VATICAN CITY (AP) – The Vatican's new secretary of state urged diplomats Friday to work for religious freedom everywhere, touching on a sensitive issue between the Holy See and some countries, including Muslim ones, where people are not allowed to worship freely.
Cardinal Tarciso Bertone, who took over as the Vatican's No. 2 official earlier this month, was meeting Friday with diplomats. Two weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI angered many Muslim religious and political leaders with a speech that quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."
"We need to have a universal commitment in favor of the most disenfranchised on the planet, the poorest people, those who often look in vain for a way to make a living for themselves and their families," Bertone said, speaking in French. "Dignity, freedom and the unconditional respect of the fundamental rights of all human beings – especially their freedom of conscience and religion – must be among our primary preoccupation."
In a meeting Monday with Muslim diplomats, the pontiff cited a 1985 statement by Pope John Paul II during a visit to Morocco that "respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres," particularly religious freedom.
This is a major issue for the Vatican in Saudi Arabia and several other countries where non-Muslims cannot worship openly. It also has been an issue with some countries that are not Muslim, including China.
Benedict received Muslim ambassadors to the Holy See at the summer palace as part of his efforts to try to put to rest the protests over his remarks about Islam.
© 2006 The Associated Press