Benedict XVI important address to US Bishops of Regions IV-VI about attacks on religious liberty in the public square

This is important.

The US bishops are this year making their over-due ad limina visits.  The Holy Father generally gives an address to groups of bishops when they come.

Benedict XVI spoke to the bishops of Regions IV-VI in the USA.  He spoke about the USCCB’s defense of religious liberty and the threats against it in the public square.  I think he was talking about, inter alia, the Obama Administration.

Below the full text (hear my PODCAzT with analysis HERE) of Pope Benedict’s address delivered Thursday (my emphases and comments):

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 new evangelization.

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. [cf. opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence] 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, [cf. 2 Timothy 4] 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, [drive the Church out of the public square] 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.

[The last few sentences speak to why I am constantly talking about our liturgical worship as the key to any revitalization of our Catholic identity and why I say “Save The Liturgy Save The World”.  We need liturgical worship which underscores and manifests the transcendent, and which allows an encounter with mystery also though the apophatic dimension of liturgical worship.  We need a renewal of our liturgical worship along these lines or nothing else we strive for will succeed.]

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 future. [When a Catholic speaks to a social problem even using mainly a natural law argument, opponents will claim that the Catholic is trying to impose a religious viewpoint on the majority.  Sadly, some catholics succumb to this error and use it against their own identity and to everyone’s detrminent.]

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.  [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

[THEREFORE…] 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. [Did you get that?  Every level?  I suggest that you print out the Pope’s speech and give a copy to your local parish priests.] Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. [The Obama Administration is doing exactly that.  I think the Pope is driving exactly at that point.  Watch…] 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. [This isn’t just about participation in abortion, but also about same-sex “marriage” and therefore adoption issues, etc.  Direct abortion is intrinsically evil.  So are homosexual acts.] 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. [Did you get that?  The shift from “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship”?  That is the shift of language used by the Obama Administration.  Click here for more and do your own search on “freedom of religion vs freedom of worship”.]

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. [Catholics will not be as the Holy Father describes without we revitalize our liturgical worship and then our clergy preach and preach and preach solid doctrine and without bishops and priests restore the Sacrament of Penance to its proper role in Catholic life.] 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.  [That remark about “lay leaders” reminds me of the effort of Archbp. Nienstedt of St Paul and Minneapolis, together with all the Bishops of Minnesota, to have parishes develop a grass roots promotion of a defense of marriage amendment to the Minnesota Constitution.  Parishes have been asked to develop a network on the model of precinct captains to get out the vote, as it were.]

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. [Including “freedom of religion” and protect of conscience.  Bishops need a crash course on can. 915, frankly.  The fact that the Holy Father is mentioning “human rights” is significant in the light of a distortion of the understanding of “human rights” even on the part of some Catholics.  For example, the National Catholic Fishwrap and the Magisterium of Nuns, as I call the attempt of liberal women religious and their surrogates to offer an alternative to the office of the bishops in the USA.  For more on this, click HERE.] As the Council noted, and I wished to reiterate during my Pastoral Visit, [Read: “The Church and I have been saying this until we are blue in the face…”] 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 whole.

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 [I think this is a subtle way of recognizing that the last couple generations are pretty much on the bench, as it were.] 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.  [And that cannot happen without a revitalization of our liturgical worship.] 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

This is a huge address.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. rollingrj says:

    Could this speech be summed up in three words: No more lukewarm?

  2. Dan says:

    Wow! I’m currently writing a law review article on HHS’s contraceptive coverage mandate and the Free Exercise Clause – some great quotes for my conclusion!

