instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"The new word for 'defense' is simply 'witness'"

Cdl-des. Wuerl's spoke at the Knights of Malta's Defense of the Faith Forum held last week in Washington, DC. Msgr. Pope has blogged some thoughts on his remarks.

Here's a transcript of the remarks. Formatting and typos are mine:
Thank you. And thank you, Kathryn. Thank you for the very, very gracious introduction -- but more importantly, for taking the responsibility of putting together this forum that we are about to, not only enjoy, but benefit from -- the wisdom of the three panelists here. So thank you very, very much. And I would also like to recognize Paul McNamera, our president, and thank him for the great service he provides all of us. Thank you, Paul.

To our panelists, to all of the Knights and Dames of Malta, distinguished guests, friends. As we begin this Defense of Life forum, I want to begin by expressing my appreciation to the Order of Malta, for arranging the opportunity for all of us to hear from the experts who have gathered as panelists and who have so much knowledge on the topic we're going to discuss.

The topic for the forum, "The Erosion of Religious Liberty in America," is not only timely, but it's much needed in the circumstances of our culture today. Religious freedom is something we tend to take for granted. We've grown up in a nation that prides itself on so many freedoms. We sing that we are "the land of the free, and the home of the brave." And we have every right to make that claim, "the land of the free." The First Amendment to the United States Constitution begins with the words, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting free exercise thereof." This part of the Bill of Rights, which was ratified in 1791, has woven the idea of freedom of religion into the very fabric of our democracy.

Few Americans, however, may know that the statutory religious freedom begins in what is now the United States more than 150 years [earlier] in the only Catholic English-speaking colony, Maryland. In a historic action, the assembly of this newly formed civil government declared freedom of conscience and the free exercise of religion to be the law of the land.

Within 30 years, however, when Catholics no longer controlled the government of the colony, that provision was revoked. And last fall, I had the pleasure of participating in a ceremony in historic Old St. Mary's City in southern Maryland in that original colony, for the unlocking of the first Catholic church in the English colonies. The Ark and the Dove arrived in 1634, the statue of religious freedom was passed in the assembly shortly after government was organized, and the first Catholic church -- called a chapel then, although it must have looked like a cathedral for those early colonists -- was built, and then in 1704, in an effort to impose silence on the Catholic Church, the new government in Maryland, now controlled by non-Catholics, revoked the statute that provided religious liberty and ordered the church locked, so that, in the words of the governor, it could never again serve as a place of worship. You can imagine my delight when I joined the current sheriff of St. Mary's County, who arguably is the successor to the sheriff who was ordered by the royal governor to lock the church, when he inserted a replica of the great iron key into the restored door, turned the key, then he said, "Archbishop, push open the door." But I couldn't help but note to the large crowd of participants there, it's easy to lock doors. It's very easy to lock doors. We must always be pushing doors open, to allow the place of religious freedom, religious faith, religious experience, to be a part of our nation, our society, our culture.

We take for granted our religious freedom, but today it is under substantive while subtle challenge. Freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, are gradually being reduced to the concept of freedom of worship within your church building, within your house of prayer. The importance of this panel this afternoon, and the discussion that it encourages, are to reflect on a very basic human truism. We all need to recognize that we need to know something is broken before we can fix it. We simply need to know what's broken before you set out to fix it. And today we need to know that something we have taken for granted is becoming broken. My hope is that we will come away from this discussion with an awareness that there is a problem, the dimensions of the problem, and a renewed commitment on the part of each of us individually to address the problem.

A starting point for this forum is the reflection on just how much has changed in our country, how much has changed when we talk about religious freedom as it has always been understood, how much has changed in just the past twenty-five years. We may be tempted to think that what happened at Historic St. Mary's Chapel simply couldn't happen today. Yet, as recently as one year ago, the Connecticut state legislature introduced a law that, in effect, was the same measure. It provided that the ownership of all Catholic church property would be removed from the control of any bishop in Connecticut. In July of this year, Professor Kenneth Howell was fired from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champlain for teaching the Catholic position on marriage. According to news reports, an unidentified student in the class complained that Howell was limiting the marketplace of ideas and acting out of accord with the University's principles. In effect, what the University countenanced when they dismissed him was the argument that political correctness would take precedence over religious freedom. And the mechanism to enforce this, the mechanism to enforce this new position, would be an appeal to a prohibition against hate speech. Little did we think that the content of something as familiar to all of us as the catechism of the Catholic Church could be branded as hate speech. But if it becomes now a challenge to political correctness, this is one of the issues we face.

