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Pope sees religious freedom eroding in US

January 19, 2012

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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  • Posted by: impossible - Jan. 20, 2012 6:19 PM ET USA

    chetr I suppose it might matter on how you define greed. Does the greed you refer to include crony capitalism - such as Obama's shenanigans with GM, GE, Solyndra, Big Labor, stacking the NLRB or is only that part of the 1% who are not in bed with Obama the greedy ones? The crux of the matter is the liberal disdain for both Constitutional Law and the Natural Law - which feeds a destructive LUST for absolute power.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jan. 20, 2012 12:15 AM ET USA

    "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." I think that says it all. If we lost ALL of our so-called "religious liberties" tomorrow it would be less than we deserve. In any case, Sts Peter and Paul did much better under Nero.

  • Posted by: impossible - Jan. 19, 2012 11:13 PM ET USA

    Why would anyone with eyes to read and ears to hear be at all surprised at the loss of religious freedom in the US? In the area of crimes, one who aids and abets the criminal is also guilty of criminal behavior. What group of otherwise intelligent and educated men has over the years aided and abetted the political Party that has done the most to debase our culture? When you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas. Why do such men, like dogs, keep returning to their vomit?

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Jan. 19, 2012 11:13 PM ET USA

    The Holy Father really gets it right with this statement. Make no bones about it, secular humanism IS a religion that pretty much controls everything from the education systems and the media to government and it has been waging war against the Church and religion in general for a long time. They seek no quarter in this battle and neither should we. What we need are bishops and priests who are preaching the faith and living it all the time to set an example.

  • Posted by: chetr - Jan. 19, 2012 9:55 PM ET USA

    I firmly believe that the major reason our country(USA) is in so much trouble right now is because of greed with a healthy trace of stupidity. My wife and I have discussed this problem many times and she is convinced that greed is the most terrible of the 7 deadly sins. How rich(powerful)do you have to be before you sate the quest? As far as I know stupidity is not a sin but can be just as insidious. It is usually shown as an un-Christian lack of concern for our friends and neighbors. cpr