Benedict XVI at Westminster Hall to civil authorities

WestminsterThis is a speech I have really been waiting for. 

Remember, this is a state visit.  This is where the point is made.

In a sense, this brings some closure to the gulf which opened since the time of Henry VIII.

I will update with thoughts.

Mr Speaker,

Thank you for your words of welcome on behalf of this distinguished gathering. As I address you, I am conscious of the privilege afforded me to speak to the British people and their representatives in Westminster Hall, a building of unique significance in the civil and political history of the people of these islands. Allow me also to express my esteem for the Parliament which has existed on this site for centuries and which has had such a profound influence on the development of participative government among the nations, especially in the Commonwealth and the English-speaking world at large. Your common law tradition serves as the basis of legal systems in many parts of the world, and your particular vision of the respective rights and duties of the state and the individual, and of the separation of powers, remains an inspiration to many across the globe.

As I speak to you in this historic setting, I think of the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides. In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose "good servant" he was, because he chose to serve God first. [Primacy of God in public affairs.  Belief in God is not merely a matter of the "private" sphere.] The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question [starting point] of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.

WestminsterThis country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation’s political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good.

And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

WestminsterThe inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. [This is new.  Natural law argument here?] There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as "every economic decision has a moral consequence" (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore. A positive illustration of this is found in one of the British Parliament’s particularly notable achievements – the abolition of the slave trade. The campaign that led to this landmark legislation was built upon firm ethical principles, rooted in the natural law, and it has made a contribution to civilization of which this nation may be justly proud.

[NB] The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. [Not to impose, but rather to speak from within the public square.] This "corrective" role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. [Here is an echo of what the Pope has spoken of in his 2006 Message for Peace and in the Regensburg Address, at al.]  It is a two-way process. [Note my thoughts on inculturation when it comes to liturgy.  This is a different dynamic.] Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. [The problem of the secular humanist.] Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

WestminsterReligion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. [In other words here in England.] There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. [This is also appropriate for the political discourse in the USA when it comes to "health care".] These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.  [Framed as a civil rights issue.]

Your readiness to do so is already implied in the unprecedented invitation extended to me today. And it finds expression in the fields of concern in which your Government has been engaged with the Holy See. In the area of peace, there have been exchanges regarding the elaboration of an international arms trade treaty; regarding human rights, the Holy See and the United Kingdom have welcomed the spread of democracy, especially in the last sixty-five years; in the field of development, there has been collaboration on debt relief, fair trade and financing for development, particularly through the International Finance Facility, the International Immunization Bond, and the Advanced Market Commitment. The Holy See also looks forward to exploring with the United Kingdom new ways to promote environmental responsibility, to the benefit of all.

I also note that the present Government has committed the United Kingdom to devoting 0.7% of national income to development aid by 2013. In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare. Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed "too big to fail". Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly "too big to fail".

WestminsterThis overview of recent cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Holy See illustrates well how much progress has been made, in the years that have passed since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations, in promoting throughout the world the many core values that we share. I hope and pray that this relationship will continue to bear fruit, and that it will be mirrored in a growing acceptance of the need for dialogue and respect at every level of society between the world of reason and the world of faith. I am convinced that, within this country too, there are many areas in which the Church and the public authorities can work together for the good of citizens, in harmony with Britain’s long-standing tradition. For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. [Catholic schools] In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed. The angels looking down on us from the magnificent ceiling of this ancient Hall remind us of the long tradition from which British Parliamentary democracy has evolved. They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation.

Mr Speaker, I thank you once again for this opportunity briefly to address this distinguished audience. Let me assure you and the Lord Speaker of my continued good wishes and prayers for you and for the fruitful work of both Houses of this ancient Parliament. Thank you and God bless you all!

More later as I think about this.

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23 Responses to Benedict XVI at Westminster Hall to civil authorities

  1. Still working my way through this, but for now, one word: WOW.

  2. irishgirl says:

    Double WOW!

    And another word….INEFFABLE!

    Bravo, Holy Father Benedict!

  3. Geoffrey says:

    This deserves to be read and re-read… and then read again.

  4. kab63 says:

    Who was that horrible woman who spoke after the Pope?

  5. kab: you mean there was a rebuttal?

  6. thereseb says:

    That was the Speaker of the Lords – I didn’t hear her – I was serving dinner. I did hear the greasy little oik Speaker Bercow do the introduction – which was clearly written in order to politely tell the Pope to keep his nose out of Parliamentary business. His awful awful wife has been on Twitter here

    http://www.webuser.co.uk/news/top-stories/499994/sally-bercow-s-pope-tweets-cause-a-stir

    A quick google will inform Johnny Foreigner all about the cut of her gib. Anyone in the UK will be familiar with her private life (and an extraordinary number of them will be quite overfamiliar with her).

  7. Ellen says:

    What do you expect? There’s a board I frequent which discusses royal fashion. One poster called the Pope a vile old homophobe. I am tempted to call him out.

  8. John UK says:

    – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. [Catholic schools]

    Not just Catholic schools, Father, But particularly Catholic adoption agencies, which have been forced into closure.

    Best regards,and thank you for your lightning commentaries!

    John U.K.

  9. Huxtaby says:

    I only wish the man who purports to be the local parish priest had been watching and inwardly digesting what the Pope was saying. As I was watching he was walking the dog by my front window.

    And no I dare say he wasn’t recording it either – not when you hear him speak from his pulpit on the rights of womens’ ordination.

    We have just heard a very great man speak some very great words to some not very great people in not very Great Britain!

  10. Rachel says:

    I love that he opened with St. Thomas More. Booyah!