We're in the midst of a sea change. We're being told that religion doesn't really have a place in the marketplace, in the public forum. Legislatures and courts are being asked to create and apply hate language legislation directed to faith bodies that would challenge politically correct positions. This has become almost accepted.

At a memorial service quickly assembled for the families of the heroic passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed into the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, as part of the 9/11 terrorist attack, a priest, a rabbi, and two ministers were invited to be a part of this memorial service -- and then they were exhorted by a government official, responsible for this whole activity of trying to recover what could be recovered from this crash site, that they should not mention God, for fear that they would embroil everyone in a church-state problem. Well, I'm happy to say the young priest, whom I have known since his seminary days, began his remarks by saying, "Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ came among us, to tell us what we do with a day like today, what we do with a situation like this, what we do with a tragedy like this, and try to make sense out of it." And I'm happy to say that, one by one, the other religious leaders also spoke very welcome words of vision and comfort to the people who had come to that memorial service precisely to hear out of their faith tradition a message, a message of faith, consolation, comfort.

It's not enough, though, that we recognize there's a problem. All of us could go on and relate our own story of some experience of this. It's not enough that we recognize the problem and even lament the consequences of the problem. We have to be prepared to respond to the problem. We need to know enough, and that's the reason for this panel today, to help all of us be better informed. We need to know enough so that we can recognize, how do we begin to fix something that's broken, what is broken, and what can I personally say adds to the discussion when we have an opportunity.

I hope this forum will provide all of us, not only with useful information to help us better understand the situation, but also encourage us to speak up for and defend our faith and our Church, in all those situations we find ourselves in individually, when conversations arise about so many of these issues.

The Knights of Malta have a proud history of defense of the Faith. Centuries ago, a band of knights, numbering in the hundreds, withstood the onslaught of Saracens in the tens of thousands at Lepanto. Today, the new word for "defense" is simply "witness." Witness, to bear witness to what we believe personally, individually. How important is personal witness to the Faith? Today, I think, it's extremely significant. What should guide our actions is the conviction that that ancient maxim, Magna est veritas et prævalebit, the truth is great and it will win out. But for the truth to prevail, it must first be heard.

A valuable outcome of this forum would be the recognition that we, faithful members of the Church, must find ways of being informed, getting information, getting the rest of the story, so that we know what the facts truly are. So much of what we receive by way of information is mediated. What we learn comes to us through the filter of a newspaper writer, editor, and publisher, a radio announcer, editor, and producer, or a television reporter, anchor, editor, and producer. Those are all the filters that something has to go through before it reaches you and me. What reaches us is what several other people have decided we should know. Media begin, oftentimes, with a determined storyline. There's nothing wrong with that; that's the way stories are produced. But the storyline or theme of an article becomes the norm of selectivity for what goes into the article. We need to have access to the rest of the story if we're ever going to make a judgment about that story. Most stories are inconsequential, but sometimes they touch the very core of who we are.

The recent discussion around the same-sex marriage legislation introduced in the past in the District of Columbia is a perfect example of news media crossing the line from fact to spin in such a way that it created a fog around the issue, a fog of misinformation. The real story was the clash of rights, the newly created right to a newly defined definition of marriage needed to be balanced with the longstanding right of conscience that has traditionally been protected by religious exemption. But the media never covered the real story. Where do we go? Where do we go for the rest of the story? Where do we go to find the rest of the story?

