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Pope warns of threat to freedom of religion and conscience in US

By and on Friday, 20 January 2012

Pope Benedict XVI greets Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington yesterday. Also pictured are Cardinal-designate Edwin O'Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, left, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the US Archdiocese for the Military Services. Photo: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

Pope Benedict XVI greets Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington yesterday. Also pictured are Cardinal-designate Edwin O'Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, left, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the US Archdiocese for the Military Services. Photo: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

Pope Benedict XVI has warned visiting US bishops that “radical secularism” threatens the core values of American culture, and called on the Church in America, including politicians and other laypeople, to render “public moral witness” on crucial social issues.

The Pope was speaking yesterday to a group of US bishops who were in Rome for their ad limina visits, which included meetings with the Pope and Vatican officials, covering a wide range of pastoral matters.

Opening with a dire assessment of the state of American society, the Pope told the bishops that “powerful new cultural currents” have worn away the country’s traditional moral consensus, which was originally based on religious faith as well as ethical principles derived from natural law.

Whether they claim the authority of science or democracy, the Pope said, militant secularists seek to stifle the church’s proclamation of these “unchanging moral truths”. Such a movement inevitably leads to the prevalence of “reductionist and totalitarian readings of the human person and the nature of society”.

The Pope drew an opposition between current “notions of freedom detached from moral truth” and Catholicism’s “rational perspective” on morality, founded on the conviction that the “cosmos is possessed of an inner logic accessible to human reasoning”. Using the “language” of natural law, he said, the Church should promote social justice by “proposing rational arguments in public square”.

Coming at the start of an election year, Pope Benedict’s words were clearly relevant to American politics, a connection he made explicit by mentioning threats to “that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion”.

The Pope said that many of the visiting bishops had told him of “concerted efforts” against the “right of conscientious objection… to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices” – an apparent reference to proposals by the US Department of Health and Human Services, opposed by the US bishops, that all private health insurance plans cover surgical sterilisation procedures and artificial birth control.

In response to such threats, Pope Benedict said, the Church requires an “engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity” with the courage and critical skills to articulate the “Christian vision of man and society”. He said that the education of Catholic laypeople is essential to the “new evangelisation”, an initiative that he has made a priority of his pontificate.

Touching on one of most controversial areas of Church-state relations in recent years, the Pope spoke of Catholic politicians’ “personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral issues of our time,” which he identified as “respect for God’s gift of life, the protection of human dignity and the promotion of authentic human rights”.

The Pope was not specific about the bishops’ relationship with such politicians, merely encouraging the bishops to “maintain contacts” with them and “help them understand” their duty to promote Catholic values.

While acknowledging the “genuine difficulties” facing the Church in the United States, the Pope concluded on a hopeful note, pointing to a growing appreciation for “Judeo-Christian” civic values, and a “new generation of Catholics,” who he said will play a “decisive role in renewing the Church’s presence and witness in American society.”

Before the speech, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, greeted the pope with brief remarks that recalled his 2008 visit to the United States.

The Pope addressed bishops from the District of Columbia, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, the US Archdiocese for the Military Services and the Virgin Islands.

  • EndGame

    The grave sins of omission from so many American bishops are coming home to roost. For years Catholic politicians have been allowed commit grave public sins and scandal, support abortion and homosexuality and then go unchecked to receive Holy Communion. This was and still is sacrilege. The Archbishop of Washington is particularly culpable in this scandal.
    Warn them privately, if they don’t change, warn them publically, and if they still persist they should be excommunicated. It really is that simple. The Catholic Bishops have always had this power and never used it, and they have allowed the culture of death to turn into a powerful monster that is now threatening to consume them. Perhaps now they will wake up, find some courage and finally start doing their duty?

  • Fourth Norn

    Australians got this kind of homily from the Pope (Cardinal Ratzinger was a prime mover in its drafting) in 1999. It got a very cool reception, and when the Australian bishops made their 2004 ad limina visit, the issue of progress on the Pope’s diagnosis of poor spiritual health was not raised. These things can backfire badly, and the Vatican must exercise wisdom in picking the battles it wishes to fight. After all, you don’t buy a dog and bark yourself. Pick the leaders of the American Church and trust them. Central direction won’t work and even verbal censures must be carefully phrased. The Pope has put his foot in it on the issue of Muslims and there are dangers in suggesting that whole nations have gone off the rails. It didn’t work for Holland, it didn’t work for Australia, and it won’t work for America, which to my inexpert eye, seems more faithful than its northern neighbour. 

  • Zether

    ““rational perspective” on morality, founded on the conviction that the
    “cosmos is possessed of an inner logic accessible to human reasoning”.
    Using the “language” of natural law, he said, the Church should promote
    social justice by “proposing rational arguments in public square”.”

    This is just another nail in the coffin for people who think the Church doesn’t support scientific inquiry. But then again, the idea that it doesn’t is total and utter myth that the simplest of google searches would debunk. (Pontifical Academy of Sciences, anyone?)