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France's anti-sect law could threaten Catholic Church

The Jesuit biweekly La Civilt Cattolica has criticised a French anti-sect law that critics fear could be used against the Church.

The Catholic hierarchy of France opposed the law, which took effect in May, saying it could be used against some practices of traditionally accepted religions, including monastic life.

Because of the law, France ended up in Aid to the Church in Need's 2001 Report as one of the countries that violate the right of religious liberty.

The article in the 26 July issue, written by Fr Paolo Ferrari da Passano, was cleared by the Vatican before it was published. It noted that the Church does not favour a law aimed at the activity of religious groups, since the criminal codes in general include provisions for the defence of society against abuses by destructive sectarian groups.

Fr Ferrari wrote: "The defense of public order does not give the state the right to interfere in the internal affairs of a religious group in regard to its beliefs and doctrines."

"Legislation on sects," he added, "could raise the suspicion that it is, or might become, a weapon in the hands of those who not only want to combat but also restrict these groups, and reduce the public relevance of the religious factor: It could become a threat to religious liberty and the profession of faith, of any faith."

With the French law, for example, the state could eventually censure traditional religious practices, such as fasting, or the schedule of sleep in some monasteries.

La Civilta Cattolica
Aid to the Church in Need