Pope Benedict XVI met with bishops from Scotland Friday morning on the occasion of their “ad Limina” visit to the Holy See. Not only did he confirm that he will be visiting their nation this year, but he addressed a variety of issues relevant to the Scottish Church, including the need to defend Church teaching in the face of secularism.
In his message to the bishops, Benedict XVI commended them for their "Priests for Scotland" initiative, which addresses significant issues being dealt with by the Scottish clergy. The Pope remarked that “the witness of priests who are genuinely committed to prayer and joyful in their ministry bears fruit not only in the spiritual lives of the faithful, but also in new vocations.”
Initiatives of this sort, he said, must be offered along with catechesis to remind the lay community of the “indispensable” nature of the priesthood to the life of the Church, especially in providing the Eucharist.
A “renewed focus” on the role of the “lay apostolate” is also needed as it is sometimes confused with “lay ministry,” the Pope said, noting that through the clarification of the roles of clergy and laity a “strong impetus” will be given to the evangelization of society.
The task of evangelization, Benedict XVI continued, “requires a readiness to grapple firmly with the challenges presented by the increasing tide of secularism in (your) country” especially in regard to the important issues of euthanasia and medical ethics.
In this activity, insisted the Holy Father, “if the Church’s teaching is compromised, even slightly, in one such area, then it becomes hard to defend the fullness of Catholic doctrine in an integral manner. Pastors of the Church, therefore, must continually call the faithful to complete fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium, while at the same time upholding and defending the Church’s right to live freely in society according to her beliefs.”
He also highlighted the beauty of marriage and the joy of parenthood, of which the Church offers the world a positive vision “rooted in God’s infinite, transforming and ennobling love for all of us” to promote hope and counteract the perception that Church doctrine is just “a series of prohibitions.”
To address the division and sectarianism in the country, he underscored that the Scottish Church’s participation in the group “Action of Churches Together in Scotland” (ACTS) is important for the “work of rebuilding unity among the followers of Christ.” These efforts, the Pope cautioned, should resist “any pressure to dilute the Christian message” and the goal should be “full, visible unity, for nothing less can respond to the will of Christ.”
The ACTS initiative seeks to unite various Christian denominations in Scotland in living the Gospel and provide increased understanding and create common life between them.
At the end of the address, the Holy Father recognized the contribution of the country's Catholic schools to "overcoming sectarianism and building good relations between communities" and pointed out that "faith schools are a powerful force for social cohesion."
"As you encourage Catholic teachers in their work," he told the bishops, "place special emphasis on the quality and depth of religious education, so as to prepare an articulate and well-informed Catholic laity, able and willing to carry out its mission... A strong Catholic presence in the media, local and national politics, the judiciary, the professions and the universities can only serve to enrich Scotland’s national life, as people of faith bear witness to the truth, especially when that truth is called into question."