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CURRENT ISSUE:  August 9, 2010
VOL. 48, NO. 14   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Catholic leaders decry California judge's decision on same-sex marriage
Oakland budget crisis imperils outreach to victims of violence
Bishops commend ruling on Arizona immigration law
Relic of St. John Vianney venerated in Oakland Diocese
Voice editor to retire
Manhattan Declaration author
sees ‘call of conscience on
great moral issues’

Robert P. George
Robert George to lecture
at Oakland’s cathedral

WHO: Robert George, McCormick chair in jurisprudence at Princeton University and a principal author of the Manhattan Declaration

WHAT: Lecture on “The Clash of Orthodoxies”

WHEN: Wed., Aug. 25, 7 p.m.

WHERE: The Cathedral of Christ the Light Conference Center, 2121 Harrison St. Oakland

COST: $50 which includes admission to Sept. 18 Manhattan Forum Conference at St. Isidore Church in Danville (see related story). Pre-registration required; no tickets available the door.

REGISTER: www.sapi.org or 888-619-7882

Robert P. George ranks among the leading Catholic intellectuals of our day. The New York Times has variously referred to him as “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker,” “the reigning brain of the Christian right” and “the public face of the conservative side in the most urgent culture-war battle of the day.”

A professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, the widely published George has distinguished himself by his rigorous argumentation in political and moral philosophy based on reason and natural law. Recently he was among the movers and shakers behind the Manhattan Declaration, an interdenominational Christian statement of solidarity in defense of the dignity of human life, traditional marriage and religious freedom.

George will lecture on “The Clash of Orthodoxies” on Wednesday evening, Aug. 25, at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, the eighth in a series of Manhattan Forum lectures sponsored by the St. Anthony of Padua Institute. He spoke recently with The Catholic Voice about the Declaration and the challenges it identifies.

What precisely is the Manhattan Dec-laration and how did it come about?

The Manhattan Declaration is, as its subtitle indicates, “a call to Christian conscience.” We are calling on Christians of the three main traditions — Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox — to heed the call of conscience on three great foundational moral issues of our day. These issues are the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions; the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife; and the freedom of religion and conscience rights. These issues are foundational because everything else depends on them.

There are many important issues upon which our faith impels us to act in the public square — the environment, the economy, poverty, national security. Important as these are, we also recognize that at the foundation of our polity and indeed our civilization are the principles of the profound and inherent dignity of all human beings. This means that our first principle has to be the protection of human life.

Also foundational is the dignity of marriage and the family. Every other institution in society depends on the production of what no institution but the family can produce — decent, honorable, conscientious, hardworking, honest men and women who obey the law not because they fear punishment but because of their moral convictions. The law can’t produce them, nor can business. Only the family can produce them, which means the health and integrity of the family is foundational to everything else in society.

People say, “Why are you concerned about the laws of marriage? Why don’t you focus your attention on something we all agree on, like fighting poverty?”

One very important reason I participate in the struggle to defend the marriage culture is that it is the greatest anti-poverty program ever created. Where do we find social decay? Unemployment in its most severe manifestations? Poverty, disease, despair, violence, crime, delinquency?

We find these social pathologies overrepresented in communities where there are large numbers of children growing up without fathers, where families fail to form or break up too easily. If we want to help lift people out of poverty or help them not sink into poverty, we need to care about the marriage culture.

Freedom of religion and conscience is foundational because we believe in freedom in this country — freedom of speech, assembly and the press, which are in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Before these freedoms are mentioned, however, comes the freedom of religion, which goes to the very heart of the dignity of the human being as one who seeks the truth about the human condition, ultimate things, moral obligations, what he is called to do, and how to live in conformity with his best conscientious judgment. Once freedom of religion is gone, it’s a short step to the abolition of the great freedoms we believe in.

How have these foundational principles been increasingly challenged and violated in recent years?

The sanctity of human life has been profoundly damaged in our country by Roe v. Wade, as has the abortion license that has been in place since the early 1970s. We’ve treated an entire class of human beings, the unborn, as if they didn’t have the rights that other humans are supposed to respect.

That license has predictably metastasized into a right to kill not only the unborn, but also the elderly. There’s a movement toward assisted suicide and euthanasia that threatens our brothers and sisters at the other edge of life. The frail, those suffering from dementia, those who are in severely debilitated mental or physical conditions are in danger; so are newborns, if they are judged to be “unfit.”

