Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas recently sat down with CNA to talk about his assessment of the involvement of American Catholics in the public forum. According to the archbishop, it’s “very, very critical for Catholics” to become more engaged as citizens, given the societal climate.
There are many issues that are important to us as Catholics, whose fate is “uncertain in the public square right now,” Archbishop Naumann explained.
“At other moments in our history, maybe we look back, and we think they were more serene. But at this moment I think it’s very, very critical for Catholics to take very seriously their responsibility to be active citizens and to bring the values and the virtues of our faith into the public square and into the public debate. … It’s going to be critical in terms of how the Church and other Christians, other believers are able to operate in this society if we are not vigilant at this moment.”
Catholics must be aware that there are efforts to silence the voice of the Church in the public debate, Archbishop Naumann said. “We can’t allow ourselves to be intimidated by them. And we need to exercise our rights and our freedom of speech,” he asserted.
“It’s funny,” Naumann observed, “because those that advocate for the freedom of speech on many, many fronts, when it comes to the Church’s voice, they try to silence it.” In addition to defending these rights, the Kansas City prelate underscored that the Catholics need to make the case for the “great contribution the Church is making to society.”
Public vs. Private life
Archbishop Naumann also addressed the claim made by some politicians that they can hold a view in accord with Church teachings privately but publicly advocate an opposing position.
“I think that they either purposely or unintentionally confuse the issues. Certainly a Catholic in public life should not be trying to impose doctrines of belief and faith on others. So, what we believe about the Eucharist or what we believe about the teaching authority of the bishops or the Pope, these are not things that we should be attempting to enshrine in law. That’s what is legitimately meant about separation of Church and State.”
“But I think where the confusion comes in—the politicians that I think you’re referring to—they bring these [objections] up on not issues of doctrine but of moral values, which also coincide with fundamental human rights.”
For the Archbishop of Kansas City, the labeling of decisions on human rights as doctrinal impositions holds no water.
“When you talk about protecting innocent human life, this is something that we need to do as human beings. And the fact that the Church has a voice on this issue and a position on this issue, doesn’t mean it’s an imposing of our beliefs or values, anymore than the effort to break down segregation by the Church was an effort to impose some kind of religious doctrine on the culture or society, but it was us standing up for a fundamental human right,” said the archbishop.
After mention was made of his recent public request for the Catholic governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, to refrain from receiving Communion because of her support for abortion, Archbishop Naumann explained that political choices have ramifications for Catholics.
“Unfortunately, for a Catholic, there’s no choice in public life to stand for certain of these issues. And if they can’t be retained in office, then they shouldn’t want to be retained in office, if that’s what is going to have to be compromised to do it.”