A “political” choice of U.S. bishops.
At the Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan announces “phase two” of the U.S. church, lined up for what he called the “battle for religious liberty”, against the “radical and unprecedented intrusion by the government in the minds of believers”.
On the other hand, in recent weeks three quarters of the U.S. episcopate has publicly expressed itself in defence of religious freedom.
In late January, Benedict XVI recommended U.S. bishops to “prepare committed lay leaders and present a compelling articulation of the Christian view of man and society”. That is, “essential components of the new evangelization”.
The Church does not exist to ensure things go well in the world but to save it, so when it proposes to save it, it contributes by making worldly things go well too. And many lay Christians involved in politics consider their work as “an essential component of the new evangelization”.
The disagreement of the U.S. bishops mainly concerns the decision of the Obama administration that requires Catholic institutions to finance the national health plan, including medication for abortion and sterilization.
“The Obama administration has drawn an unprecedented line in the sand”, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and head of the U.S. Church, on the day the plan was approved.
“Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust law”, said Dolan, who also holds the post of President of the U.S. bishops' conference: “We will continue to assess the full implications of this shocking decision”.
But the new interventionist course of the episcopate of the United States is not only targeting the “ethically unacceptable” choices of the White House on the issue of contraception.
The Archbishop of Miami, Bishop Thomas Wenski and five bishops from Florida, recently sent a letter to Governor Rick Scott, asking him to stop the execution of Robert Waterhouse and commute the death sentence with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
“This measure would manifest the belief in the unique dignity of each individual and the sanctity of human life. It would mean acknowledging God as the Lord of life and to be more consistent with the spirit of the Gospel” the letter reads.
The letter expresses the concern of the bishops for the scheduled increase in the number of executions: since August 2011 there has been one every three months. Therefore in the letter the ask the governor to refrain from signing new death sentences.
"We ask to study what they are doing in other States where there are other options (but not the death of a prisoner) for achieving the goal of protecting society and punishing the criminal”, they suggested.
“Florida has executed 71 inmates since the death penalty was restored in the State in 1976, and this is the third one signed by Governor Scott since January 2011”, reports the Vatican news agency “Fides”.
The “interventionist” turning point of U.S. bishops originates from the meeting held two months ago at the Vatican with the Pope.
“The speech that Benedict XVI held in late January to a group of U.S. bishops in ad limina visit can be considered a small summary of the relationship between faith and politics and an invitation for believers for consistent commitment”, comments on “Zenit” Stefano Fontana director of the International Observatory Cardinal Van Thuan on the Social Doctrine of the Church: “Four concise, highly effective and expressive lessons that can be exported in any other social and political context. A clear and practical example of doctrine”.
The starting point of the Pope was the idea that “Our tradition does not speak of starting from blind faith, but from a rational perspective that ties our commitment to build a truly just, humane and prosperous society to our fundamental certainty that the universe has an internal logic accessible to human reason”.
This is the exact Ratzinger theme: we are not adrift in a meaningless universe, light emanates from reality and a language that we can “understand” and that has prescriptive value for us: it is the natural law.
It “is not a threat to our freedom, but a “language” that allows us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and thereby to shape a more just and more human world”. When listening to this “language” believers hear the same voice that all other men hear, because it is natural grammar.
Christians not only cannot contradict the natural law, but think they must reinforce the support in the light of revelation, because “there is no kingdom of earthly matters that can be taken away from the Creator and his dominion”.
This last phrase by Benedict XVI refers back to the Gaudium et spes of Vatican II. “As we know, this constitution has often been interpreted as though it were setting new ways compared to the previous tradition. the “independence” of the world rather than religion”, Fontana points out.
The need for reason to open up to faith goes hand in hand with the task faith has of confirming and purify reason. This implies, according to what Benedict XVI said to American bishops, that the Church must understand, at all levels, the seriousness of the threats that modern secularism poses to this public role and mostly appear as a limitation of religious freedom, tolerated at best as freedom of worship, but not as freedom of conscience (in the U.S. bishops are waging a fierce battle for the conscientious objection of health personnel in case of abortion).
This also and consequently implies the “need to maintain civil order clearly rooted in Judeo-Christian tradition” and this in turn requires that lay people understand “their personal responsibility of giving public testimony of their faith, especially with regards to the great moral issues of our time”.