"If my people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14
Pope Benedict XVI
(Editor's note: The following is a press release from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)
WASHINGTON — In separate letters to the head of Egypt's Coptic Christians and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. bishops condemned the recent attacks on Christians, including the New Year's Day attack on the Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria, Egypt, and expressed their solidarity with the victims of religious violence. They also affirmed the ongoing work of the U.S. Church and government to work for the religious freedom of all people, especially vulnerable minorities.
In his January 4 letter to Shenouda III, patriarch of the See of St. Mark in Alexandria, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the attack in Egypt a "shocking assault on human life and religious freedom."
"I was horrified to learn that over 20 people died and more than 100 were injured. So many innocent lives lost to such senseless violence calls for the strongest condemnation by all religious leaders and by persons of conscience everywhere," wrote Archbishop Dolan. "Please be assured that the Catholic bishops of the United States stand in solidarity with you and your Church in this time of trial and suffering. We continue to work with others to defend the life, dignity, and human rights, especially religious freedom, of vulnerable minorities, especially Christians, in the Middle East."
Bishop Howard J. Hubbard expressed grave concern in a January 6 letter to Secretary of State Clinton following the attacks against Christians in Egypt, Iraq, and Nigeria as well as other countries over Christmas and the New Year. Speaking as chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, Bishop Hubbard said that "egregious violations of human rights as well as indifference and inaction by foreign governments to the protection of their own citizens must be weighed seriously" in economic and political decisions taken by the Administration.
Bishop Hubbard also cited Pope Benedict XVI's recent World Day of Peace Message, in which the pope urged greater religious freedom, saying that religious freedom is the "path to peace."
"We ask everyone to pray for the religious freedom of Christians and other people of faith in countries where they are under attack," said Archbishop Dolan in a separate statement. "The recent violence in the Middle East and the ongoing threats to religious freedom in countries like Pakistan, Nigeria, China, and North Korea remind us of what Pope Benedict has recently said, that religious freedom is essential not only as a human right, but in ensuring world peace."
Every year the Church starts the new year with a World Day of Peace on January 1. This year the celebration focused on religious freedom. Pope Benedict XVI's message for the day follows:
"1. At the beginning of the new year I offer good wishes to each and all for serenity and prosperity, but especially for peace. Sadly, the year now ending has again been marked by persecution, discrimination, terrible acts of violence, and religious intolerance.
"My thoughts turn in a special way to the beloved country of Iraq, which continues to be a theater of violence and strife as it makes its way towards a future of stability and reconciliation. I think of the recent sufferings of the Christian community, and in particular the reprehensible attack on the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baghdad, where on October 31 two priests and over fifty faithful were killed as they gathered for the celebration of Holy Mass. In the days that followed, other attacks ensued, even on private homes, spreading fear within the Christian community and a desire on the part of many to emigrate in search of a better life. I assure them of my own closeness and that of the entire Church, a closeness which found concrete expression in the recent Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. The Synod encouraged the Catholic communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East to live in communion and to continue to offer a courageous witness of faith in those lands.
"I offer heartfelt thanks to those Governments which are working to alleviate the sufferings of these, our brothers and sisters in the human family, and I ask all Catholics for their prayers and support for their brethren in the faith who are victims of violence and intolerance. In this context, I have felt it particularly appropriate to share some reflections on religious freedom as the path to peace. It is painful to think that in some areas of the world it is impossible to profess one's religion freely except at the risk of life and personal liberty. In other areas we see more subtle and sophisticated forms of prejudice and hostility towards believers and religious symbols. At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith. Many Christians experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ, and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom. This situation is unacceptable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity; furthermore, it is a threat to security and peace, and an obstacle to the achievement of authentic and integral human development.
"Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning, and purpose of the person are fully understood. To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family.
"For this reason, I implore all men and women of good will to renew their commitment to building a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, and to express their love of God with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their mind (cf. Mt 22:37). This is the sentiment which inspires and directs this Message for the XLIV World Day of Peace, devoted to the theme: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.