One more example of just how the principle of selectivity can so taint the story that when you walk away from it you really don't have the facts. The New York Times, not too long ago, ran a very long, long story in defense of embryonic stem cell research. This was not an opinion piece, this was a news story, and it covered the opening story on the front page and the entire page inside. The story carefully avoided the distinction between embryonic and adult stem cell research, one of which is moral and the other immoral. The paper then went on to attribute to embryonic stem cell research the benefits that have so far been derived only from adult stem cell research. For a person unaware of the distinctions and the facts, the New York Times's myth became a reality.

The need for us to know the rest of the story. So much of what we and our neighbors in the nation know about our Catholic Church is mediated through the lens of others, many of whom simply don't know the story.

Earlier this month, PBS ran a documentary entitled, "God in America." Purporting to be a balanced study of the influence of faith in shaping U.S. history and molding our national character, there's a lot in that series that we would want to praise, and the whole concept of faith in America is something we would want to praise. While early on in the series, a disastrously unsuccessful Franciscan-led effort to evangelize the Pueblos in New Mexico came in for predictable criticism as the script rather naively applied 21st Century values to the Age of Discovery, you can look for many, many, many hours in that series, and not learn about the things that all of us know are a part of the history of the Catholic Church in the New World. Bleached out of this documentary are the stories of the works of thousands and thousands of women and men religious who educated millions of some of the poorest children in this nation. There's one reference to the establishment of a school system, but there is no reference to the enormous, enormous on the poor that those schools have had. Thousands of health care and social service institutions, hospitals, orphanages, asylums, homes for the aged that were and are a substantive part, a thread that runs throughout this entire fabric, are simply ignored. The impact of Catholic social justice teaching on the efforts of organized labor in the '30s and '40s and the work of the Church to bring about just legislation governing child labor, decent working conditions, fair wages -- all passed over in silence. If you came from another planet, and you landed here and watched that, you would come away with the idea there was some religious influence in the United States, but you'd learn very little about the Catholic Church. It reminds me of Michener's book, Poland, that purports to be a history of Poland, and never mentions the Catholic Church.

This year, Catholic Charities USA celebrated its centenary, noting that nine million people, this year alone, were assisted by Catholic charities across this country. You would watch in vain for so-called fair and balanced presentations to hear anything about that. The celebration took place in this city. I'm sure you're all familiar with all the coverage on it.

If I had hours rather than minutes for this introduction, we could go on and list case after case after case of what has become substantive but subtle re-dimensioning of how we look at faith, faith experience, faith-based entities, and their impact on our culture. This is part of the background for the discussions we're about to have, so that we can be as well informed as possible.

My hope is that, at the end of this program, we will recognize three things: the nature of the problem, involving the erosion of religious liberty; the need for more effective dissemination of the rest of the story; and our own personal role in being a witness, a defender of the Faith, whenever those opportunities arise.

And I want to conclude with an experience I had last week, at the gala for the groundbreaking of the new national law enforcement museum. I was invited to give the invocation, and so they asked would I step backstage behind the curtain, and then when the voice said, "And now we will have...," I could step out and go to the podium. And behind the curtain, I could see this young man, a technician -- he looked to me like he was in his late twenties. And he had in front of him a console on which he controlled the lights and sound, and he also had on an easel in front of him the papers that told him the whole program and script. And he dimmed the lights, and a voice came on saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, please stand for the colors." And they paraded in the flag. And everyone stood. And then he announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, our national anthem." And everyone stood and began to sing.

From where I was standing -- and he couldn't see me there because I was to his back -- this young man at the console directing all of this shuffled his papers to put them down so he could extricate himself from the chair and stand with his hand over his heart. Nobody could see him, but clearly that anthem meant something to him. And he stood, even though he was standing there singing only to himself.

We're asked to stand today, we Catholics, Knights of Malta and Dames of Malta, we're asked to stand quietly, personally, individually, sometimes alone, to stand as a Knight, as a Dame, to stand as a defender of the Faith, to stand as a witness to the truth. Simply because the Faith, the Church, the truth means something to us, means something very much to us.

And for these reasons, I welcome this symposium with such highly qualified presenters, knowing that the information we will receive today, that you and I, Knights and Dames of Malta, and guests and friends, will continually reinforce us in our efforts to be as informed as possible in the service, in the defense, of the Church and the Faith we love.