Pope Benedict speaks during a Jan, 19 meeting with U.S. bishops visiting the Vatican.

CNS PHOTO | L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO

Pope Benedict speaks during a Jan, 19 meeting with U.S. bishops visiting the Vatican.

January 30, 2012
FRANCIS ROCCA
AND SARAH DELANEY
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict has warned visiting U.S. bishops that "radical secularism" threatens the core values of American culture.

The pope called on the Church in America, including Catholic politicians and other laypeople, to render "public moral witness" on crucial social issues.

Opening with a dire assessment of the state of American society, the pope told the bishops that "powerful new cultural currents" have worn away the country's traditional moral consensus.

That consensus was originally based on religious faith as well as ethical principles derived from natural law, he said.

The pope made his comments Jan. 19 to a group of U.S. bishops who were in Rome for their periodic ad limina visits.

Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller made similar comments about the Canadian situation when he addressed the annual assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in October.

Canada faces a secularist agenda that "basically wants to privatize religion and leave it restricted to the private sphere," Miller said in an interview following his presentation.

In his talk, the pope said, militant secularists seek to stifle the Church's proclamation of "unchanging moral truths."

The pope drew an opposition between current "notions of freedom detached from moral truth" and Catholicism's "rational perspective" on morality.

NATURAL LAW

The Catholic perspective is founded on the conviction that the "cosmos is possessed of an inner logic accessible to human reasoning," he said.

Using the "language" of natural law, he said, the Church should promote social justice by "proposing rational arguments in the public square."

Coming at the start of an election year, Pope Benedict's words were clearly relevant to American politics, a connection he made explicit by mentioning threats to "that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion."

The pope said many of the visiting bishops had told him of "concerted efforts" against the "right of conscientious objection . . . to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices."

That was an apparent reference to proposals by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that all private health insurance plans cover surgical sterilization procedures and artificial birth control.

In response to such threats, Pope Benedict said, the Church requires an "engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity" with the courage and critical skills to articulate the "Christian vision of man and society."

The education of Catholic laypeople is essential to the "new evangelization," he said.

Touching on one controversial area, the pope spoke of Catholic politicians' "personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral issues of our time."

The pope identified those issues as "respect for God's gift of life, the protection of human dignity and the promotion of authentic human rights."

Pope Benedict merely encouraged the bishops to "maintain contacts" with Catholic politiccians and "help them understand" their duty to promote Catholic values.

While acknowledging the "genuine difficulties" facing the Church in the United States, the pope concluded on a hopeful note, pointing to a growing appreciation for "Judeo-Christian" civic values.

Another hopeful sign is a "new generation of Catholics," who the pope said will play a "decisive role in renewing the Church's presence and witness in American society."