Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican's highest court, said on Aug. 2 that without religion in society, political leaders run the risk violating the fundamental human rights of citizens.
“All nations should guarantee the free exercise of religion, which aims to protect the teaching and practice of religious faith for the sake of the common good,” said Cardinal Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura.
“When reason is not purified by faith in the political realm,” he warned, “the powerful and influential of the time exercise a tyranny which violates the fundamental rights of the very people whom political leaders are called to serve.”
Cardinal Burke made his remarks at the Knights of Columbus' festive, black tie “States Dinner” at the Colorado Convention Center during the group's 129th Supreme Convention this week.
Over 2,000 delegates and their families from the order waved colorful state and country flags representing councils from all over the globe and cheered while dozens of cardinals and bishops processed in.
During his keynote address following dinner, the cardinal expressed his “deepest esteem” for the Knights of Columbus, of which he has been a member for over 36 years.
He then discussed the legacy of Blessed Pope John Paul II and the role of clergy religious and laity in bringing about what the late pontiff referred to as the New Evangelization.
“Even as the first disciples faced a pagan world which had not even heard of our Lord Jesus Christ, so, we, too face a culture which is forgetful of God and hostile to His Law written upon every human heart,” he said.
The cardinal said that an “erroneous notion” in modern society of moral law and conscience has led “to an equally erroneous exclusion of the discussion of the moral law and of questions of conscience from public life.”
“In many so-called advanced nations, we witness an increasing tendency to deny to citizens the most fundamental right, the right to observe the dictates of one’s conscience, formed through right reason and the teaching of the Church,” he said.
Cardinal Burke touched on political leaders who profess to be Catholics “and yet vote for legislation which violates the moral law.” Although these politicians claim that they personally believe in moral law, they argue that their political office demands they “follow a different law in making decisions for those whom they represent and govern.”
Moral law, however, is not “a confessional practice,” the cardinal said, but rather “a response to what is inscribed in the depths of every human heart.”
“Religious faith plainly articulates the natural moral law,” which enables men and women of faith “to recognize more readily what their own human nature and the nature of things demand of them, and to conform their lives to the truth which they recognize,” he added.
“For that reason, religious faith and practice is important for the life of every nation, specifically for the right formation of the conscience of her citizens.”
Religious faith, he noted, also serves to evangelize and bring hope to men and women today who are “lost in the unreal and destructive world of moral relativism and, therefore, tempted to despair.”
Cardinal Burke said that Catholics today encounter an intense “struggle with those who would falsely exclude the purifying and illuminating service of faith,” and “those who would insist that, when it comes to civic life, we must bracket our religious faith, even to the point of violating our own conscience.”
“But we know the truth about the critical service which our faith brings to political reasoning,” he underscored, and “we must remain steadfast in giving witness to it, even in the face of indifference and hostility.”