Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò addresses the U.S. bishops at their fall General Assembly on Nov. 14, 2011.
“Evidence is emerging which demonstrates that the threat to religious freedom is not solely a concern for non-democratic and totalitarian regimes,” he said. “Unfortunately it is surfacing with greater regularity in what many consider the great democracies of the world.”
The apostolic nuncio, who serves as the Pope’s diplomatic representative to the U.S., said this is a “tragedy” for both the believer and for democratic society.
Archbishop Vigano’s Nov. 4 speech keynoted the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life conference. He discussed martyrdom, persecution, and religious freedom, with a particular focus on the United States.
He cited Catholics’ duties to be disciples of Christ, not elements of a political or secular ideology. He lamented the fact that many Catholics are publicly supporting “a major political party” that has “intrinsic evils among its basic principles.”
“There is a divisive strategy at work here, an intentional dividing of the Church; through this strategy, the body of the Church is weakened, and thus the Church can be more easily persecuted,” the nuncio said.
Archbishop Vigano observed that some influential Catholic public officials and university professors are allied with forces opposed to the Church’s fundamental moral teachings on “critical issues” like abortion, population control, the redefinition of marriage, embryonic stem cell research and “problematic adoptions.”
He said it is a “grave and major problem” when self-professed Catholic faculty at Catholic institutions are the sources of teachings that conflict with Church teaching on important policy issues rather than defend it.
While Archbishop Vigano noted that most Americans believe they are “essentially a religious people” and still give some importance to religion, he also saw reasons this could change.
He said that the problem of persecution begins with “reluctance to accept the public role of religion,” especially where protecting religious freedom “involves beliefs that the powerful of the political society do not share.”
The nuncio said it is “essential” to pray for a just resolution to religious freedom controversies, including the controversy over the new federal mandate requiring many Catholic employers to provide morally objectionable insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs.
The issues that the Catholic bishops have identified in this mandate are “very real” and “pose grave threats to the vitality of Catholicism in the United States,” Archbishop Vigano said.
The nuncio also discussed other religious liberty threats.
He cited a Massachusetts public school curriculum that required young students to take courses that presented same-sex relations as “natural and wholesome.” Civil authorities rejected parents’ requests for a procedure to exempt their children from the “morally unacceptable” classes.
“If these children were to remain in public schools, they had to participate in the indoctrination of what the public schools thought was proper for young children,” the archbishop said. “Put simply, religious freedom was forcefully pushed aside once again.”
Catholic Charities agencies have also been kicked out of social service programs because they would not institute policies or practices that violate “fundamental moral principles of the Catholic faith.”
Archbishop Vigano cited several countries that have witnessed severe persecution like China, Pakistan, India and the Middle East. He praised the martyrs past and present who would not compromise on “the principles of faith.”
While some forms of persecution are violent and cruel, others aim to incapacitate the faith by encouraging people to renounce their beliefs or the public aspects of their faith, in the face of “great hardships.”
Fidelity to God and the Church has “hastened martyrdom and persecution for many believers of the past, and of today,” he said.
“In all of these instances, we see that the faithful persist in their fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Holy Church! For throughout her history, the Church has gained strength when persecuted,” the archbishop said.
Religious liberty is a human, civil and natural right that is not conferred by the state, he said, adding “religious freedom is the exercise of fidelity to God and his Holy Church without compromise.”
“What God has given, the servant state does not have the competence to remove,” Archbishop Vigano affirmed.
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