"2. The right to religious freedom is rooted in the very dignity of the human person, whose transcendent nature must not be ignored or overlooked. God created man and woman in His own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:27). For this reason each person is endowed with the sacred right to a full life, also from a spiritual standpoint. Without the acknowledgement of his spiritual being, without openness to the transcendent, the human person withdraws within himself, fails to find answers to the heart's deepest questions about life's meaning, fails to appropriate lasting ethical values and principles, and fails even to experience authentic freedom and to build a just society.
"Sacred Scripture, in harmony with our own experience, reveals the profound value of human dignity: 'When I look at Your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man, that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than God, and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet' (Ps 8:3-6).
"Contemplating the sublime reality of human nature, we can experience the same amazement felt by the Psalmist. Our nature appears as openness to the Mystery, a capacity to ask deep questions about ourselves and the origin of the universe, and a profound echo of the supreme Love of God, the beginning and end of all things, of every person and people. The transcendent dignity of the person is an essential value of Judeo-Christian wisdom, yet thanks to the use of reason, it can be recognized by all. This dignity, understood as a capacity to transcend one's own materiality and to seek truth, must be acknowledged as a universal good, indispensable for the building of a society directed to human fulfillment. Respect for essential elements of human dignity, such as the right to life and the right to religious freedom, is a condition for the moral legitimacy of every social and legal norm.
"3. Religious freedom is at the origin of moral freedom. Openness to truth and perfect goodness, openness to God, is rooted in human nature; it confers full dignity on each individual and is the guarantee of full mutual respect between persons. Religious freedom should be understood, then, not merely as immunity from coercion, but even more fundamentally as an ability to order one's own choices in accordance with truth.
"Freedom and respect are inseparable; indeed, 'in exercising their rights, individuals and social groups are bound by the moral law to have regard for the rights of others, their own duties to others and the common good of all.'
"A freedom which is hostile or indifferent to God becomes self-negating and does not guarantee full respect for others. A will which believes itself radically incapable of seeking truth and goodness has no objective reasons or motives for acting save those imposed by its fleeting and contingent interests; it does not have an 'identity' to safeguard and build up through truly free and conscious decisions. As a result, it cannot demand respect from other 'wills,' which are themselves detached from their own deepest being and thus capable of imposing other 'reasons' or, for that matter, no 'reason' at all. The illusion that moral relativism provides the key for peaceful coexistence is actually the origin of divisions and the denial of the dignity of human beings. Hence we can see the need for recognition of a twofold dimension within the unity of the human person: a religious dimension and a social dimension. In this regard, 'it is inconceivable that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one's rights' (Pope Benedict XVI, address to General Assembly of the United Nations, 4/18/2008).
"4. If religious freedom is the path to peace, religious education is the highway which leads new generations to see others as their brothers and sisters, with whom they are called to journey and work together so that all will feel that they are living members of the one human family, from which no one is to be excluded.
Pope Benedict XVI will beatify Venerable Pope John Paul II (pictured above) on May 1. After the Angelus on January 16, Pope Benedict XVI referred to the upcoming ceremony, stating “The date chosen is deeply meaningful: it will in fact be the Second Sunday of Easter, which he himself entitled Divine Mercy Sunday, on the eve of which his life on earth ended. Those who knew him, those who esteemed and loved him, cannot but rejoice with the Church in this event. We are glad!”
"The family founded on marriage, as the expression of the close union and complementarity between a man and a woman, finds its place here as the first school for the social, cultural, moral, and spiritual formation and growth of children, who should always be able to see in their father and mother the first witnesses of a life directed to the pursuit of truth and the love of God. Parents must be always free to transmit to their children, responsibly and without constraints, their heritage of faith, values, and culture. The family, the first cell of human society, remains the primary training ground for harmonious relations at every level of coexistence, human, national, and international. Wisdom suggests that this is the road to building a strong and fraternal social fabric, in which young people can be prepared to assume their proper responsibilities in life, in a free society, and in a spirit of understanding and peace.
"5. It could be said that among the fundamental rights and freedoms rooted in the dignity of the person, religious freedom enjoys a special status. When religious freedom is acknowledged, the dignity of the human person is respected at its root, and the ethos and institutions of peoples are strengthened. On the other hand, whenever religious freedom is denied, and attempts are made to hinder people from professing their religion or faith and living accordingly, human dignity is offended, with a resulting threat to justice and peace, which are grounded in that right social order established in the light of Supreme Truth and Supreme Goodness.
