Religious Liberty Goes Beyond Worship, Says Prelate

Westminster’s Cardinal Focuses on Service to the Common Good

LONDON, MARCH 29, 2007 ( Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster signaled his concern about the kind of culture British society is producing as religion is pushed to the margins.

On the occasion of the 30th Thomas Corbishley Memorial Lecture on Wednesday at Westminster Cathedral Hall, the archbishop said there was a need for reasoned debate on the issue so that society could forge a meeting place for all.

A public space that is genuinely plural requires the presence of religion, the cardinal said in his address entitled “The Kingdom of God and this World: the Church in Public Life.”

The 74-year-old prelate spoke of religious freedom as being more than the freedom to worship.

“It is the freedom to serve the common good according to the convictions of our faith,” he said. He emphasized this point not just for Catholic belief, but for the sake of democracy and British culture as a whole.

“The freedom to put religion into practice is vital to the health of British democracy,” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor asserted. “True democracy offers a framework for a peaceful exchange of differences, because in the civilized interplay of opposed beliefs, truth and justice have a better chance of being discerned.

“A democracy is, essentially, an act of faith in human good will and reason. The faith that what we have in common is greater than what divides us, and therefore in the public sphere we must always seek to include rather than exclude what we disagree with.

“As a lawyer wittily concluded, we should not show ‘liberal tolerance only to tolerant liberals.'”

Ethical hunger

The English cardinal continued: “If modern Britain faces a challenge today, it is to recover the language and the spirit of the age of democracy, to forge a meeting place for all citizens. The public sphere is the forum of collective reasoning, and it cannot be a space empty of tradition and particular belief.

“A tolerant society is not one without constitutive beliefs, since its tolerance flows from a very constitutive belief. There is an ethical hunger in our society and it would be tragic if religious convictions did not have a voice in meeting that hunger.”

The archbishop of Westminster pointed out that the Catholic Church “claims only its legitimate part in the political process — to assist the very reasoning which is fundamental to the pursuit of justice.”

“The Church’s task,” he said, “is not to propose technical solutions to questions of governance or economic activity, but to help to form a social culture based on justice, solidarity and truth, for the common good. That is a culture that can form the kind of people who can develop those solutions against a transcendent moral horizon.

“The Church’s task is of nurturing, to assist a public debate that is tolerant, reasoned and inclusive, but within a moral framework which seeks to defend and promote justice and human flourishing.”

“We Catholics,” concluded Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, “and here I am sure I speak, too, for other Christians and all people of faith — do not demand special privileges, but we do claim our rights. We come not to impose, but to serve, according to our beliefs; and to be given the freedom and support to do so, as long as these do not undermine the rights and freedoms of others.

“I appeal to the good sense and fairness of the British people, and to the traditions which have shaped this great nation. I appeal to the need to keep faith with those traditions, lest we pass into a new intolerance which will over time shake the tree of our democracy free of its spiritual fruit.”

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