London, England, Sep 17, 2010 / 10:14 am
Addressing a group of political, cultural, business and religious leaders at Westminster Hall on the second day of his state visit to Great Britain, Pope Benedict discussed what he described as “fundamental questions” about the moral responsibilities of government, and the role of religious faith in society. Decrying how Christianity has been marginalized in some Western societies, he urged leaders to engage in a “profound and ongoing dialogue” between reason and faith “for the good of our civilization.”
The Pope reflected on the significance of Westminster Hall as the site of the British Parliament, symbolic of the democratic political tradition which has influenced history and the modern world in profound ways. He drew particular attention to the figure of Saint Thomas More, “the great English scholar and statesman” who was imprisoned and executed in 1535 for obedience to the Church over the King of England.
“He followed his conscience,” the Pope noted, “even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign,” and “chose to serve God first.” The case of St. Thomas More, he continued, raised “fundamental questions” about the nature of government and the role of religion in society. “What are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far to they extend?” More fundamentally, “By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved?”
Merely resorting to a social consensus as is done now, Pope Benedict pointed out, cannot sustain the democratic process which has been central to life in Great Britain and the English-speaking world for centuries. “If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus,” he explained, “then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.”