminders of the justification deficit with respect to human rights, yet the following also applies: 1. No one should be interested to see another individual reject human rights simply because one’s own religion or worldview is rejected. 2. Pragmatism in the sense of an appeal to human rights from one’s generic human sentiment and the increasingly strong positive experience with the practice of human rights is not the worst thing when it enables a life of human dignity. 3. It is surely better that someone welcomes human rights, indeed observes them, and does not know precisely why, than that his rejection of a particular justification brings him to perpetrate human rights infringements.

Important human rights philosophers hold – as does the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 – that human rights are ‘self-evident,’ i.e., that they are apparently self-explanatory or directly perceived. Their recognition and implementation are not dependent on philosophical or religious considerations; their basis is compassion and horror in the light of appalling experiences of injustice, which all humankind is capable of sensing. Rational discourse aids in the development of human rights protection, yet the motivation is emotional. In the face of concentration camps and pandemic famine, almost every individual reacts in the same way. The anti-slavery movement indeed proceeded from very religious people but managed to awaken the emotional horror of many without regard for their worldview; the common man can experience empathy and assert this against the state and the economy. The philosopher Charles Taylor held that the idea of human rights had such an ability to spread globally because a justification common to all was dispensed with.

B. The Internal Consummation

7th Thesis: The question of the relation of state structures to the structures of larger religious organizational remains on the agenda. The French political theorist Montesquieu (1689-1755), in his 1748 magnum opus, argued that monarchy more easily fits with the Catholic religion and a republic than it fits with the Protestant church. For a long time he appeared to be correct, but the increasing democratization of Catholic countries gradually made a differentiation necessary. At present all countries with a majority Catholic population, with the exception of Cuba, are democracies. This cannot and will not permanently remain without consequence, also as it concerns the Vatican and its state and church structures.

8th Thesis: If one wishes to subordinate certain human rights to particular limitations, including religious freedom, within a Christian faith community and ecclesiastical structure, a comprehensive theological justification would be expected. This is largely lacking in the Catholic Church.

It is precisely the Catholic Church which has formulated comprehensive ecclesiastical provisions more strongly than any other religious community and in its internal legal system most closely approximates a state legal system. It would thus have to be in the position to draw boundaries and provide justification for them. One would then also know that the large majority of human rights are not impacted by them and could enter into a discussion regarding the remainder. Without such a justification, it is rather left to the power structures to determine when to appeal to human rights and when it is the teaching office and doctrines which have the priority.

9th Thesis: In PiT (and likewise for instance in Dh) the thought that is missing is that the church itself can infringe upon human rights. This thought has long been a matter of public comment through the official apologies made by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, for instance for the treatment of Indians in South America, the Crusades, or the sexual abuse of children.
In the latter case it no longer involves victims external to the Church. Rather, it involves victims within the Catholic Church. This thought would have to be rigorously extended to all members of the Church. Still at this point, however, there is the lack of a stringent justification of how the Church can promote the observance of human rights in its midst, offer protection, and punish infractions.

10th Thesis: It would be desirable if the Vatican would not only morally support The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN’s foundational human rights documents and hold them in high esteem within the UN as a ‘permanent observer’ but rather acknowledge them in the Vatican – perhaps with certain reservations in questions of detail recorded in writing as has been done by other states in the course of ratification. After my discussion with Pope Francis, I bear certain hopes that this could soon change.
It was uncomfortable for me to have to write the following in my book Human Rights: ‘Besides Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Fiji, Tonga, Brunei, and the Vatican State, all countries of the world identify themselves as democracies with human rights standards.’ That is why I immediately added: ‘Moreover, the Vatican is one of the spearheads when it comes to human rights.’

11th Thesis: It would be gratifying if the Catholic Church could fully overcome the split in human rights and religious freedom within and outside the Church, similar to the way it overcame a former split that had set in between human rights and religious freedom. The Catholic Church supported the cause for human rights and religious freedom when it was a minority but did not allow the same to apply for other minorities where the Catholic Church was the majority; so far it has largely overcome this problem both in reality and doctrinally.
In my book Fundamentalism, I put forth the thesis that the acknowledgment of human rights and religious freedom excludes any sort of fundamentalism. This is due to the fact that I do not simply define fundamentalism as a claim to truth. Rather, it is a justification derived from the claim to truth, whereby other people are forced to think and to live in the same way, through the use of force, through abusing the power of the state, etc.  For that reason, also the consistent renunciation of coercion within and without a religious community is indispensable to avoiding fundamentalism.

C. Ecumenical Opportunities

12th Thesis: The document entitled “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World,” jointly signed by organized Christianity in 2011 is a milestone for the ecumenical understanding of human rights.
In 2011 the Vatican, represented by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, together with the World Council of Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance, which I have the honor of representing (thus the Vatican along with two other global Christian bodies whose churches each have more than 600 million members, for a total of as many members as the Catholic Church itself) placed missions – a truly innermost Christian activity – completely into the context of human rights thinking. On the one hand, it did so by basing this on the right to religious freedom and, by association, with the right to conduct missions work. On the other hand, it also limited the methods that can be used in missionary activities. Missions work is never allowed to compromise the human dignity of others!
Building upon the experience of this document, an enhanced ecumenical unity on the basis of human rights would be desirable and possible. The document demonstrates that on the basis of human rights, there are things in common which can also be formulated on points where it appeared initially to be theologically impossible!

Abbrevations and Literature:
PiT = ‚Pacem in Terris’   /   Dh = ‚Dignitatis humanae’

  • Francis Dubois, Josef Klee (eds.). Pacem in Terris: Its Continuing Relevance for the Twenty-First Century. Washington: Pacem in Terris Press, 2013.
  • Edwin Cook. “Roman Catholic Hegemony and Religious Freedom.” Leipzig: Amazon, 2012 (Dissertation).
  • Christian Troll, Thomas Schirrmacher. “Der innerchristliche Ethikkodex für Mission”. Materialdienst der EZW 74 (2011) 8: 293-295 (Text pp. 295-299).
  • Nelu Burcea, Thomas Schirrmacher (eds.). Journalul Libertatii de Constiinta. Editura Universitara: Bukarest, 2013. ISBN 978-606-591-728-6.
  • Thomas Schirrmacher. “Demokratie und christliche Ethik.” From “Politik und Zeitgeschichte“ (Supplement to Das Parlament) 14/2009 (30.3.2009): 21-26, http://www1.bpb.de/publikationen/N6VK9L,0,Demokratie_und_christliche_Ethik.html; Engl.: “Christianity and Democracy”. International Journal for Religious Freedom 2 (2009) 2: 73-86
  • Thomas Schirrmacher. “Mission und Religionsfreiheit – eine evangelikale Perspektive,“ pp. 113-133 in: Marianne Heimbach-Steins, Heiner Bielefeldt (eds.). Religionen und Religionsfreiheit. Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2010.
  • Thomas Schirrmacher. book series kurz+bündig: Menschenrechte (2012), Menschenhandel (20134); Fundamentalismus (2010); Rassismus (2011); Unterdrückte Frauen (2013). Three have been translated as Racism (2012), Fundamentalism (2013), Human Trafficking (2013).

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