By Ann Schneible
ROME, JULY 3, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Through education, catechesis and prayer, says Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, the ever-growing threat against religious liberty can be confronted.
Chairman of the United States bishops’ ad hoc committee for religious liberty, Archbishop Lori was invited to inaugurate the Religious Liberty Observatory in Rome last week with a press conference; the Observatory is an initiative established with the objective of confronting violations against religious freedom throughout the world. For his part, Archbishop Lori has been active in the defense of freedom of religion in the United States, an issue that garnered particular attention in recent months as a Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate threatens to require employers to provide contraceptive pharmaceuticals and sterilization procedures without giving allowances for conscience or religious belief.
In fact, currently the United States Conference of Bishops is hosting the Fortnight for Freedom: an initiative which seeks to lead Catholics across the country to a greater awareness of the nature of religious liberty, and how it is to be defended.
Archbishop Lori’s primary reason for being in Rome, however, was to receive the pallium conferred upon newly appointed archbishops by Benedict XVI. Succeeding Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, Archbishop Lori was officially installed as archbishop of Baltimore this past May.
The archbishop sat down with ZENIT and discussed religious freedom both in the United States and abroad.
Part 1 of this interview was published Monday.
ZENIT: You are in Rome to receive the pallium, having been recently installed as the new archbishop of Baltimore. What sort of initiatives will you be taking as archbishop of Baltimore to defend religious freedom?
Archbishop Lori: We were privileged to open the Fortnight for Freedom in Baltimore, in the nation’s first cathedral [The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary], cornerstone laid by John Carroll in 1806, the cousin of John Carroll of Carrolton who signed the Declaration of Independence. Designed by Benjamin Latrobe, it’s just beautiful. It really reflects the American experience at its roots, and at the same time embodies our Catholic tradition. That Mass [for the opening of the Fortnight] energized the archdiocese greatly. I think there were 60 or 70 priests who concelebrated that night. There were people from all over the archdiocese, and there is a very full roster of regional events that are going on throughout the archdiocese during the Fortnight. And thank goodness for it. Much of it was under way before I ever showed up, so I’m just the beneficiary of it.
The second thing that is looming on the horizon right now [In Maryland] is a marriage referendum. Maryland is one of those states, as was Connecticut once I came, where same-sex marriage is legal. But in the case of Maryland, the law was just passed and signed into law by the governor, and it is easier to do a referendum in Maryland than in Connecticut. Therefore, we are undertaking a referendum to overturn it, and to do what we think is the will of the people by defending traditional marriage for all the reasons that your readers would find persuasive.
Why is that important from a religious liberty perspective? Well, in the law in Maryland, there is a very stingy religious exemption; I think we’re exempt from not having to preside at same-sex marriages, which is guaranteed anyway by the First Amendment, so that’s no exemption at al. Right there we have a challenge to religious liberty. Washington DC in the archdiocese already had its travails with the DC city council in this regard some time ago, and they were driven out of foster care and adoption services.
More toward the city of Baltimore, pregnancy centers were told some time ago by the city administration that they had to post signs saying what they didn’t do – first and foremost, abortions. We think that is an incursion, not into religious liberty but free speech. You see, religious liberty – the freedom to bring our values into the public square – and freedom of speech are joined at the hip; they rise and they fall together.
ZENIT: How can Americans, who are very active politically when it comes to issues such as freedom of religion, contribute to the international forum in regards to the issue of religious liberty?
Archbishop Lori: Let me answer the question that you asked and that you didn’t ask: let me answer internationally and let me answer domestically.
Internationally, we look around the world and we see priests cannot appear as a priest; where it is illegal to say Mass; where people, like the Chaldean Christians in Iraq, have been massacred. It’s mostly Christians who are the object of religious persecution. And there are martyrs being made: we still live very much in the age of martyrs. [These occurrences are] very far from our experience as Americans.
But here’s the thing: how can we, credibly, champion the rights of these persecuted, repressed people, while we are allowing the torch of liberty to flicker at home? How can we be content that the State Department would issue its report on religious rights around the world, but this year drop the section on religious liberty, and refer the reader to a report that is several years old and badly outdated?
I think our credibility is on the line. We are simply doing what citizens always do: we’re calling our country to be true to itself. We think the founders acknowledge religious freedom, not just because it was useful, and not just because it was a way to avoid anarchy, but I think they thought it was good. And we should think it is good around the world, and our country should be out there saying: Not everyone has to be a believer, but religion is a good thing. We’re not saying that now. We’re not even saying it’s neutral.
Also, we are exporting our secularist culture vigorously, and sometimes that takes the form of forcing Catholic international relief agencies to violate the teaching of the Church: famously, Migration Refugee Services and Catholic Relief Services. Now, Catholic Relief Services has received some relief on the subject; I think the State Department has awakened and said: “Yes, we do have to respect your liberty; you can compete for these contracts.” But Catholic Migration Refugee Services has received no break; we’re dealing with international victims of human trafficking. A huge incursion on religious liberty at the international level by our government. It’s not just that the torch is flickering: it’s that we are being actively impeded from serving the poorest of the poor internationally because of our religious beliefs.
If you look at it domestically, here’s the challenge: We’re in a very partisan season. In fact, I think, with the rise of relativism, all we have is our two parties bandying their opinion, and it’s not any longer an appeal to truth, but it is an appeal to power. I think, to a certain extent both parties need to have an examination of conscience.
What’s our role here? Our role, as believers and citizens, is to call both parties back to principles, ideals, enduring truths, that span the partisan divide, and whether you are a Catholic, whether you are a Democrat, or a Republican, to work from within, to bring that about in one’s own party, and in the body politic. Religious liberty will not rest easy so long as we are in this relativistic power-driven culture.
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