.- Pope Benedict XVI warned today of a âgrave threatâ to religious liberty in the United States that requires American Catholics to respond with intelligence and courage.
âIt is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Churchâs public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres,â he said Jan. 19 in an address to a group of American bishops visiting the Vatican.
The Pope said he was particularly concerned with âcertain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.â
Pope Benedictâs address was delivered to the bishops from the Mid-Atlantic states region, which includes the Archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore. They are in Rome this week on their regular âad liminaâ visit to discuss the health of the U.S. Church with the Pope and Vatican officials. The two bishops from the Archdiocese for the U.S. Military Services are also participating in the meetings.
Pope Benedict said that over the past few days many of the bishops have expressed concern over attempts in the U.S. to âdeny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices.â
Meanwhile, other bishops raised the âworrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worshipâ without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.
At present, the Obama administration is considering imposing a contraception and sterilization mandate that would require all insurance companies to provide those services free of charge. The regulation has a religious exemption clause, but it provides very few exceptions for Church organizations.
Some states are also pushing Catholic adoption agencies out of business or severely limiting their work because they refuse to compromise the Churchâs beliefs on same-sex âmarriage.â
Pope Benedict said these issues highlight the need for an âengaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-Ã -vis the dominant culture.â The American laity must have the âcourage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Churchâs participation in public debate,â he said.
The preparation of such âcommitted lay leaders,â he told the bishops, should be the âprimary task of the Church in your country.â
He noted that his visit to the United States in 2008 afforded him an opportunity to reflect on Americaâs historical experience of religious freedom, âspecifically the relationship between religion and culture.â
âAt the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not,â he said, âis a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing.â
In the United States this consensus is âenshrined in your nationâs founding documents,â which are grounded in a worldview shaped by faith and a commitment to ethical principles, he observed.
Today, however, that consensus has been eroded âin the face of powerful new cultural currentsâ which are ânot only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity.â
Despite such hostility, American Catholics are still called to proclaim âa Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering,â Pope Benedict stated.
He also responded to those who attempt to restrict Christiansâ voice in the public square or argue that their contribution should be ignored because of âmajority rule.â This is a threat not just to Christianity but âto humanity itself and to the deepest truth about our being and ultimate vocation, our relationship to God.â
Pope Benedict said that the Catholic Churchâs tradition of respect for both faith and reason means that it can play a critical role in opposing current trends which are based on âextreme individualismâ and promote ânotions of freedom detached from moral truth.â
The pontiff also touched on what he called the âlegitimateâ idea of separation of Church and State. This does not mean, however, that the Church must be silent on certain issues or that the state can choose to ignore âthe voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.â
Pope Benedict said he appreciated the efforts of the U.S. bishops to maintain contacts with Catholics involved in political life and help them âunderstand their personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith.â
This is especially true when it comes to key ethical issues of today, which he identified as âthe respect for Godâs gift of life, the protection of human dignity and the promotion of authentic human rights.â
He concluded on an optimistic note by observing the rise of âa new generation of Catholicsâ in the United States whose âexperience and convictions will have a decisive role in renewing the Churchâs presence and witness in American society.â
The hope promised by this younger generation should be reason enough âto renew our efforts to mobilize the intellectual and moral resources of the entire Catholic community in the service of the evangelization of American culture and the building of the civilization of love.â
To read Pope Benedict's full address, please visit: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=1059