Catholic News Service covered the Cardinal John Dearden Lecture by Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl , archbishop of Washington, William Cardinal Baum University Professor of Theology and CUA chancellor on "The Role of Religion in a Pluralistic Society" on Oct. 23. See his comments in the story below.
Faith perspective essential to dialogue on issues, says archbishop

From: Catholic News Service Date: Oct. 30, 2007 Author: Mark Zimmerman WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic institutions of higher learning could play a key role in offering a faith perspective on "challenging issues of our day," Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl said Oct. 23 in a talk at The Catholic University of America. In his talk on "The Role of Religion in a Pluralistic Society: Religious Faith and Public Policy," he said that kind of dialogue is especially needed in a time when societal attitudes and court decisions have sought to erode the contribution of faith to the country's common good. "Our Catholic institutions of higher learning would be prepared out of their own Catholic identity," Archbishop Wuerl said, "to speak to the challenging issues of our day, once again out of our legacy, heritage and tradition, just as Catholic health care institutions speak to issues of public debate today out of a Catholic understanding of the dignity and worth of each person and the sacred trust of exercising health care." He gave the annual Cardinal John Dearden lecture sponsored by Catholic University's School of Theology and Religious Studies, named for the late archbishop of Detroit known for his social justice work. Archbishop Wuerl noted the fundamental place that religion occupied in most of the past four centuries in America. He said that in a recent visit to California, he was struck by the names of cities and communities from San Diego to San Francisco, which read "more like a litany of saints." "Until very recently in our public civil life mention of God was taken for granted and prayer inspired by belief in God was a routine part of public, government sponsored programs and activities," he said. Excluding religion and religious values from public life and public policy is a threat to the common good, he added. "Without a value system rooted in morality and ethical integrity, there is the very real danger that human choices will be motivated solely by personal convenience and gain," he said. "Law can become a matter of might -- who has more power -- rather than right, what we know we ought to do." Archbishop Wuerl said speaking out against "racial discrimination, social injustice or threats to the dignity of human life is not to force values upon our society but rather to call it to its own long-accepted moral principles and commitment to defend basic human rights." The archbishop traced the history of religion in helping to shape public policy in what is now the United States, noting that before landing in Massachusetts in 1620, the Pilgrims reached agreement on the Mayflower Compact, recognizing "two principles by which their freedom would be guided: the law of God and the common good." That mind-set, he said, guided the framers of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, who recognized "their relationship with God as an integral part of their personal and political experience and the existence and role of a natural moral order that necessarily made an impact on and was normative for civil law." Archbishop Wuerl contrasted that with today, a time when the American political scene is plagued by the "assertion that separation of church and state means separation of God from all public political life" and from "the public life of citizens." "What was initially understood as a safeguard to protect the religious freedom of all faith communities has come to be interpreted as a mandate to exclude all public mention of God," said the archbishop. The archbishop noted that over the centuries, "we have become accustomed ... to the voice of the church and faith communities as the voice of conscience." He noted how the nation's Catholic bishops in the early 1980s addressed the morality of nuclear weapons with their document titled "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response." "Today the current debate over a range of issues including embryonic stem-cell research, partial-birth abortion, physician-assisted suicide and immigration reform legislation is framed in moral principles rooted in Christian theology," he said. And he noted the important role Catholic social teaching played in the struggle for the dignity and rights of workers over the years, and he said the church's teaching likewise needs to be heard now. Archbishop Wuerl said court decisions in recent decades have had "a dramatically chilling effect on religious expression in the public square." "Bureaucrats in public institutions, fearful of threats and lawsuits from the guardians of the new secular vision of our society, began a virtual purge of faith-based speech and expression," he said. He noted recent efforts by abortion rights groups to squeeze Catholic hospitals out of business because of "church policies on abortion and contraceptive surgeries." And he noted how people of faith seeking public office or appointments face a litmus test and "can expect a serious grilling on how their religious beliefs might impact their actions." Personal morality and ethics cannot be divorced from public life, he said. "Increasingly, there is a realization in our country that secular values and philosophy of life are not able to provide the moral guidance we as society so desperately need," Archbishop Wuerl said. "Technology and science can provide us the ability to do many wonderful things. ... But what human technology and science cannot answer is, 'Ought we to do everything we can do?'"

###2007 (c) Catholic News Service Reprinted with permission of CNS