Benedict XVI Extols a “Healthy Laicism”

Insists That Church Has a Voice in Public Arena

VATICAN CITY, MAY 18, 2006 ( Benedict XVI described the separation of the Church and state as “great progress for humanity.”

At the same time, the Pope clarified that when the Church expounds moral principles publicly, it is not violating laicism; rather, it offers its contribution to the common good within its own realm of action.

The Holy Father explained this today in his address to the general assembly of the Italian bishops’ conference, which has been in session since May 15.

The Church is aware of the fundamental “distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God, in other words, the distinction between Church and state, or the autonomy of the temporal sphere,” the Pontiff said.

“The Church not only recognizes and respects this distinction and autonomy, but welcomes it, considering it great progress for humanity and a fundamental condition for her very freedom and for the fulfillment of its universal mission of salvation among all peoples,” Benedict XVI continued.

“At the same time and precisely by virtue of its mission of salvation,” he added, “the Church cannot rescind its task of purifying reason by the proposal of its own social doctrine based upon ‘what is in accord with the nature of every human being,’ and reawakening moral and spiritual forces by opening people’s will to the authentic needs of what is good.”

Ethical concerns

Moreover, the Pontiff explained that “without doubt, a healthy laicism of the state ensures that temporal matters are dealt with according to their own norms; to this, however, are associated ethical concerns that have their foundations in the very essence of man and that therefore, in the final analysis, can be traced back to the Creator.”

“In current circumstances, by recalling the value for public and private life of certain ethical principles rooted in the great Christian heritage of Europe, and in particular of Italy, we commit no violation of the laicism of the state,” the Holy Father said. “Rather, we contribute to guaranteeing and promoting the dignity of the person and the common good of society.”

The Pope took leave of the Italian bishops, inviting them, to offer “a clear testimony to all our brothers and sisters in humanity. By doing so we do not burden them with useless weight, but help them to progress along the road of life and of true freedom.”

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