.- Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Pope’s representative to the United States, urged the American bishops to view the difficulties facing the Church as an opportunity to unite in defense of the faith.
Current challenges to the faithful can be seen “providentially, as an invitation to the entire Church in the United States” to adopt “an attitude of deep communion with the local bishop, in filial obedience to the Successor of Peter,” the archbishop said at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
This is particularly true for the Church’s “consecrated religious” and “educational institutions,” he said.
The papal diplomat, who is officially known as the apostolic nuncio, addressed the conference on June 13, the first day of the bishops’ three-day spring general assembly in Atlanta, Ga.
“It goes without saying that the Catholic Church in the United States is living in a particularly challenging period of its history,” Archbishop Viganò observed, specifically pointing to religious freedom and conscience rights issues.
These areas are “close to the heart of the American people,” and involve “the indispensable role of the Bishop as Chief Shepherd in his diocese,” he said.
All of this is taking place “in the context of an election year,” which requires “even more delicate” interventions, he added.
Religious freedom matters have become a key concern for the Catholic community in recent months. Chief among the threats to the Church is an insurance mandate issued by the Obama administration that will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
Archbishop Viganò thanked all the bishops for their unified work to stand up for religious freedom, emphasizing that “the Church must speak with one voice” in addressing modern challenges.
“We all know that the fundamental tactic of the enemy is to show a Church divided,” he said.
Bishops from every diocese in the country have spoken out against the contraception mandate, and several dioceses have filed lawsuits against it.
In addition, the bishops have called for a “Fortnight for Freedom” to be held during the two weeks leading up to Independence Day. Events will be held at both a national and diocesan level, and Catholics are encouraged to engage in activities aimed at prayer, education and advocacy of public officials.
Archbishop Viganò called the Fortnight for Freedom a “praiseworthy initiative” that has his “full support” and assured his fellow bishops that he would “be participating in it locally in the Archdiocese of Washington.”
Looking at the practical challenges facing the American Church today, the archbishop pointed to Pope Benedict XVI’s recent ad limina addresses to various groups of bishops from the U.S. In it, the Pope reflected on the problems of growing secularism, religious freedom, a pastoral response to immigration, cultural misunderstandings of marriage and sexuality, unity and faith formation.
He recalled the words of the Holy Father in one of these ad limina addresses, which described the present moment as “a summons” for the bishops “to exercise the prophetic dimension” of their episcopal ministry by speaking out in defense of truth and offering words of hope.
The Pope’s words offer “clarity and wisdom” for the future, said Archbishop Viganò, and the bishops should look to them as “a road map” for promoting “the truth of the Gospel and the New Evangelization.”