"Religious freedom is, in this sense, also an achievement of a sound political and juridical culture. It is an essential good: each person must be able freely to exercise the right to profess and manifest, individually or in community, his or her own religion or faith, in public and in private, in teaching, in practice, in publications, in worship, and in ritual observances. There should be no obstacles should he or she eventually wish to belong to another religion or profess none at all. In this context, international law is a model and an essential point of reference for states, insofar as it allows no derogation from religious freedom, as long as the just requirements of public order are observed. The international order thus recognizes that rights of a religious nature have the same status as the right to life and to personal freedom, as proof of the fact that they belong to the essential core of human rights, to those universal and natural rights which human law can never deny.
"Religious freedom is not the exclusive patrimony of believers, but of the whole family of the earth's peoples. It is an essential element of a constitutional state; it cannot be denied without at the same time encroaching on all fundamental rights and freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone. It is 'the litmus test for the respect of all the other human rights' (Pope John Paul II, 10/10/2003). While it favors the exercise of our most specifically human faculties, it creates the necessary premises for the attainment of an integral development which concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension.
"6. Religious freedom, like every freedom, proceeds from the personal sphere and is achieved in relationship with others. Freedom without relationship is not full freedom. Religious freedom is not limited to the individual dimension alone, but is attained within one's community and in society, in a way consistent with the relational being of the person and the public nature of religion.
"Relationship is a decisive component in religious freedom, which impels the community of believers to practice solidarity for the common good. In this communitarian dimension, each person remains unique and unrepeatable, while at the same time finding completion and full realization.
"The contribution of religious communities to society is undeniable. Numerous charitable and cultural institutions testify to the constructive role played by believers in the life of society. More important still is religion's ethical contribution in the political sphere. Religion should not be marginalized or prohibited, but seen as making an effective contribution to the promotion of the common good. In this context mention should be made of the religious dimension of culture, built up over centuries thanks to the social and especially ethical contributions of religion. This dimension is in no way discriminatory towards those who do not share its beliefs, but instead reinforces social cohesion, integration, and solidarity.
"7. The exploitation of religious freedom to disguise hidden interests, such as the subversion of the established order, the hoarding of resources, or the grip on power of a single group, can cause enormous harm to societies. Fanaticism, fundamentalism, and practices contrary to human dignity can never be justified, even less so in the name of religion. The profession of a religion cannot be exploited or imposed by force. States and the various human communities must never forget that religious freedom is the condition for the pursuit of truth, and truth does not impose itself by violence but 'by the force of its own truth (Vatican II). In this sense, religion is a positive driving force for the building of civil and political society.
"How can anyone deny the contribution of the world's great religions to the development of civilization? The sincere search for God has led to greater respect for human dignity. Christian communities, with their patrimony of values and principles, have contributed much to making individuals and peoples aware of their identity and their dignity, the establishment of democratic institutions, and the recognition of human rights and their corresponding duties.
"Today too, in an increasingly globalized society, Christians are called, not only through their responsible involvement in civic, economic, and political life but also through the witness of their charity and faith, to offer a valuable contribution to the laborious and stimulating pursuit of justice, integral human development, and the right ordering of human affairs. The exclusion of religion from public life deprives the latter of a dimension open to transcendence. Without this fundamental experience it becomes difficult to guide societies towards universal ethical principles and to establish at the national and international level a legal order which fully recognizes and respects fundamental rights and freedoms as these are set forth in the goals – sadly still disregarded or contradicted – of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"8. The same determination that condemns every form of fanaticism and religious fundamentalism must also oppose every form of hostility to religion that would restrict the public role of believers in civil and political life.
"It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity. Both absolutize a reductive and partial vision of the human person, favoring in the one case forms of religious integralism and, in the other, of rationalism. A society that would violently impose or, on the contrary, reject religion is not only unjust to individuals and to God, but also to itself. God beckons humanity with a loving plan that, while engaging the whole person in his or her natural and spiritual dimensions, calls for a free and responsible answer which engages the whole heart and being, individual and communitarian. Society too, as an expression of the person and of all his or her constitutive dimensions, must live and organize itself in a way that favors openness to transcendence. Precisely for this reason, the laws and institutions of a society cannot be shaped in such a way as to ignore the religious dimension of its citizens or to prescind completely from it. Through the democratic activity of citizens conscious of their lofty calling, those laws and institutions must adequately reflect the authentic nature of the person and support its religious dimension. Since the latter is not a creation of the state, it cannot be manipulated by the state, but must rather be acknowledged and respected by it.
