Scottsdale, Ariz., Feb 13, 2013 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics today must help the U.S. return to its founding principles amid dangers to religious liberty, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore told a gathering of business leaders.
“In the spirit of the New Evangelization, may I invite you…to engage your network of family members, colleagues, and friends to understand more profoundly how religious freedom is threatened and to think of our political system with more than enlightened self-interest,” he said during his Feb. 8 address at the Annual Legatus Summit.
Legatus is a group which aims to help its members promote the faith through their business, professional, and personal lives. Its 2013 Annual Summit was held in Scottsdale, Ariz., and was focused on the Year of Faith as a summons to deeper conversion.
Archbishop Lori's keynote address on religious freedom began by recalling the American bishops' 1884 Council, which included discussion of the compatibility between the American system of government and the religious liberty enjoyed by the Church in the United States.
At the time the Church here was flourishing, and Cardinal James Gibbons, then the archbishop of Baltimore, wrote that “we consider the establishment of our country’s independence, the shaping of its liberties and laws, as a work of special Providence, its framers 'building better than they knew,' the Almighty's hand guiding them.”
The 1884 Council of Baltimore decided that there is a fundamental compatibility between the American constitution and “the Church’s understanding of the natural law.” However, Archbishop Lori noted, this view “has recently been called into question.”
The diminishing role of religion in America is leading to a different understanding of religious freedom than existed in the past, and this “is part of the challenge of the New Evangelization to which Pope Benedict has called us in this Year of Faith and beyond.”
The archbishop said that were all Catholics “vibrantly evangelized and systematically catechized, religious freedom would not be challenged so readily” as it is.
The growing skepticism that “basic moral truths” can be discovered by reason, that natural law exists, he said, leads to the growing belief in American society that religious institutions must conform to prevailing trends “or else be reined in.”
Archbishop Lori said that the federal contraception mandate rules “in effect limit full religious freedom mainly to worship and the teaching of doctrine” and that “we are losing our freedom to create a workplace rooted in Catholic values.”
He said that some believe the founding fathers' understanding of human rights were opposed to natural law, but the archbishop affirmed that their understanding of natural law was in accord with the Catholic view.
Archbishop Lori also affirmed that the framers' were “far from hostile to religion” and meant the separation of church and state to protect religious freedom, not “hem it in or to eliminate it.”
The positive relation between the Church and American government began to be threatened particularly in the early 20th century, when a leading Supreme Court justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, wrote many opinions which opposed natural law, reflected moral scepticism, and espoused relativism.
“Once human rights, our founding documents, and our legal system are divorced from any attachment to the real world, created by God with in-built meaning…then the path is cleared for human rights to expand exponentially: for new rights to be discovered in the founding documents that are not grounded in that truth and goodness which lead to human flourishing,” said Archbishop Lori.
He pointed to the so-called rights to abortion, sterilization, abortifacient drugs, and same-sex marriage. The archbishop contrasted these new 'rights' with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, which was “rooted in deep convictions about the dignity of the human person whose rights and freedom are to be recognized and guaranteed by law.”
He noted that Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail referenced natural law, as it is understood by Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas. However, the “ever expansive world of human rights” wishes to ignore references to “values that flow from human dignity and human nature” in the founding documents of our nation.
Archbishop Lori described the divorce of human law from natural law as a “downward spiral,” starting with a relativistic scrutiny of religious and moral teachings “once shared by almost everyone.” The next step is legislation that upholds acts, such as abortion, that are contrary to the teachings once held in common.
Then there are merely “allowances” and “exemptions” are made for those groups who still hold the once-common values of society. Finally, “these exemptions are narrowed or removed as some religious and moral teachings are branded as a form of intolerable bigotry,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Lori concluded his talk by describing natural law and religious freedom as the “bearing walls” upholding a free and democratic society.
“Let us and those around us allow (the) Holy Spirit to light our minds with Christ’s truth and to warm our hearts with his love, so that we be that generation of believers and citizens who call our country back to its founding ideals, who understand that the framers did indeed build better than they knew and in doing so demanded of us the very best.”