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November 14, 2016 Open Session
Oral Report on the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty
Archbishop William E. Lori
Thank you, Archbishop, and good afternoon, Brother Bishops. Today, I would like to do something a little different. The Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty is involved in a unique task. Our work gets at the heart of the relationship between the Church and the state, and that relationship affects the work of other committees and other ministries. And so I would like to reflect on our role as a body of bishops to serve the mission of the Church in public life, and where the promotion of religious freedom fits in that service.
At this fraught moment in our country's history, we must help to build a civil society in which persons can encounter one another as persons, who see the world differently, yet are seeking truth all the same.
Let me draw attention to four tasks that I see for us as bishops, as we think about how the Church interacts with the political sphere.
First and foremost, we are called to pray for the people to whom God has entrusted us. In our prayer and sacrifice, we not only fulfill our duty to sanctify the world, but we come to take on the burdens of the world. Prayer is the privileged pathway to and expression of solidarity with the struggles of our people at home and abroad.
Second, we must teach and preach. The bishop is the chief evangelizer and catechist for his local church. Each of us must dedicate himself to the formation of the faithful. This includes promoting the Church's social teaching on human dignity, solidarity, and work of the common good.
Third, we must work to equip lay people to take public action. We have to call Christians to take their place as missionary disciples. And we have to support those women and men who answer the call by serving the poor and advocating for the vulnerable in public life. This also includes promoting a spirit of dialogue, including our politicians.
So, we must pray, teach, and equip. With these tasks, we acknowledge that in the political arena, it is primarily the laity who take action, and we as bishops are to focus on formation and sanctification.
But that is not all.
Fourth, and finally, sometimes we must speak up for ourselves. Particularly when the power of the state is marshalled against the Church's ministries of mercy, the bishop must say something. He must speak truth to power. To be sure, we must be winsome, but we must not be silent.
We all wish we could focus on praying, teaching, and equipping. However, we do not support the faithful if we ignore the challenges that we face and will continue to face.
Numerous laws and regulations—federal, state and local—as well as lawsuits have created a troubling landscape. Both our own Migration and Refugee Services, as well as Catholic health care and charities, repeatedly face challenges from those who seek to restrict their work. While the contours of the political landscape are changing and have not yet come into full view, it is crucial that we remain steadfast in our efforts to promote a "healthy pluralism."
But I don't want to focus on legal threats. Law is downstream of culture, and legal trends often reflect prevailing attitudes in the academy.
So, consider a few quotes that reflect voices in the culture.
A Baptist ethics professor, who supports marriage redefinition and is the author of a widely used ethics textbook, recently gave this warning:
It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed. …Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you."
—Rev. Dr. David Gushee
My own judgment is that taking a hard line ('You lost, live with it') is better than trying to accommodate the losers… Trying to be nice to the losers didn't work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.)"
The phrases 'religious liberty' and 'religious freedom' will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance."
American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. …And, as my brothers, the United States bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it."
Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love" (Mt 20:1-16).Catholic teaching on religious freedom is rooted in human dignity, a dignity which derives from the nature of the human person as truth-seeker.
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