"Whenever the legal system at any level, national or international, allows or tolerates religious or antireligious fanaticism, it fails in its mission, which is to protect and promote justice and the rights of all. These matters cannot be left to the discretion of the legislator or the majority since, as Cicero once pointed out, justice is something more than a mere act which produces and applies law. It entails acknowledging the dignity of each person which, unless religious freedom is guaranteed and lived in its essence, ends up being curtailed and offended, exposed to the risk of falling under the sway of idols, of relative goods which then become absolute. All this exposes society to the risk of forms of political and ideological totalitarianism which emphasize public power while demeaning and restricting freedom of conscience, thought and religion as potential competitors.
"9. The patrimony of principles and values expressed by an authentic religiosity is a source of enrichment for peoples and their ethos. It speaks directly to the conscience and mind of men and women, it recalls the need for moral conversion, and it encourages the practice of the virtues and a loving approach to others as brothers and sisters, as members of the larger human family.
"With due respect for the positive secularity of state institutions, the public dimension of religion must always be acknowledged. A healthy dialogue between civil and religious institutions is fundamental for the integral development of the human person and social harmony.
"10. In a globalized world marked by increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, the great religions can serve as an important factor of unity and peace for the human family. On the basis of their religious convictions and their reasoned pursuit of the common good, their followers are called to give responsible expression to their commitment within a context of religious freedom. Amid the variety of religious cultures, there is a need to value those elements which foster civil coexistence, while rejecting whatever is contrary to the dignity of men and women.
"The public space which the international community makes available for the religions and their proposal of what constitutes a 'good life' helps to create a measure of agreement about truth and goodness, and a moral consensus; both of these are fundamental to a just and peaceful coexistence. The leaders of the great religions, thanks to their position, their influence, and their authority in their respective communities, are the first ones called to mutual respect and dialogue.
"Christians, for their part, are spurred by their faith in God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, to live as brothers and sisters who encounter one another in the Church and work together in building a world where individuals and peoples 'shall not hurt or destroy . . . for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea' (Is 11:9).
"11. For the Church, dialogue between the followers of the different religions represents an important means of cooperating with all religious communities for the common good. The Church herself rejects nothing of what is true and holy in the various religions. 'She has a high regard for those ways of life and conduct, precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women' (Vatican II).
"The path to take is not the way of relativism or religious syncretism. The Church, in fact, 'proclaims, and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6); in Christ, in Whom God reconciled all things to himself, people find the fullness of the religious life' (Vatican II). Yet this in no way excludes dialogue and the common pursuit of truth in different areas of life, since, as Saint Thomas Aquinas would say, 'every truth, whoever utters it, comes from the Holy Spirit.'
"The year 2011 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace convened in Assisi in 1986 by Pope John Paul II. On that occasion the leaders of the great world religions testified to the fact that religion is a factor of union and peace, and not of division and conflict. The memory of that experience gives reason to hope for a future in which all believers will see themselves, and will actually be, agents of justice and peace.
"12. Politics and diplomacy should look to the moral and spiritual patrimony offered by the great religions of the world in order to acknowledge and affirm universal truths, principles, and values which cannot be denied without denying the dignity of the human person. But what does it mean, in practical terms, to promote moral truth in the world of politics and diplomacy? It means acting in a responsible way on the basis of an objective and integral knowledge of the facts; it means deconstructing political ideologies which end up supplanting truth and human dignity in order to promote pseudo-values under the pretext of peace, development, and human rights; it means fostering an unswerving commitment to base positive law on the principles of the natural law. All this is necessary and consistent with the respect for the dignity and worth of the human person enshrined by the world's peoples in the 1945 Charter of the United Nations, which presents universal values and moral principles as a point of reference for the norms, institutions, and systems governing coexistence on the national and international levels.
