In Rome, Archbishop Lori addresses religious liberty
By Christopher Gunty
ROME – In an address June 28 to the newly formed Observatory of Religious Liberty, Archbishop William E. Lori noted that within the roots of the American democratic experiment, religious freedom is recognized as coming from God, not from the government.
In the midst of the U.S. bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom, the archbishop took advantage of an invitation from the Italian government and the City of Rome to provide context on the threats to religious liberty to members of the observatory and about three dozen foreign journalists.
Noting that after independence was secured, the founders of the new country enshrined a Bill of Rights.
“In the United States, religious freedom wasn’t placed somewhere in the middle of the list of rights, rather it is first, which makes it all the more ironic that we are facing religious liberty challenges in the United States,” he said.
Massimo Introvigne, chairman of the Observatory of Religious Freedom, a new part of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in his introduction to the archbishop’s talk that religious liberty is not just one more freedom in the laundry list of freedoms, but the very cornerstone. He said one of the goals of the observatory and the archbishop’s talk was to call attention to the fact that religious liberty is a concern everywhere.
“Some countries may have more problems than others,” Introvigno said, “but it’s a serious concern to see religious liberty concerns in the West, in Europe. We are here to start a conversation as broad as possible as deep as possible.”
Archbishop Lori framed part of his comments on the notion of the common good for society, noting, “It is precisely what the Church believes and teaches, precisely our belief in the transcendent dignity of every human being, that prompts the Catholic Church, and many churches, to serve the common good. This is an ancient, foundational and abiding instinct in Catholic social teaching.”
He harkened back to the words of one of his predecessors as archbishop of Baltimore, Cardinal James Gibbons, who 125 years earlier had made a strong defense of religious liberty in a speech at his titular church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. He noted that at that time, Cardinal Gibbons said, “For myself, as a citizen of the United States, without closing my eyes to our defects as a nation, I proclaim with a deep sense of pride and gratitude, and in this great capital of Christendom, that I belong to a country where the civil government holds over us the aegis of its protection without interfering in the legitimate exercise of our sublime mission as ministers of the Gospel of Christ.”
Archbishop Lori added, “Cardinal Gibbons understood that the American experiment was not perfect, but he championed the view that the form of government adopted by the United States has made it possible not only for the Roman Catholic Church but for all faiths to flourish and to be a powerful force in shaping the morality of a country.”
Later in the day, just as the Supreme Court released its ruling on the health care reform legislation, Archbishop Lori celebrated a Mass at Santa Maria in Trastevere, recalling “all the freedoms that God has given us.”
He said the issue regarding the bishops’ religious liberty concerns had been misrepresented by many as being strictly about the Obama administration’s health care policy, significant provisions of which the Supreme Court later that day upheld. “All this has been falsely portrayed by some as a fight about contraception – as part of a war on women. It is not. … It is about the federal government’s decision to breach the wall of separation, to come into the Church’s territory, and to force the Church’s hand regarding its teaching on faith and morals as these are lived out not only in the sanctuary but also in the Church’s institutions of service and in the private and professional lives of the Church’s members,” the archbishop said.
Asked after his address whether religious liberty is inevitably a political issue, and if the Fortnight for Freedom – which began in Baltimore June 21 and ends on Independence Day, July 4 – has a partisan cast with an encouragement for Catholics to vote a specific way come November, the archbishop said, “It is never the responsibility of bishops to tell Catholics precisely how to vote.” He reminded the audience that the U.S. bishops have almost a century of history of supporting universal access to health care, since at least 1919.
He said that while the affordable health care act was being drafted several years ago, long before this election cycle, the bishops urged legislators to include some key provisions in the legislation, including conscience protection rights and to ensure that federal money would not be used for abortions.
The bishops advocated for those as strongly as possible, and after it was passed without those protections, they worked closely with the administration to get those aspects written into the rule-making that goes along with implementation of the law, “unfortunately to no avail.”
“What I’m trying to say is that we did everything we could well in advance of this election to head off this train wreck,” Archbishop Lori said. “We failed. We didn’t choose the timing. We didn’t choose the fight. It happened to occur in an election year.”
Just because that fight is happening in an election year “imposes no responsibility on us to remain silent,” he said, adding that “if we lose these freedoms now they remain lost forever.”
In his remarks, Archbishop Lori noted that members of the faithful will, in the end, be judged on love, and that the rally for religious freedom must be seen as supporting the national common good and providing a beacon of hope for people suffering religious persecution in various parts of the world.
The observatory’s chairman, Introvigne, noted that religious freedom around the world is threatened in three ways: intolerance, discrimination and persecution, often bloody.
“It’s a slippery slope,” he said. “We go from intolerance to discrimination and from discrimination to persecution. If we delay the reaction, suddenly it’s too late.”
Copyright (c) June 28, 2012 CatholicReview.org