    (Incidentially, and if anyone is interested, here’s the jist of how I concluded – bear in mind, there are about 45 pages of legal analysis first…but the cultural and historical point I make below is more germane to the topic of this post:

    Given the strength and value of religious institutions in American life, this is a compromise that we cannot afford to put off. To date, the emerging tensions between the Obama Administration and the Catholic Church in the United States have led to increasingly strained relations between the two.# Bishops who were once content to govern their dioceses are now stepping into the public fray and even testifying before congress about threats to religious liberty.# In recent times, the erosion of religious liberty and autonomy has been marked by state attempts to label support of traditional marriage as “bigotry,” to compel condom distribution by Catholic Relief Services, and, as discussed here, to require Catholic schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations to subsidize contraceptive products and services.# As ecclesiastical leaders have warned, however, attempts to limit religious free exercise and church autonomy in pursuit of an unbridled egalitarianism may have the unintended effect of undermining access to basic health care for all.#

    Nowhere has this lesson proved more true, and more sobering, than in France following the Revolution of 1789. As Professor William Doyle argued in his Oxford History of the French Revolution, the assault on the Catholic Church in France had the unintended consequence of harming the people who relied on it the most for their basic needs.# While the Revolution’s battle against the Church was ostensibly fought to liquidate its massive property holdings and redistribute its wealth to people, these efforts “pulled apart” the old structure of Church-sponsored charity that provided food, healthcare, and education to the less fortunate. As a result, “the poor were far more numerous,” and the social services once in place to provide for their needs were “shattered by the attack on the Church.”# “In no sphere,” Professor Doyle concluded, “was more human damage done by the French revolutionaries’ failure to match rhetoric with reality.”#

    While such a comparison may appear to be overblown, there are already striking parallels between the rhetoric of revolutionary France and the agenda of the present administration. In an October 2011 speech to NARAL Pro-Choice America, for example, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told those in attendance that “we are in a war,” presumably against those institutions who oppose mandated contraceptive coverage and abortion.# To date, however, the only casualties of this “war” have been those who depend on Catholic charitable organizations to provide valuable community services.# Given the tremendous aid provided to Americans of all classes, races, faiths, and nationalities by Catholic hospitals, schools, and charities, history would suggest that the State should support, rather than alienate, these vital social institutions. Precisely because the federal mandate’s narrow exemption places Catholic institutions that reach out to the world and offer these services in an “impossible position,” the Obama Administration should reconsider the President’s own promise to enact a “sensible” conscience clause and thereby avoid unnecessary conflicts between Church and State.

  3. It is a great address.

    Any suggestions for what the laity not in politics can do?

  4. Supertradmum says:

    I put this on my blog as well before I saw this and your comments are brilliant, Father. We cannot have secular renewal without spiritual renewal. This statement has been ignored so far by most of the mainline media today, but I hope all the Catholic newspapers print this. The problem is selective reading on the part of the liberals and conservatives alike. I find that such important statements would be overlooked so easily in the States because there is so much nonsensical news.

    As to the content, the Pope is clearly calling the laity to get with it and bring the Catholic Faith into the marketplace. The reference to Blessed John Paul II on reductionist theories of government has been preached for 160 in the Church, from 1849 to the present day-Marxism and socialism are totally unacceptable as changing the natural law and Catholic ideas of the individual and society. The enemy is within the Church, the Pope said in early December, and I wish he would tie together more clearly the falsity of the liberal Catholic position among the leaders of the Church in America. As Pope Pius XII stated, “[The Church undertook] the protection of the individual and the family against a current threatening to bring about a total socialization which in the end would make the specter of the ‘Leviathan’ become a shocking reality. The Church will fight this battle to the end, for it is a question of supreme values: the dignity of man and the salvation of souls.” (“Radio message to the Katholikentag of Vienna,” September 14, 1952 in Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, vol. XIV, p. 314)

    Nothing much has changed as America lurches towards totalitarianism and this is planned obsolescence of the Constitution, not an accident. I feel a Gramsci reference is necessary–
    What has happened is the quiet revolution of Marxism in the Church. Gramsci wondered why the Church had so much influence in Italy and other places in Europe. He hated the Church and figured out the way to defeat Her was from the inside. He said that religion had to be changed from the inside by those who were communist. Guess what? This happened and this is what the Pope is trying to address.

