Church’s poverty work merits recognition, cardinal says

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2013 / 04:56 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has said that the Catholic Church’s work in addressing poverty in the United States needs to be made “front and center” in people’s minds.

“The U.S. bishops’ conference is very engaged in all of these issues, in Catholic Relief Services, immigration, Catholic Charities, but unfortunately those kinds of things fade into the background,” the cardinal told the Boston Globe Nov. 11 at the U.S. bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore.

He said the bishops need to give these issues prominence in public affairs “because that’s what being a Catholic is all about.” He said the Church is sometimes perceived as more engaged in “culture war” issues surrounding abortion and “gay marriage” than in caring for the poor. But this reputation, he charged, may be resulting from those seeking to distort the Church.

Cardinal O’Malley said the Church has always been far more involved in health care, education and social services rather than constitutional issues, adding that the Church may need to consider a campaign to raise awareness about poverty

However, he repeated concerns about government violations of religious liberty, such as the HHS mandate, which requires many Catholic organizations to provide employees access to sterilization and contraceptive drugs, including some abortifacients.

“The government is interfering in our ability to run a Catholic institution,” he told the Boston Globe, saying that if the government can mandate access to abortion counseling, “then what’s to stop them from next year saying … we want you to practice physician-assisted suicide, and to have abortions in your Catholic clinics?”

To the suggestion that non-exempt Catholic organizations shut down rather than comply with the mandate, the cardinal noted “closing the institutions down is also a danger for us.”

The cardinal said that the Church should not be silent about moral teachings, like the nature of marriage, while also ensuring that homosexual persons are “always, always, always welcome” in the Church.

Marriage between a man and a woman is “very important for family and for society,” he said, and Catholic proposals to defend marriage are not intended as “a way of trying to diminish the dignity of a homosexual person.”

Cardinal O’Malley also praised Pope Francis’ emphasis on “tenderness,” saying this is an antidote to excessive individualism and polarization in the contemporary world.

The Pope “talks about our need to take care of each other” and says “that we have responsibility for each other,” the cardinal explained.

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