Secular society needs Catholicism, pope tells US bishops
VATICAN CITY — In five speeches over a period of six months, Pope Benedict XVI warned visiting U.S. bishops of the threats that an increasingly secularized society poses to the Catholic Church in America, especially in the areas of religious liberty, sexual morality and the definition of marriage.
Yet the pope did not advise that American Catholics withdraw from a largely hostile environment in order to preserve their values and faith. Instead, as part of his call for a new evangelization within the church and beyond, he urged believers to engage even more closely with wider society for the benefit of all Americans.
Pictured: Pope Benedict XVI meets May 7 with bishops from Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina during their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican. Seated at left are: Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer of Savannah, Ga.; Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte, N.C.; Auxilia ry Bishop Luis R. Zarama of Atlanta; and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta. Seated at right, partially obscured are: Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston, S.C.; retired Bishop David B. Thompson of Charleston, S.C.; Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh, N.C.; and retired Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah, Ga. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
Pope Benedict addressed five of the 15 regional groups of U.S. bishops making their periodic "ad limina" visits to the Vatican, which began in late November and ended May 19. The speeches touched on themes applicable to dioceses across the country. (Read more about Diocese of Charlotte bishop's trip here. Relive the trip from the blog.)
One constant was the pope's warning against the demoralizing effects of secular culture, which he said had led to a "quiet attrition" among the church's members, who must therefore be the first targets of "re-evangelization."
Yet the pope argued that moral decay is also threatening the stability of secular society itself. He noted what he called an "increased sense of concern on the part of many men and women, whatever their religious or political views" that a "troubling breakdown in the intellectual, cultural and moral foundations of social life" has imperiled the "future of our democratic societies."
Therefore, he said, "despite attempts to still the church's voice in the public square," Catholics should insist on providing "wisdom, insight and sound guidance" to "people of good will." Using the non-religious "language" of natural law, he explained, the church should promote social justice by "proposing rational arguments in the public square."
This duty is incumbent not only on bishops, the pope said, but also on Catholic politicians, who have a "personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral issues of our time." He identified the issues as "respect for God's gift of life, the protection of human dignity and the promotion of authentic human rights."
In particular, Pope Benedict called Catholics to the front lines in defense of "that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion," which he said was especially threatened by "concerted efforts" against the "right of conscientious objection ... to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices."
The pope's presumed reference there was to an Obama administration plan, vociferously protested by U.S. bishops, which would require that the private health insurance plans of most Catholic institutions cover surgical sterilization procedures and birth control.
American society also is served by the church's promotion of sexual morality, Pope Benedict said, since a "weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant, and the widespread rejection of a responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity, have led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost."
The pope characterized the bishops' defense of traditional marriage against proponents of same-sex unions as a matter of "justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike."
Even in connection with the church's most terrible scandal in living memory -- the widespread sexual abuse of minors by priests -- Pope Benedict noted benefits that the church can offer the non-Catholic world.
"It is my hope that the church's conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society," he said.
Although designed to serve Catholics, the church's educational institutions also enrich society at large, the pope said.
Catholic schools' "significant contribution ... to American society as a whole ought to be better appreciated and more generously supported," he said. And Catholic universities, following in a tradition that professes the "essential unity of all knowledge," can be a bulwark against a current trend toward academic overspecialization.
Unity among Catholics can also promote harmony across American society, the pope said.
Noting the "difficult and complex" legal, political, social and economic issues surrounding immigration in the U.S. today, the pope suggested that a closer "communion of cultures" among the ethnic groups that make up the church in America could reduce ethnic tensions outside the church.
"The immense promise and the vibrant energies of a new generation of Catholics are waiting to be tapped," the pope said, "for the renewal of the church's life and the rebuilding of the fabric of American society."
— Francis X. Rocca, Catholic News Service
Matthew Newsome: Praying with both lungs
The sight of people carrying tasselled prayer ropes may be common in Eastern monasteries, but it is decidedly less so in the southern Appalachian mountains. So when my pastor and I were comparing our chotkis after Mass one recent Sunday, it's...Read More...
Deacon James H. Toner: What we know that ain't so: Leadership
What we think is the right road A good leader knows what he or she is about; a good leader organizes, trains, motivates, supervises and ensures success. A good leader does all these things – while pointing to the latest management guidebook...Read More...
Sister Constance Veit: Is God dreaming about your life?
Using the passage from the Prophet Isaiah where the Lord promises a new heaven and a new earth, Pope Francis recently said that God dreams about us. "God thinks of each of us and loves each of us. He 'dreams' about us ... about how He will rejoice...Read More...
Arts & Entertainment
Catholic convert pens 'Manual for Spiritual Warfare'
CHARLOTTE — He is an internationally known speaker, author and journalist who now serves as the editor of Charlotte-based TAN Books, but Dr. Paul Thigpen was not always Catholic, or even a practicing Christian. In his teenage years, Thigpen...Read More...
'Good is Winning' social media effort gears up for Pope Francis' visit
Wanted: Millennials for digital evangelization gig CHARLOTTE — A broad social media project that aims to engage with young people during Pope Francis' visit this fall to the United States has its roots in the Diocese of Charlotte. Kathleen...Read More...
'HOMELESS': Winston-Salem teen stars in film, hopes to raise awareness
CLEMMONS — Michael McDowell, a recent graduate of Bishop McGuinness High School, is a musician. He plays the guitar and has spent many hours in a recording studio. Over the past few months, he's also spent a fair amount of time on the film...Read More...
US / WORLD HEADLINES
MOST POPULAR STORIES
- Father Patrick Winslow: The greatest lie
- 'Good is Winning' social media effort gears up for Pope Francis' visit
- Father Rossi assigned to Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Awareness Week highlights benefits of Natural Family Planning
- Court rules against Little Sisters' plea to avoid way to bypass mandate