  11. The House of Lords speaker didn’t actually say anything offensive, per se. She just said a bunch of stuff about how religious diversity strengthened the parliamentary civic virtues, except in a voice that made it sound like she was sure she was scoring points. Whatever. Except I know who can understudy Umbridge in the last Harry Potter movie.

    I was glad to see Baroness Thatcher there. I hope her health is good.

  12. Andrew says:

    Some sentences that stand out in my mind:

    “If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.”
    I have always thought that there is an excessive tooting of democracy going around. People forget that Lenin and Hitler and many similar characters rose to power by a democratic consensus. The majority rule can, and often does, become nothing but a mob rule.

    “There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world.”
    This is perfect: the present crowd is composed of wealthy individuals who highly value their money and do not have a keen interest in ethical or moral questions. Let’s talk to them about their wealth and the tentative nature of their possessions.

    And here is the central point, in my mind, of the speech: (religion is here) “to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.”

    Starting with first baby steps in the right direction. These people coudn’t handle anything more. They’re not ready for meat, they have to start with baby milk.

  13. Bornacatholic says:

    every economic decision has a moral consequence

    The Austrian School of Economics will not be pleased to hear that; what with their laws of economics this and laws of economics that – as though significant segments of Economism is above or apart from morality because it is a science.

  14. Flambeaux says:

    Bornacatholic,
    That is nonsense. I infer that you have little actual knowledge of the Austrian School.

  15. Jerry says:

    @Flambeaux — How are the previous poster’s comments nonsense?

  16. Martial Artist says:

    Fr. Z,

    Your comment: “[Not to impose, but rather to speak from within the public square.]” reminds me of nothing so much as what Fr. Neuhaus, who was one of the lights that guided me to the Catholic Church, used to paraphrase from our Holy Father, that (paraphrasing slightly myself) the Church seeks not to impose but to propose.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  17. Martial Artist says:

    @Jerry,

    You asked, in essence, “how is the comment that Economists of the Austrian School ‘will not be pleased to hear that; what with their laws of economics this and laws of economics that – as though significant segments of Economism is above or apart from morality because it is a science‘ nonsense?”

    If you are familiar with Austrian School economics, you would understand implicitly that at the very core of Austrian economics are found the insistence on adherence to the Rule of Law and the necessity that individual rights to property be strongly enforced thereunder. To suggest that Austrian economists think that significant principles of economic organization are somehow “above or apart from morality” is a complete contradiction of what they believe to be necessary conditions of a just and effective economic system.

    Whether or not I would be so uncharitable as to phrase it as did Flambeaux, I would draw exactly the same inference as he has correctly done to Bornacatholic‘s obvious mischaracterization of what Austrian Economic theory teaches. You don’t need to read very much of Hayek or Mises to see the nature and degree of the error.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  18. robtbrown says:

    What do you expect? There’s a board I frequent which discusses royal fashion. One poster called the Pope a vile old homophobe. I am tempted to call him out.
    Comment by Ellen

    Just say that he’s a religiophobe.

  19. mike cliffson says:

    1. V moved and glued to livefeed etc. Gotta sibling b singing in Brum.

    2. I’m not good at getting things over to you cousins: pls is there a cousin to explain Westminster hall to the rest of you? I Haven’t been in it since churchill’s lying in state. It looks really grotty on TV – it’s the best part of a millenia old, the rest of parliament is much newer. This side the true religion it’s impressive in its way.

    Doesn’t really matter if the current Mr Speaker( same word,same origins, different functions to US Congress) Bercow is a Berk -nothing would surprise me less – as far as I was concerned, his institutional speech mentioned St Thomas More as 156 speakers b4 him, and the reminder that the very hall was where his trial – and others – took place…
    As a leadin which allowed Today’s Peter to tread verbally lightly, and hence the more fundamentally ,on exemplifying from St thomas: he didn’t need to spell out “culture of death” etc.

    Did you notice black rod’s silent presence?

    Eh, speech ‘d stand up on it’s own right anywhere , wouldn’t it? – or are, say, US (and many other)legislatures shining lights that need it not?
    God bless our Pope!

    4. Ditto for perceptive cousin . pls explain where beginnings of regrafting Uk into catholic christendom at the institutional level have relevance USA – , historic origins, attitudes transmitted, etc.

  20. My blog is not a SMS text box on a phone.

    Plz avoid abbrev when writing.

  21. Ed the Roman says:

    From DICNAVAB (apocryphally):

    UNA: Use No Abbreviations

  22. mike cliffson says:

    Sorry
    I’m 2 moved

  23. Supertradmum says:

    I know that I shall open a can of worms, but it has occurred to me during this historical and amazing event and before, that the establishment of the National Church of England, has, in the long run, actually helped the Catholic cause.

    Not only has the reverence of the Oxford Movement, a slight but present victory over Latitudinariasm, been maintained, but the awareness of the importance of religion in everyday life probably has lasted longer in the British Isles than even in some so-called Catholic countries. Italy, Spain, and Portugal are all struggling with communism, atheism, secularism, and relativism, without the benefit of the money and law of the state being behind the struggling Catholic Church, which is being marginalized in those countries at an alarming rate. I am sure whatever the Pope says to the British applies also, if not more so, to those so-called Catholic countries of Belgium and France, added to the list above.

    That the Queen wore black and that she and the Prince Consort saw the Pope in private indicates to me and many royal watchers, that the monarchy wants a continuity of Christianity in the State, which needs to be address by the Queen before her sad son takes over and wrecks both the monarchy and religious focus in public life. The fact that the Pope could speak in the ancient halls of Parliament and that he was respectfully addressed by those who would disagree with him, is a triumph for rationality.