"13. Despite the lessons of history and the efforts of states, international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations, and the many men and women of good will who daily work to protect fundamental rights and freedoms, today's world also witnesses cases of persecution, discrimination, acts of violence and intolerance based on religion. In a particular way, in Asia and in Africa, the chief victims are the members of religious minorities, who are prevented from freely professing or changing their religion by forms of intimidation and the violation of their rights, basic freedoms and essential goods, including the loss of personal freedom and life itself.
"There also exist – as I have said – more sophisticated forms of hostility to religion which, in Western countries, occasionally find expression in a denial of history and the rejection of religious symbols which reflect the identity and the culture of the majority of citizens. Often these forms of hostility also foster hatred and prejudice; they are inconsistent with a serene and balanced vision of pluralism and the secularity of institutions, to say nothing of the fact that coming generations risk losing contact with the priceless spiritual heritage of their countries.
"Religion is defended by defending the rights and freedoms of religious communities. The leaders of the great world religions and the leaders of nations should therefore renew their commitment to promoting and protecting religious freedom, and in particular to defending religious minorities; these do not represent a threat to the identity of the majority but rather an opportunity for dialogue and mutual cultural enrichment. Defending them is the ideal way to consolidate the spirit of good will, openness, and reciprocity which can ensure the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in all areas and regions of the world.
"14. Finally I wish to say a word to the Christian communities suffering from persecution, discrimination, violence, and intolerance, particularly in Asia, in Africa, in the Middle East, and especially in the Holy Land, a place chosen and blessed by God. I assure them once more of my paternal affection and prayers, and I ask all those in authority to act promptly to end every injustice against the Christians living in those lands. In the face of present difficulties, may Christ's followers not lose heart, for witnessing to the Gospel is, and always will be, a sign of contradiction.
"Let us take to heart the words of the Lord Jesus: 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted . . . Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied . . . Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven' (Mt 5:4-12). Then let us renew 'the pledge we give to be forgiving and to pardon when we invoke God's forgiveness in the Our Father. We ourselves lay down the condition and the extent of the mercy we ask for when we say: "And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us" (Mt 6:12). (Pope Paul VI) Violence is not overcome by violence. May our cries of pain always be accompanied by faith, by hope, and by the witness of our love of God. I also express my hope that in the West, and especially in Europe, there will be an end to hostility and prejudice against Christians because they are resolved to orient their lives in a way consistent with the values and principles expressed in the Gospel. May Europe rather be reconciled to its own Christian roots, which are fundamental for understanding its past, present, and future role in history; in this way it will come to experience justice, concord, and peace by cultivating a sincere dialogue with all peoples.
"15. The world needs God. It needs universal, shared ethical and spiritual values, and religion can offer a precious contribution to their pursuit, for the building of a just and peaceful social order at the national and international levels.
"Peace is a gift of God and at the same time a task which is never fully completed. A society reconciled with God is closer to peace, which is not the mere absence of war or the result of military or economic supremacy, much less deceptive ploys or clever manipulation. Rather, peace is the result of a process of purification and of cultural, moral, and spiritual elevation involving each individual and people, a process in which human dignity is fully respected. I invite all those who wish to be peacemakers, especially the young, to heed the voice speaking within their hearts and thus to find in God the stable point of reference for attaining authentic freedom, the inexhaustible force which can give the world a new direction and spirit, and overcome the mistakes of the past. In the words of Pope Paul VI, to whose wisdom and farsightedness we owe the institution of the World Day of Peace: 'It is necessary before all else to provide peace with other weapons – different from those destined to kill and exterminate mankind. What are needed above all are moral weapons, those which give strength and prestige to international law – the weapon, in the first place, of the observance of pacts.' Religious freedom is an authentic weapon of peace, with an historical and prophetic mission. Peace brings to full fruition the deepest qualities and potentials of the human person, the qualities which can change the world and make it better. It gives hope for a future of justice and peace, even in the face of grave injustice and material and moral poverty. May all men and women, and societies at every level and in every part of the earth, soon be able to experience religious freedom, the path to peace!"
On December 21, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a statement on "a number of erroneous interpretations" of Pope Benedict XVI's comments on human sexuality and the use of condoms in a recent book.
