In a recent interview with CNA, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore reaffirmed religious liberty as a priority for the U.S. bishops, emphasizing its relation to personal dignity and evangelization.
“Let me just say that religious liberty is so fundamental to the dignity of the human person,” Archbishop Lori stated, continuing that “anyone who is an impartial observer of the culture would say that in recent times, the challenges to religious liberty have accelerated.
Because of these situation, the archbishop said that the American bishops have dedicated themselves to upholding religious freedom, and will continue to discuss the “multifaceted challenges” faced by the Church.
Archbishop Lori noted that the right to religious liberty “is very much related to truth,” and “does not just depend on (the content of one's) belief.”
“God gave us the gift of religious liberty so that we could sincerely seek the truth, and embrace it once we have found it.”
He added that “to attenuate religious liberty is to attenuate the search for truth. So that is the fundamental level at which we are committed to religious liberty.”
Archbishop Lori also discussed the “linguistic and philosophical gulfs between the teaching of the Church, and the culture,” because “there are those who think religious liberty is really a guise for some right to discriminate, that the Church or others are seeking. So, we have to break those things down, in our catechesis and our evangelization.”
The vast differences in philosophical outlook and in use of language, between the Church and the mainstream culture, are important for Church leaders to take into account, he said.
“For those who preach and teach, it's important that we break down the language that we use into terms that are, in fact, preachable and teachable.”
Archbishop Lori reflected on the U.S. bishops' decision last month to renew for another three years its ad hoc committee, which he chairs, on religious liberty.
“I'm happy that they reaffirmed religious liberty as a priority for the work of the conference.”
This committee deals with affronts to religious liberty coming from such things as international persecution of minority religions; the re-definition of marriage; and challenges to religious practice and speech on university campuses.
“In setting up the ad hoc committee, the conference heard from bishops all around the country who have faced these kinds of challenges at the very local level, and now we're seeing them at the federal level.”
Echoing the Baltimore prelate's sentiments, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville said to CNA that he had heard from bishops that “not only has this been worthwhile on a national level in helping us to craft approaches to public policy, but it’s been helpful to people in our parishes, and to bishops in their dioceses.”
Archbishop Kurtz also reflected how the ad hoc nature of the committee means precisely that the U.S. bishops will have to continue discussing the committee's ambit: “we’re not where we were three years ago, so are there new things that need to be done in composition, as well as the scope.”
“I heard Archbishop Lori say they are already anticipating, the existing committee is already recommending things, and they probably see the horizon better than any of us. And so I am sure we will be focused very much on the horizon, and the observations that the present committee has, as we move forward.”
Archbishop Lori concluded that the bishops' affirmation of the religious liberty committee indicates the episcopate continues to experience challenges to the exercise of religious freedom, “and that this is not at all a narrow focus.”
“This is a very fundamental focus on the life and dignity of the human person, and the ability of the Church to contribute to the common good.”