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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pope Sees Religious Freedom Eroding in US


Pope Benedict XVI issued a solemn warning about the erosion of religious freedom in the United States, in a January 19 address to visiting American bishops.

The Holy Father told the American prelates, who were making their ad limina visits, that “it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.” He added: “The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life.”

The US should be a land thoroughly committed to religious freedom in light of its history and the fundamental principles of the nation’s founding, the Pope argued. He said:
At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing. In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God. Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.
The loss of religious freedom, the Pontiff warned, is “a threat not just to Christian faith, but also to humanity itself.” He explained: “When a culture attempts to suppress the dimension of ultimate mystery, and to close the doors to transcendent truth, it inevitably becomes impoverished and falls prey, as the late Pope John Paul II so clearly saw, to reductionist and totalitarian readings of the human person and the nature of society.”

Pope Benedict urged the American bishops to take every opportunity to defend religious freedom and to promote moral reasoning based on the natural law. He reminded them that the natural-law tradition does not impose restrictions on true human freedom. That tradition, he said, should be properly understood as “a ‘language’ which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world.”

The Pope said that he was dismayed by reports from the American bishops about new threats to religious freedom. He mentioned especially the initiatives that would “deny the right of conscientious objection” to people who are morally opposed to “cooperation in intrinsically evil practices.” Here the Pontiff was obviously referring to policies that would require health-care personnel to cooperate in abortions, or force both public officials and private individuals to participate in the celebration of same-sex marriages or refer children for adoption by gay couples. The US bishops have sharply criticized the Obama administration for its unwillingness to afford "conscience clause" protections to religious believers.

An AP story on the Pope's address accurately reported that American Catholics have been divided on the duties of Catholic lawmakers regarding policies that violate the precepts of Church teaching. The AP story concluded: "In recent years, a small but growing number of local bishops have publicly told Catholic lawmakers who support abortion rights not to present themselves for communion because of their stance on the issue."

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