The statement follows: "Following the publication of the interview-book Light of the World by Benedict XVI, a number of erroneous interpretations have emerged which have caused confusion concerning the position of the Catholic Church regarding certain questions of sexual morality. The thought of the Pope has been repeatedly manipulated for ends and interests which are entirely foreign to the meaning of his words – a meaning which is evident to anyone who reads the entire chapters in which human sexuality is treated. The intention of the Holy Father is clear: to rediscover the beauty of the divine gift of human sexuality and, in this way, to avoid the cheapening of sexuality which is common today.
"Some interpretations have presented the words of the Pope as a contradiction of the traditional moral teaching of the Church. This hypothesis has been welcomed by some as a positive change and lamented by others as a cause of concern – as if his statements represented a break with the doctrine concerning contraception and with the Church's stance in the fight against AIDS. In reality, the words of the Pope – which specifically concern a gravely disordered type of human behavior, namely prostitution (cf. Light of the World, pp. 117-119) – do not signify a change in Catholic moral teaching or in the pastoral practice of the Church.
"As is clear from an attentive reading of the pages in question, the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception. This norm belongs to the tradition of the Church and was summarized succinctly by Pope Paul VI in paragraph 14 of his Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae, when he wrote that 'also to be excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.' The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought. On this issue the Pope proposes instead – and also calls the pastors of the Church to propose more often and more effectively (cf. Light of the World, p. 147) – humanly and ethically acceptable ways of behaving which respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meaning of every conjugal act, through the possible use of natural family planning in view of responsible procreation.
"On the pages in question, the Holy Father refers to the completely different case of prostitution, a type of behavior which Christian morality has always considered gravely immoral (cf. Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, n. 27; Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2355). The response of the entire Christian tradition – and indeed not only of the Christian tradition – to the practice of prostitution can be summed up in the words of St. Paul: 'Flee from fornication' (1 Cor 6:18). The practice of prostitution should be shunned, and it is the duty of the agencies of the Church, of civil society, and of the State to do all they can to liberate those involved from this practice.
"In this regard, it must be noted that the situation created by the spread of AIDS in many areas of the world has made the problem of prostitution even more serious. Those who know themselves to be infected with HIV and who therefore run the risk of infecting others, apart from committing a sin against the sixth commandment are also committing a sin against the fifth commandment – because they are consciously putting the lives of others at risk through behavior which has repercussions on public health. In this situation, the Holy Father clearly affirms that the provision of condoms does not constitute 'the real or moral solution' to the problem of AIDS and also that 'the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality' in that it refuses to address the mistaken human behavior which is the root cause of the spread of the virus. In this context, however, it cannot be denied that anyone who uses a condom in order to diminish the risk posed to another person is intending to reduce the evil connected with his or her immoral activity. In this sense the Holy Father points out that the use of a condom 'with the intention of reducing the risk of infection, can be a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.' This affirmation is clearly compatible with the Holy Father's previous statement that this is 'not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.'
"Some commentators have interpreted the words of Benedict XVI according to the so-called theory of the 'lesser evil.' This theory is, however, susceptible to proportionalistic misinterpretation (cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor, n. 75-77). An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed. The Holy Father did not say – as some people have claimed – that prostitution with the use of a condom can be chosen as a lesser evil. The Church teaches that prostitution is immoral and should be shunned. However, those involved in prostitution who are HIV positive and who seek to diminish the risk of contagion by the use of a condom may be taking the first step in respecting the life of another – even if the evil of prostitution remains in all its gravity. This understanding is in full conformity with the moral theological tradition of the Church.
"In conclusion, in the battle against AIDS, the Catholic faithful and the agencies of the Catholic Church should be close to those affected, should care for the sick, and should encourage all people to live abstinence before and fidelity within marriage. In this regard it is also important to condemn any behavior which cheapens sexuality because, as the Pope says, such behavior is the reason why so many people no longer see in sexuality an expression of their love: 'This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man's being' (Light of the World, p. 119)."
While the Boy Scouts of America celebrated their 100th anniversary last year, the American Heritage Girls celebrated their 15th. They were founded in Cincinnati with ten troops and 100 members and are now over 11,000 members in 40 states and three other countries.
