Secretariat for Nonbelievers

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The Secretariat was established by Pope paul vi in April 1965; and Franz Cardinal Koenig, Archbishop of Vienna, was named as its first president. The seed for its creation was sown by Pope john xxiii when he addressed his 1963 encyclical letter pacem in terris to "all men of good will" as well as to believers. The Pope realized that a new world order of peace and justice could not be achieved unless there was cooperation between Catholics, other Christians, and "men of no Christian faith whatever, but who are endowed with reason and with a natural uprightness of conduct."

Pope Paul VI developed this understanding further in his first papal encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam (1964), when he wrote that it is not the right course for the Church "to isolate itself from dealings with secular society" or to limit itself to "pointing out the evils that can be found in secular society, condemning them and declaring crusades against them" or "to strive to exert a preponderant influence on it or even to exercise a theocratic power over it." Rather, the path for the Church to follow in its dealings with the world "can better be represented in a dialogue conceiving the relationships between the sacred and the secular in terms of the transforming dynamism of modern society, in terms of the pluralism of its manifestations, likewise in terms of the maturity of man, be he religious or not, enabled through secular education to think, to speak and to act through the dignity of dialogue." vatican council ii also contributed to this perspective, especially in two documents published on Dec. 7,1965. In its Declaration on Religious Freedom it indicated dialogue as one way in which truth can come to be known freely and without coercion, in accord with the dignity of the human person (1, 3). The Constitution on the Church and the Modern World, addressed to "the whole of humanity" indicated that the existence of atheism constituted a problem that was in need of understanding and of resolution through dialogue on matters of basic concern to all peoples.

There were two prominent dimensions of the Secretariat's activity. One was the development of a fuller understanding of dialogue both as a method and in practice. Its document on "The Dialogue with Non-Believers" (March 8, 1967) stressed the importance of dialogue: "The dignity and value of human persons are always better recognized by our contemporaries within the framework of the general evolution of culture and society. In fact the intensification of social relations has helped man to realize that pluralism is a characteristic dimension of society. But true pluralism is possible only if men, communities and cultures hold dialogue." In pursuit of this goal the Secretariat recommended and offered support to such dialogues and the structures necessary to support them in various nations and locales.

A second dimension of its activity was stressed by Cardinal Koenig when the Secretariat was openedthat is, the task of carrying on and encouraging scientific research with regard to the bases of atheism and conveying the results of that research to Catholics, in its periodical Ateismoe Dinlogo.

At its peak, the Secretariat comprised some 30 bishops from around the world, assisted by over 50 consultants and experts. In 1988, it was reorganized under Pope John Paul II's apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus (1988), and renamed the Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-Believers. In 1993, its functions were subsumed into the newly formed Pontifical Council for Culture.

[j. f. hotchkin/eds.]

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Secretariat for Nonbelievers

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