  5. Clinton R. says:


    A tremendous address by the Holy Father! The Church Militant needs to awake from a too long slumber and be courageous in the face of the onslaught that comes from secular society. The “anything goes” mentality that has permeated the Church since Vatican II has done much to undermine the Faith, and is contrary to the doctrine taught by Our Lord and handed on to His Apostles. Restoring Catholic tradition is the only way in which we can combat the morass that the world heaps upon us. Thank you Holy Father for this address and thank you Father Zuhlsdorf for your insightful comments.

  6. Darren says:

    Indeed, VERY important. How blessed we are to have Pope Benedict XVI!!!

    What can the laity, not in politics, do? I guess, firstly, pass this on to your priests. I hope ALL the bishops are getting this.

    Engage your priests & bishops… …pray for them, offer your support. There are many things the laity can do to enhance our worship outside of the mass. Things that can teach and inspire devotions… that will help us yearn for greater reverence and tradition in our liturgical worship. We can inspire our priests. It is a two-way communication between the laity and the priests and bishops.

    I am reminded of the motto chosen by the Most Reverend David O’Connell, bishop of Trenton, NJ: Ministrare non ministrari, meaning “To serve, not to be served”. That’s not just for him, but for everyone. What is your “thing”? Is it a devotion, a ministry, some other activity within or regarding the church or your Catholic faith? Take it up in your parish, or in your diocese. Serve by your example, and engage others… …there are countless saints and angels in heaven ready to help us through their intercessions. The churches militant, suffering and triumphant must be united. Don’t be afraid. If heaven is on your side, you’ll be given what you need, so you can do what you need to do. Even if it is simply a little courage. Sometimes, I think, that is all those who have the faith and love of tradition and the church are lacking – a little courage.

  7. pm125 says:

    Teach us to how to defend our Faith and cut through the rhetoric we hear.

  8. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    lex orandi lex credendi!
    I completely agree with you Fr. John. The Roman Rite of the Church must do all in her power to foster beauty in her worship again because mankind is a liturgical being, and the future of the world depends on it.
    The Mystery of Liturgy directly relates to our faith and our willingness to live out that faith loyally to the truths the Most Holy Trinity reveals to us. All of our life experiences can only be understood through the Sacrament of God’s Kingdom…the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a Liturgy and a Sacrifice where God’ s people assemble into the Kingdom of Heaven and offer back to Him what he freely gave to us. This manifestation of eternity into time and space is truly reflected in the ancient and venerable EF. Save the Liturgy…Save the World!

  9. benedetta says:

    Amazing. I am curious, which regions were these Bishops from?

  10. bookworm says:

    Region IV: Includes the states of Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virgin Islands, Virginia and West Virginia. Provinces of Atlanta, Baltimore, Miami, Washington, and the Military Archdiocese.

    Region V: Includes the states of Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. Provinces of Louisville, Mobile and New Orleans.

    Region VI: Includes the states of Michigan and Ohio. Provinces of Cincinnati, Detroit; Eparchy of Parma, Apostolic Exarchate for Chaldeans, and Apostolic Exarchate for Romanians.

  11. Matt R says:

    I am glad my own archbishop and two bishops of dioceses I have previously resided in were present for the address. The Holy Father reminded each and everyone of us in the Church of so many important things.
    Totally in agreement with your analysis Fr Z.

  12. NoTambourines says:

    This jumped out at me:

    “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.”

    Beautifully worded, and little bit of Regensburg.

  13. irishgirl says:

    A brilliant address from our Holy Father, and your usual incisive commentary (as well as podcast) by you, Father Z….but…what can we ‘little people’ do? That is, those who are not politically-minded?
    Our so-called ‘representatives’ don’t listen to us because we don’t have the big bucks to fund their campaigns. They may promise much when they run for office, but more often than not, deliver very little once they’re in office. ‘Politics and corruption’, as Perry White (played by Jackie Cooper) said in the first ‘Superman’ movie…..
    Not every Catholic has the ‘genius’ or organizational ability (much less eloquence of writing or of speech) to approach our shepherds. They’ll pay attention to those who are always on the front pages of the diocesan newspaper or listed in the parish bulletins doing all sorts of ‘out there in the front, in the public square’ things….but not to us ‘little ones’ who remain in the shadows of the background. We ‘little ones’ are ‘benignly ignored and benevolently neglected’.
    All I want to do is to save my soul, so that I can leave this miserable exile and be with God in heaven….I’m just a ‘little one’. This world is a passing world; ‘God alone suffices’, as St. Teresa of Avila says in her ‘Bookmark’.
    ‘The world’s thy ship and not they home’, to quote from the Autobiography of St. Therese.
    That being said, I can only hope and pray that Obama and his minions can be defeated this fall. This country can’t endure another four years of his socialistic rule. Maybe that’s all I can do….
    Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the USA, pray for us and help us! Man constantly fails-only your Son and you can save us!