Patti Garibay co-founded the new group after her beloved Girl Scouts voted to eliminate "God," allowed lesbian troop leaders, and prohibited singing "offensive" Christian songs. In 2004 the Girl Scouts' support of Planned Parenthood led to a Girl Scout cookie boycott in Texas initiated by Pro-Life Waco. Garibay and her staff have to answer 50 calls per day on such issues.
While those contacts are helping grow AHG's numbers, they are far from joyful, she says.
"I've never encouraged boycotting cookies or anything like that," Garibay says. "I just want to make it so parents can be aware of what's going on and make the best decision for their children."
"I started the organization to offer a faith-based alternative to the Girl Scouts for families who love scouting, but want their girls' program to complement their families' values."
The previous year the two groups allied with the Memorandum of Mutual Support uniting in their "desire to establish and maintain a collaborative relationship on behalf of youth, young adults, and families . . . for the purpose of confirming a framework of cooperative relationship under which the American Heritage Girls, Inc. and the Boy Scouts of America will assist one another in areas of mutual objectives . . ."
At the Centennial Boy Scout Jamboree last summer, AHG became the first all-girls organization to be represented at this quadrennial gathering, maintaining an exhibit throughout the week.
The girls in the AHG range from age 5 to 18 with a five-level program: Path- finder, Tenderheart (grades 1 to 3), Explorer (grades 4 to 6), Pioneer (grades 7 to 8), and Patriot (grades 9 to 12) and the highest grade, the Stars and Stripes Award.
Pursuit of religious emblems (such as the PRAY Program) is integral to the AHG experience. Each AHG Troop is led by a Troop Shepherd and must be sponsored by a church or private school which holds to the principles of AHG. "It's people who really want a wholesome program for their daughters," Garibay says.
The heart of the group is the American Heritage Girl's Oath, "I promise to love God, cherish my family, and honor my country and serve in my community," and promise "As an American Heritage Girl, I promise to be: compassionate, pure, helpful, resourceful, honest, respectful, loyal, responsible, perseverant, and reverent.
The theme of the convention last year is exemplified by Betsy Henry's song, "Be A Moon," which begins, ". . . wants me to shine His light everywhere I go and if I will reflect His Son His glory I will show and I will glow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow, Glow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow, I will glow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow!"
More than 340 attendees visited Cincinnati's Underground Railroad and a sneak peek at the AHG's new badge, the Freedom Seekers. Thus Sacajawea and Harriet Tubman were also at the organization's 15th birthday celebration. They were joined by Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber promoting their latest Veggie Tale's movie, "Sweetpea Beauty."
Student Outdoor Experience, another AHG partner, provided archery, tent building, and other camping training. Community service, an essential component of the girl's activities, took the form "Scarf It Up," donating fleece and making it into scarves for inner-city children.
They can be contacted at 175 Tri-County Pkwy. #100, Cincinnati, OH 45246 and americanheritagegirls.com. The troops in the Cincinnati area include St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. James.
Fred H. Summe is Vice President of Northern Kentucky Right to Life, P.O. Box 1202, Covington, Kentucky 41012
During his September 1987 second visit to the United States, Pope John Paul II spoke numerous times about the intrinsic evil of abortion. In his farewell address, he clearly warned Americans that their very survival depended on how and when the United State would conclude the issue of abortion:
"Every human person — no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped, or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society — is a being of inestimable worth created in the image of and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival — yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn."
From a man who always taught clearly, never resorting to euphemisms or catchy clichés, his words, "the condition for her survival," was a warning, the seriousness of which should not go unnoticed.
On December 20, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2010/december/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20101220_curia-auguri_en.html), warns, in very precise and clear language, that the world, and especially Western Civilization, has placed itself in great jeopardy.
The Holy Father noted: "For all its new hopes and possibilities, our world is at the same time troubled by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which judicial and political structures cannot function. Consequently the forces mobilized for the defense of such structures seem doomed to failure."
Recalling the account of Jesus being awakened by His disciples as their boat was sinking in a storm, he noted that Christ, after calming the storm, rebuked His disciples for their little faith. The Pope explains that Christ was telling them that their faith was sleeping, as Christ is telling us today that "our faith, too, is often asleep." We need "to restore to that faith the power to move mountains — that is, to order justly the affairs of the world."
