Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Vatican Advises Muslims On Obeying Local Laws

The Vatican stepped into the debate about Muslim women wearing veils, with a top cardinal saying immigrants must follow the laws of their host countries, including any bans on such face-covering. Countries "must require that guests who arrive from a different culture must respect the traditions, the symbols, the culture, the religion of the countries they go to," said Renato Martino, the Italian prelate who heads the Vatican's office on issues concerning migrants, itinerant workers and refugees. Martino, responding to a question about veils from a reporter, said respect for local laws would include any bans on such coverings. "This seems to me to be elementary. It is quite right that (local) authorities insist on this," he told a news conference to present Pope Benedict XVI's annual message on migrant issues.
Cardinal Renato Martino
Vatican Radio reiterated the stance, saying "the question of the veil for Islamic women" should be "considered in the context of respect for the laws of the countries which welcome" them. The assertion by Martino, a former Vatican envoy to the United Nations, comes two weeks before Pope Benedict XVI begins his first visit as pontiff to a Muslim nation, Turkey. That officially secular nation has long been wrestling over whether Muslim women there should wear Islamic head scarves in such places as universities and public offices. Flanking the cardinal, another Vatican official who deals with immigration issues, Monsignor Agostino Marchetto, referred to Italy's law requiring people to keep their face visible in public. That law dates to Italy's crackdown on domestic terrorism decades ago. Marchetto said Italy "rightly" has such a law and that obeying it is "part of accepting the law of this country." "Dialogue is needed with our brothers to make them understand the consequences of some of their desires, such as their own cultural and religious traditions, would not be positive in the society they are now in," Marchetto said.
Monsignor Agostino Marchetto
Britain is grappling with how much minority groups should integrate in British society. The debate comes in the context of an increasingly diverse, traditionally Christian Europe concerned about religious extremism. Italy, which is predominantly Roman Catholic, also has been debating how to integrate immigrants from other cultures and religions. In Britain on Monday, a Muslim lawyer who refused to remove her veil while representing a client in court in central England was removed from the case. Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw sparked anger last month by revealing that he asks Muslim women to remove full face coverings when they come to his district office in Blackburn, where British Muslims make up about a quarter of the population. Straw has said he feels full veils further divide, rather than unite, communities in Britain, but some Muslim leaders warned that such comments would further heighten tensions. Martino also pushed the Vatican's campaign for Christians' right to worship around the world. He lamented that some countries do not allow immigrants from Christian countries to easily profess their faith. The pope has been lobbying for Christians' right to worship openly in countries such as Saudi Arabia, which forbids Christians from practicing their religion.