Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA

"It's time to open a new chapter between Switzerland and the Holy See"

In an interview with kath.ch, an online platform commissioned by the Catholic Church of Switzerland, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis looks ahead to the upcoming visit of Cardinal Pietro Parolin to Switzerland and gives us a personal insight into his relationship with the Catholic faith.

Photomontage with Ignazio Cassis looking into the camera and two speech bubble icons with question marks and answers representing an interview.

"For me, being a Catholic means being authentic and staying true to my values," says Mr Cassis in an interview with kath.ch. © FDFA

The official working visit to Switzerland of Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State of the Holy See, is set for 9 November 2020. The occasion is the 100th anniversary of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and the Holy See – after an almost 50-year-long interruption caused by the church-state conflict in Switzerland known as the 'Kulturkampf'. "I believe it's time to open a new chapter between Switzerland and the Holy See," explains Mr Cassis, head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), in an interview with kath.ch. He went on to say that the two states could cooperate more closely in a number of areas.

I believe it's time to open a new chapter between Switzerland and the Holy See.

Switzerland and the Holy See share similar values and interests in a number of areas. "Starting from the Swiss Guard to the fight against the death penalty," explains Mr Cassis. But there are differences too, such as the Vatican's conservative stance on the family. "We see things differently," he pointed out.

The FDFA is currently reviewing the possibility of a separate resident Swiss ambassador to the Holy See at its request. Mr Cassis notes that a decision has not yet been made, however. Switzerland's interests at the Vatican are currently represented by the Swiss ambassador to Slovenia.

Growing up in a Catholic family

Talking about his personal relationship with his faith, Mr Cassis says that he is "happy to be a Catholic". He grew up in a Catholic canton and in a typical Catholic family. "There was school, your family, and the Church." And a few Protestant schoolmates who were exempt from religious studies and had a free period instead. "I did envy them a bit," Mr Cassis admits.

For me, being a Catholic means being authentic and staying true to my values.

With age – and with the responsibility of becoming a confirmation sponsor – these childlike beliefs have given way to the faith of an adult. "For me, being a Catholic means being authentic and staying true to my values," says Mr Cassis.

Faith as a guide in anxious times

Talking about current events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Cassis stresses that "such guidance is crucial, particularly in anxious times". And that's why the Church should "not only continue but step up its support for peoples' spiritual life".

The Church should not only continue but step up its support for peoples' spiritual life.

When asked about the Responsible Business Initiative, Mr Cassis points to the Federal Council's position, which is to reject the initiative. Although the Federal Council shares the same basic objective, it finds the initiative's territoriality issue problematic. "For the Federal Council, it's problematic that Swiss courts get to decide on what's happening in other countries." This infringes on the territorial principle and could open a Pandora's box. "What happens if foreign courts can decide on cases in our country?"

When it comes to the initiative for a ban on financing war material manufacturers, Mr Cassis explains that the Federal Council sees a conflict between two goals – peace and security. No one wants to or is able to export weapons to countries engaged in civil war, he clarifies. This is already prohibited under the 1996 War Material Act. Swiss manufacturers are allowed to export arms but only under very restrictive conditions. This is because Switzerland's armed forces depend on an arms industry. According to Mr Cassis, "we want peace, but we also want security".

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