As Benedict XVI has so often addressed in his pontificate is the growing threat of relativism, not just in the secular world, but also among Catholics. "It was maintained — even within the realm of Catholic theology — that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a 'better than' and a 'worse than.' Nothing is good or bad in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view. Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist.
"The effects of such theories are evident today. Against them, Pope John Paul II, in his 1993 Encyclical Letter, Veritatis Splendor, indicated with prophetic force in the great rational tradition of Christian ethos the essential and permanent foundations of moral action. Today, attention must be focused anew on this text as a path in the formation for conscience."
After calling on Christians to resist this fundamental perversion of the concept of ethos, the Pope stresses that truth actually exists.
The Pope relates that Alexis de Tocqueville "…observed that democracy in America had become possible and had worked because there existed a fundamental moral consensus which, transcending individual denominations, united everyone. Only if there is such a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function."
The Pope continued: "…for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake."
The Holy Father then spoke about the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, noting that Newman thought that the men of his time, like the men of today, do not exclude the existence of God, but consider God as having no essential role to play in their lives.
The Pope explained that in modern times ". . . the word 'conscience' signified that for moral and religious questions, it is the subjective dimension, the individual, that constitutes the final authority for decisions. The world is divided into the realms of the objective and the subjective. To the objective realm belong things that can be calculated and verified by experiment. Religion and morals fall outside the scope of these methods and are therefore considered to lie within the subjective realm. Here, it is said, there are in the final analysis no objective criteria…in this realm only the individual, with his intuitions and experiences, can decide."
Diametrically opposed to this understanding, Newman taught that "'conscience' means man's capacity for truth: the capacity to recognize precisely in the decision-making areas of his life — religion and morals — a truth, the truth.
"At the same time, conscience — man's capacity to recognize truth — thereby imposes on him the obligation to set out along the path towards truth, to seek it and to submit to it wherever he finds it. Conscience is both capacity for truth and obedience to the truth which manifests itself to anyone who seeks it with an open heart."
The Holy Father, like many others today, is warning that as the Western world embraces relativism, it is losing its moral consensus, a consensus that is necessary for the judicial and political structures to function.
If there is no objective truth, especially principles of morality, established by God, which cannot be changed or abandoned by men, then whatever those in power decide as morally correct, whether through legislation, executive order, judicial decision, or economic forces, is morally correct and acceptable and good. Thus for the individual, or for groups of individuals, there would be no inalienable rights established by a Creator binding on those who govern them.
As Nazi Germany or Communist Russia or Communist China embraced the concept that there was no God to whom they were bound, they then had no trouble in suppressing individual freedoms, including the killing of innocent people. Whatever they decided in their perverted minds was morally acceptable, became in fact "good," because it was beneficial to those who were in power.
Americans must embrace the concept that there is a natural law. "Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey…For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1776).
Americans who hold the Judeo-Christian principle of the sanctity of human life have been unsuccessful in defeating the Culture of Death, because so many of us, including those who claim to be Christians, have rejected the concept that there are moral absolutes, and have embraced relativism when confronted with moral decisions.
Americans must wake up from what the Pope refers to as "a sleep of a faith grown tired" and embrace the truth that abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, contraception, in vitro fertilization, and homosexual activities are intrinsic evils, never morally acceptable, and that we owe an obedience to this truth, which is inscribed on our hearts.
The very future of America is at stake.
An Act Of Consecration To The Holy Spirit
Divine Spirit of light and love, I consecrate my mind
and heart and will to You for time and for eternity. May my mind be open
to Your divine inspirations and to the teachings of the Church, whose infallible
guide You are. May my heart be filled with love of God and of my neighbor
and my will conformed to the will of God. May my whole life be a faithful
imitation of the life and virtues of Christ our Lord to Whom, with the Father
and You, be honor and glory forever. Amen.
- Pope St. Pius X -
Because we are sons and daughters of God, saved by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we do not merely read the news but make the news. We direct the course of world events by faith expressed in action and intercession. Please pray for the stories covered in this paper. Clip out this intercessory list and make it part of your daily prayer.
Published by: Presentation Ministries, 3230 McHenry Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45211, (513) 662-5378, www.presentationministries.com