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Government pressure on religious groups growing in US, says archbishop

Posted By August 3, 2012 | 2:11 pm | Commentary
NAPA, Calif. (CNS) -- Government pressure on religious entities "goes well beyond" the current federal contraceptive mandate and has become "a pattern in recent years," said Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. "It involves interfering with the conscience rights of medical providers, private employers and individual citizens," he said in a July 27 keynote address at the Napa Institute Conference. "It includes attacks on the policies, hiring practices and tax statuses of religious charities, hospitals and other ministries. "These attacks are real. They're happening now. And they'll get worse as America's religious character weakens," the archbishop said in a speech titled "Building a Culture of Religious Freedom."

Government pressure on religious groups growing in US, says archbishop

By Catholic News Service

NAPA, Calif. (CNS) — Government pressure on religious entities “goes well beyond” the current federal contraceptive mandate and has become “a pattern in recent years,” said Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.

“It involves interfering with the conscience rights of medical providers, private employers and individual citizens,” he said in a July 27 keynote address at the Napa Institute Conference. “It includes attacks on the policies, hiring practices and tax statuses of religious charities, hospitals and other ministries.

“These attacks are real. They’re happening now. And they’ll get worse as America’s religious character weakens,” the archbishop said in a speech titled “Building a Culture of Religious Freedom.”

“Contempt for religious faith has been growing in America’s leadership classes for many decades,” he added.

Americans have always been “a religious people,” with millions of them taking their faith seriously, he continued, but while “religious practice remains high,” America “is steadily growing more secular.”

“Mainline churches are losing ground. Many of our young people spurn Christianity. Many of our young adults lack any coherent moral formation,” he said, and respect for the role of religion in the public square has clearly eroded.

The nation’s Founding Fathers knew the importance of religion, and recognized it was “not just a matter of private conviction” and “has social implications,” the archbishop said.

“The Founders welcomed those implications,” he continued. “Christian faith demands preaching, teaching, public witness and service to others — by each of us alone, and by acting in cooperation with fellow believers.”

“Religious freedom is never just freedom from repression but also — and more importantly — freedom for active discipleship,” Archbishop Chaput said. “It includes the right of religious believers, leaders and communities to engage society and to work actively in the public square.

He said Catholics have to fight for what they believe about abortion, sexuality, marriage and the family, and religious liberty.

“We have a duty to treat all persons with charity and justice. We have a duty to seek common ground where possible. But that’s never an excuse for compromising with grave evil. … And it’s never an excuse for standing idly by while our liberty to preach and serve God in the public square is whittled away,” he said.

“We need to work vigorously in law and politics to form our culture in a Christian understanding of human dignity and the purpose of human freedom,” he said. “Otherwise, we should stop trying to fool ourselves that we really believe what we claim to believe.”

He urged Catholics to work “for good laws” and get “involved politically,” which he called urgent.

“Every one of our votes matters. We need to elect the best public leaders, who then create the best policies and appoint the best judges,” he said. “This has a huge impact on the kind of nation we become.

“Democracies depend for their survival on people of conviction fighting for what they believe in the public square — legally and peacefully, but zealously and without apologies. That includes you and me.”

He called for a re-examination of “the spirit that has ruled the Catholic approach to American life for the past 60 years.”

“In forming our priests, deacons, teachers and catechists — and especially the young people in our schools and religious education programs — we need to be much more penetrating and critical in our attitudes toward the culture around us. We need to recover our distinctive Catholic identity and history. Then we need to act on them.”

Archbishop Chaput said America is now “mission territory.”

“Our own failures helped to make it that way. We need to admit that. Then we need to re-engage the work of discipleship to change it,” he said.

He said the attitude of his own generation, the baby boomers, has contributed to America’s growing secularization — with “our spirit of entitlement and moral superiority, our appetite for material comfort unmoored from humility; our refusal to acknowledge personal sin and accept our obligations to the past.”

Archbishop Chaput also noted that over the past half century, Catholics have become part of the mainstream, climbing “the ladder of social and economic success,” which “has done very little to Christianize American culture.”

“It’s done a great deal to weaken the power of our Catholic witness,” he said.

“If we want a culture of religious freedom, we need to begin it here, today, now,” he said. “We live it by giving ourselves wholeheartedly to God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ — by loving God with passion and joy, confidence and courage; and by holding nothing back. God will take care of the rest.”

“The firmer our faith, the deeper our love, the purer our zeal for God’s will — then the stronger the house of freedom will be that rises in our own lives, and in the life of our nation,” he said.

 

PHOTO: Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput delivers the homily during Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington July 4, the final day of the bishops’ “fortnight for freedom” campaign. The observance, which began with a June 21 Mass in Baltimore, was a two-week period of prayer, education and action on preserving religious freedom in the U.S. (CNS photo/Bob Roller