DIFFICULTIES AND HOPES OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AMERICA
VIS REPORTS: VATICAN CITY, 19 JAN 2012 (VIS) - Today in the Vatican Benedict XVI received a group of prelates from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (Regions 4 and 6), at the end of their "ad limina" visit. (IMAGE SOURCE: RADIO VATICANA)
Dear Brother Bishops,
I greet all of you with fraternal affection and I
pray that this pilgrimage of spiritual renewal and deepened communion will
confirm you in faith and commitment to your task as Pastors of the Church in the
United States of America. As you know, it is my intention in the course of this
year to reflect with you on some of the spiritual and cultural challenges of the
One of the most memorable aspects of my Pastoral
Visit to the United States was the opportunity it afforded me to reflect on
America’s historical experience of religious freedom, and specifically the
relationship between religion and culture. At the heart of every culture,
whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the
moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing. In America,
that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded
in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical
principles deriving from nature and nature’s God. Today that consensus has
eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not
only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition,
but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.
For her part, the
Church in the United States is called, in season and out of season, to proclaim
a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them
precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering (cf. Gaudium et
Spes, 10). To the extent that some current cultural trends contain elements
that would curtail the proclamation of these truths, whether constricting it
within the limits of a merely scientific rationality, or suppressing it in the
name of political power or majority rule, they represent a threat not just to
Christian faith, but also to humanity itself and to the deepest truth about our
being and ultimate vocation, our relationship to God. When a culture attempts to
suppress the dimension of ultimate mystery, and to close the doors to
transcendent truth, it inevitably becomes impoverished and falls prey, as the
late Pope John Paul II so clearly saw, to reductionist and totalitarian readings
of the human person and the nature of society.
With her long
tradition of respect for the right relationship between faith and reason, the
Church has a critical role to play in countering cultural currents which, on the
basis of an extreme individualism, seek to promote notions of freedom detached
from moral truth. Our tradition does not speak from blind faith, but from a
rational perspective which links our commitment to building an authentically
just, humane and prosperous society to our ultimate assurance that the cosmos is
possessed of an inner logic accessible to human reasoning. The Church’s defense
of a moral reasoning based on the natural law is grounded on her conviction that
this law is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a “language” which enables
us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more
just and humane world. She thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of
constraint but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure
The Church’s witness, then, is of its nature public: she seeks to
convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate
separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be
silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be
engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which
will shape the future of the nation.
In the light of these
considerations, it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the
United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral
witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in
the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be
clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are
certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms,
the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts
have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of
Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in
intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to
reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of
respect for freedom of conscience.
Here once more we see the need for an
engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong
critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a
reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in
public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American
society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a
convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a
primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new
evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical
programs at every level.
In this regard, I would mention with
appreciation your efforts to maintain contacts with Catholics involved in
political life and to help them understand their personal responsibility to
offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral
issues of our time: respect for God’s gift of life, the protection of human
dignity and the promotion of authentic human rights. As the Council noted, and I
wished to reiterate during my Pastoral Visit, respect for the just autonomy of
the secular sphere must also take into consideration the truth that “there is no
realm of worldly affairs which can be withdrawn from the Creator and his
dominion” (Gaudium et Spes, 36). There can be no doubt that a more
consistent witness on the part of America’s Catholics to their deepest
convictions would make a major contribution to the renewal of society as a
Dear Brother Bishops, in these brief remarks I have wished to
touch upon some of the pressing issues which you face in your service to the
Gospel and their significance for the evangelization of American culture. No one
who looks at these issues realistically can ignore the genuine difficulties
which the Church encounters at the present moment. Yet in faith we can take
heart from the growing awareness of the need to preserve a civil order clearly
rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, as well as from the promise offered by
a new generation of Catholics whose experience and convictions will have a
decisive role in renewing the Church’s presence and witness in American society.
The hope which these “signs of the times” give us is itself a reason to renew
our efforts to mobilize the intellectual and moral resources of the entire
Catholic community in the service of the evangelization of American culture and
the building of the civilization of love. With great affection I commend all of
you, and the flock entrusted to your care, to the prayers of Mary, Mother of
Hope, and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
From the Vatican, 19 January 2012
THE HOLY FATHER RECEIVES A FINNISH ECUMENICAL DELEGATION
VATICAN CITY, 19 JAN 2012 (VIS) - In keeping with a long-standing tradition a Finnish ecumenical delegation (led this year by Catholic Bishop Teemu Sippo S.C.I. of Helsinki and Lutheran Bishop Seppo Hakkinen of Mikkeli) is currently visiting Rome to mark the Feast of St. Henry. The group was received this morning in audience by the Holy Father. "Our deepened friendship and common witness to Jesus Christ - especially before today's world, which so often lacks true direction and longs to hear the message of salvation - must hasten our progress towards the resolution of our remaining differences, and indeed of all matters on which Christians are divided", the Pope said to them speaking English.
"In recent times, ethical questions have become one of the points of difference among Christians, especially with regard to the proper understanding of human nature and its dignity. There is a need for Christians to arrive at a profound agreement on matters of anthropology, which can then help society and politicians to make wise and just decisions regarding important questions in the area of human life, family and sexuality. In this regard, the recent ecumenical bilateral dialogue document in the Finnish-Swedish context not only reflects a rapprochement between Catholics and Lutherans over the understanding of justification, but it urges Christians to renew their commitment to imitate Christ in life and action".
"Our longing for the full, visible unity of Christians requires patient and trustful waiting", Pope Benedict concluded, "not in a spirit of helplessness or passivity, but with deep trust that the unity of all Christians in one Church is truly God's gift and not our own achievement. Such patient waiting, in prayerful hope, transforms us and prepares us for visible unity not as we plan it, but as God grants it".
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VATICAN CITY, 19 JAN 2012 (VIS) - The Holy Father today received in audience:
- Seven prelates of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, on their "ad limina" visit:
- Archbishop Edwin Frederick O'Brien, apostolic administrator of Baltimore and pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, accompanied by Auxiliary Bishops Mitchell Thomas Rozanski and Denis James Madden.
- Bishop Paul Stephen Loverde of Arlington.
- Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo of Richmond.
- Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston.
- Bishop William Francis Malooly of Wilmington.
- Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke O.S.B. of Eichstatt, Germany.
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OTHER PONTIFICAL ACTS
VATICAN CITY, 19 JAN 2012 (VIS) - The Holy Father:
- Appointed Bishop William C. Skurla of Passaic, U.S.A., as metropolitan archbishop of Pittsburgh of the Byzantines (Catholics 58,763, priests 64, permanent deacons 17, religious 88), U.S.A.
- Accepted the resignation from the office of auxiliary and vicar for Jordan of the patriarchate of Jerusalem of the Latins presented by Bishop Selim Sayegh, in accordance with canon 411 of the Code of Canon Law.
- Appointed Archbishop Maroun Elias Lahham of Tunis, Tunisia, as auxiliary and vicar for Jordan of the patriarchate of Jerusalem of the Latins (Catholics 160,700, priests 417, permanent deacons 3, religious 1,842), allowing him to maintain his title of archbishop "ad personam".