Church's Freedom in U.S. Threatened, Says Cardinal George

«Arena of Ideological Warfare,» He Tells Pope

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 1, 2004 ( Chicago’s archbishop warned that the freedom of the Church in the United States «is now threatened by movements within» and «by government and groups outside.»

Cardinal Francis George delivered that sober assessment to John Paul II during the recent visit to Rome by bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of Chicago, Indianapolis and Milwaukee.

«The Church’s mission is threatened externally by an erosion of institutional freedom,» the cardinal told the Pope in his address during the U.S. bishops’ five-yearly visit to the Vatican.

«The scandal of the sexual abuse of minors by some priests and the failure of adequate oversight by some bishops has brought with it a more overt expression of the anti-Catholicism which has always marked American culture,» Cardinal George said Friday.

«In this context, courts and legislatures are more ready to restrict the freedom of the Church to act publicly and to interfere in the internal governance of the church in ways that are new to American life. Our freedom to govern ourselves is diminished,» he lamented.

«The Church’s mission is further weakened by her inability to shape a public conversation that would enable people to understand the Gospel and the demands of discipleship,» the Chicago archbishop said. «The public conversation in the United States speaks easily of individual rights; it cannot give voice to considerations of the common good.

«Matters that should fall outside the purview of law in a constitutional democracy with a limited government — the nature of life, of marriage, even of faith itself — are now determined by courts designed only to protect individual rights.»

«In this culture,» the cardinal said, «the Gospel’s call to receive freedom as a gift from God and to live its demands faithfully is regarded as oppressive, and the Church, which voices those demands publicly, is seen as an enemy of personal freedom and a cause of social violence.

«The public conversation in the United States is often an exercise in manipulation and always inadequate to the realities of both the country and the world, let alone the mysteries of faith. It fundamentally distorts Catholicism and any other institution regarded as ‘foreign’ to the secular individualist ethos. Our freedom to preach the Gospel is diminished.»

Cardinal George continued: «The Church’s mission is threatened internally by divisions which paralyze her ability to act forcefully and decisively.»

«On the left,» he said, «the Church’s teachings on sexual morality and the nature of ordained priesthood and of the Church herself are publicly opposed, as are the bishops who preach and defend these teachings. On the right, the Church’s teachings might be accepted, but bishops who do not govern exactly and to the last detail in the way expected are publicly opposed.»

«The Church is an arena of ideological warfare rather than a way of discipleship shepherded by bishops,» the cardinal observed.»

«Unsure of other protection, the Church turns in faith to her Lord,» he told the Pope. «Your teaching, Holy Father, on the Eucharist and the initial preparation for the next Synod of Bishops on this mystery of faith both illustrate the inability of our culture to understand what is central to the Catholic faith and also show us how to address our current struggles.

«The relation between the body of Christ which is the holy Eucharist and the body of Christ which is his Church passes through the sacrament of holy orders. A culture founded on the rejection of the sacrament of holy orders can grasp neither the Eucharist nor apostolic governance.»

Near the end of his address, Cardinal George said: «Americans know that we as a people can be generous, fair-minded and freedom-loving; we are slower to see that we can be arrogant, brutal and eroticized. Is the mission of the Catholic Church to America one of fulfillment or healing? One of completion or forgiveness?»

He added: «The Eucharist is both, of course, and so must be the mission; but we are still struggling to find an approach to evangelizing which will open our culture and our country to the Holy Spirit and to the path of Christian discipleship.»

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