  14. Johnno says:

    Here are the tools we need:

    Apologetics! Taught in adult classes in the Church or in groups and MANDATED in Catholic High School and Elementary Schools at their level. This includes:

    1. Criticism of Darwinism and the Evolutionary worldview, exposure to the Creationist model
    2. The basic fundamentals of Logic and the Scientific Method of inquiry
    3. Biblical inerrancy and basic Bible apologetics
    4. Studying and knowing the History of Salvation from the beginning in Genesis to Abraham to the Exodus to the Israelite Kingdom to the Exile, to the return, to the Gospels to the Early Church to the modern day Church.
    5. Studying and knowing the relevant teachings and traditions and dogmas of the Church, the Church Fathers, the Church Doctors, Papal encyclicals, councils.
    6. Basic knowledge of world religions, how to refute them, their origins based on Biblical history, the Tower of Babel incident and the dispersion, and how many old religions still retain elements of the Genesis account of origins and Monotheism and sacrifice because they descend from a common original religion and revelation that all men possessed.
    7. Introduction to heresies, stuff in the past and stuff the rears its head today under new names.
    8. Thorough knowledge of Church history, good times and bad times, know about the Crusades, and the Inquisition, and since it is relevant, the facts of the sex abuse crisis today.
    9. Knowledge of man made in God’s image, what this means, the roles of men and women and their differences, proper sexuality, the last things, the nature of heaven, hell and purgatory, the nature of angels and demons.
    10. Courses on relevant saints, approved apparitions, writings and teachings of saints and seers.
    11. Introductory basics on canon law, and the modern day Church as an institution with a look at Church history through councils.

    Catholics schools and colleges MUST also reform. This is stuff they MUST be teaching! And if they refuse to do it, then individual Parishes must make it a point through the laity and youth groups, and if the parish committees don’t, then its falls upon the parents, and if you have no parents it falls upon yourself. It must be made mandatory for anyone receiving first holy communion and confirmation or anyone trying to get married in the Church, even those outside the faith. If they do not comply, be tough and REFUSE them! They should be taught the basics of all of the above, which can be done adequately in a year. Take your faith seriously and treat it like precious gold and a grave responsibility! If you don’t then those you are trying to reach out to won’t either. Any teacher approaching the Catholic School system to teach, must also be required to go through those courses. Any teachers currently in the Catholic School system must be forced to take those courses if they want to continue teaching as is possible through whatever legal means are at the school’s disposal. If not, then set a precedent for new teachers.

    I thirsted for this stuff in my youth and was denied it. God only knows what would’ve become of me had I not stumbled upon it, hidden from me all those years by those in the Church and in the Catholic Schools who fed me moral relativism, secularism, and that the Bible could not be taken seriously and was made up and undermined by modern science. To this day I am infuriated at my high school and all the damage they have been doing to us for years and years and years and are likely being allowed to freely continue unabated for generations to come! Then they wonder why the youth are so immoral an have no discipline or love for their faith. That’s because you raised them not to! The education system has done more to damage the faith than any changes to the liturgy ever could in my opinion, because if everyone knew their faith and the reasons why we depend on the Mass and Sacraments, they’d be there regardless of whether the Mass was celebrated in the Ordinary, Extraordinary, Latin or Vernacular, because they know they were there because they NEEDED IT TO LIVE!!! Which is not to downplay the importance of the liturgy and how it can transform us and how worship of God affects our lives. But it is not the only thing that needs reform. It’s just a start to many things that need to change!

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