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CURRENT ISSUE:  December 14, 2009
VOL. 47, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe
Replica of Pieta on loan to Cathedral
Oakland’s St. Elizabeth High adopts flexible tuition plan
Religious leaders weigh in on climate change at U.N. conference
Bishop Cordileone among Catholic
signers of Manhattan Declaration

WASHINGTON (CNS) — More than 175 Christian leaders, including Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, have signed a joint declaration pledging renewed zeal in defending the unborn, defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and protecting religious freedom.

The 4,700-word statement, called the “Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience,” was issued Nov. 20 and has since been signed by more than 275,000 other Christians. Seventeen Catholic bishops, including Bishop Cordileone and Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron, former bishop of Oakland, are signatories along with evangelical and Orthodox leaders. Bishop Cordileone is the only California bishop to have signed as of Dec. 8.

The document pledges the group’s “obligation to speak and act in defense of these truths” and stressed that “no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.”

Bishop Cordileone told The Voice that “the issues proclaimed in this document are the building blocks of a healthy society. They transcend denomination and doctrinal difference. People of faith with values in common are collaborating at a critical time in our society to make their voices heard.”

According to the document’s website, Chuck Colson, founder of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview; Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, and Timothy George, dean and professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote the document with input from other participants at a September meeting of religious leaders in Manhattan.

More than a dozen religious leaders who signed the document attended the Nov. 20 press conference in Washington to unveil it. Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, who welcomed the group to Washington, said the document echoed “what needs to be said” today and did so “with a collective voice.”

Several speakers pointed out that the issues highlighted in the “Manhattan Declaration” are not new, but there is a new urgency to defend them.

“Justice demands that we not remain silent,” said Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia.
Some speakers mentioned the possibility of civil disobedience, if necessary, to defend their beliefs.

“There are limits to what can be asked or imposed on our consciences,” said Robert George, a Catholic. He said any protests or acts of resistance “would be carried out respectfully” and with nonviolence.

The document states that the signers “will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.”

When asked by a reporter about the issue of civil disobedience, Archbishop Wuerl said, “We hope it does not come to that.”

The Catholic Church also has been vocal in supporting health care reform that does not include coverage of abortion.

To the question of whether it would be a sin for a Catholic legislator to vote for health care coverage that included abortion, Cardinal Rigali emphasized the desperate need for health care reform and simply stated that “abortion was out of the question.”

The current health care debate in Congress, and local discussion about same-sex marriage laws, were not as pronounced last summer when the group of religious leaders first met in New York to draft this statement. Some of the signers noted that although the document could have been written years ago or even years from now, it has particular significance right now.

“We see an increase in the threat to human life,” said Robert George, noting that the current administration and Congress have supported abortion measures and also embryonic stem-cell research, an action which he said “ups the ante very much so.”

On life issues, the declaration urges “all elected officials in our country, elected and appointed, to protect and serve every member of our society, including the most marginalized, voiceless and vulnerable among us.”

In its defense of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, it notes a progressive erosion of the culture of marriage due to infidelity, high divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births.

The document states that the “impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple-partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture” and it further adds that “no one has a civil right to have a nonmarital relationship treated as a marriage.”

On the issue of religious liberty, the document highlights weakened or eliminated conscience clauses that force “pro-life institutions (including religiously affiliated hospitals and clinics), and pro-life physicians, surgeons, nurses, and other health care professionals, to refer for abortions and, in certain cases, even to perform or participate in abortions.”

It also notes the use of “anti-discrimination statutes to force religious institutions, businesses, and service providers of various sorts to comply with activities they judge to be deeply immoral or go out of business.”

The documents signers urged the public to sign the online version of the document at http://manhattandeclaration.org. As of Dec. 8, the document had more than 270,000 signers, according to the Web site.

One of the initial signers, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, described the document as an attempt to “light a fire.”

“Hopefully that fire will catch on and touch the troops in the rank and file,” he told The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper, adding that parishes should take up the issues raised in the document.

“The Church, by her very nature, is not a political animal,” the archbishop added, “but the Church has to continue to teach and to educate people in these very essential issues.”

Other Catholic bishops among the signers are: Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit, Bishop Sam Aquila of Fargo, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, ME; Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Archbishop John Myers of Newark, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, and Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh.

Other Catholic signers include William Donohue, president of the Catholic League; Father Joseph Fessio, founder and editor of Ignatius Press; Father Francis Martin, professor of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit; and George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

(Contributing to this story was Joe Towalski in St. Paul.)

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