We’ve seen the rise of eugenics, something we hoped had been cast into the pit of ignominy because of the practices of Nazi Germany and other tyrannical regimes of the 20th century. Eighty or 90 percent of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome through prenatal tests are aborted. Eugenics is defended in the name of autonomy and “choice,” but it is the same old wickedness, the taking of some human lives on the grounds that they are “Lebensunwertes Leben,” or “lives unworthy of life,” Hitler’s perspective on Jews.

Increasingly in recent years, we have come under threat to the second foundational principle of marriage. It didn’t begin with the debate over same-sex marriage, but with the sexual revolution of the 1960s — the misguided belief that sexual freedom would not harm children and families, the erosion of belief in marital fidelity, and the rise of the divorce culture.

Who pays the price? Predictably, it’s the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society who bear the great brunt of it. But divorce, family breakdown and fatherlessness hurt everybody. Wealthy people can, to some extent, protect themselves against their economic and social consequences, but poor inner-city and rural people pay the heaviest price for the sexual revolution and the damage to the marriage culture.

This is why I have often said that the demand for the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships as marriage is not a cause of the collapse of the marriage culture, but an effect. It means that people have lost a sense of what marriage is. They see marriage purely as a matter of emotional attachment that is there for the fulfillment of the adults in the relationship so long as that emotional attachment lasts, and then you ditch it.

If that’s all it is, then sure, people of the same sex could be “married” to each other. By that very same logic, three people, four people, five people in a sexual partnership — so-called “polyamorous” relationships — would be equally marital.

We need to rebuild the marriage culture. Rather than taking the next step toward the dissolution of the very concept of marriage by redefining it to include same-sex partnerships, we need to “reform the reforms” of the 1960s and 1970s, encourage marital fidelity and maintenance of the marital relationship, and avoid policies like “no-fault” divorce that undermine them.

What are some of the ways freedom of religion and conscience are presently being challenged?

Not only do we have virtually unlimited abortion rights, resulting in the death of over a million children every year, increasingly we have the demand for physicians to perform abortions or at least refer for abortions; for requiring nurses, on pain of losing their jobs, to participate in abortions; for requiring pharmacists to dispense abortifacient drugs and perhaps even assisted suicide drugs.

Catholic Charities in Massachusetts had been in the adoption business placing children in good homes for more than 100 years. When Massachusetts enacted a sexual-orientation anti-discrimination law, Catholic Charities was ordered either to place children in same-sex-partner homes or to go out of business. They requested an exemption, but the state refused. Therefore they were driven out of business.

A wedding photographer in New Mexico, where an anti-discrimination law similar to the Massachusetts statute was adopted, was called by a same-sex couple to shoot their blessing ceremony. She politely explained that as an evangelical Christian this was not something that she in conscience could do. They reported her, and she was fined $7,500 for violating the anti-discrimination law.

Here in New Jersey, the Methodist Church has a pavilion in Ocean Grove that they make available to people not of their faith to have weddings. This particular branch of the Methodists holds to the biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality.

A pair of same-sex partners wanted to have their blessing ceremony there. When they were turned away, it was reported to the tax department, where a bureaucrat yanked the tax exemption for the pavilion. The Methodists now are litigating the issue of whether they are entitled to their tax exemption because they are allegedly in violation of the anti-discrimination law.

So it’s a total myth to believe that the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships doesn’t affect other people. It ultimately affects lots of people. Yet we’re told that if we don’t approve, then we ought to be silent and cannot honor our own consciences even in our own businesses and institutions.

Oakland’s Bishop Salvatore Cordileone was an original signer of the Declaration and helped articulate the foundational principles. What is your impression of him as a bishop and in his role in this document?

He is an extraordinary leader. Everybody connected with the Manhattan Declaration stands in awe of his Christian witness. I cannot tell you how many people have expressed their admiration for Bishop Cordileone’s leadership on the Manhattan Declaration and especially on family and pro-life issues where he has been so outspoken and determined.

He is a person of great integrity and remarkable love, a person who is willing to endure criticism and even hostility for the sake of the Gospel. He knows what he believes and why he believes it. He plainly speaks out of a profound love and an appreciation of the fact that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. Where he condemns the sin, he never fails to love the sinner. The other side of that is true as well: he never confuses loving the sinner with loving the sin.

He never takes the attitude that because he is the bishop he should call the shots. He is a true “Vatican II Catholic.” He understands that the role of the bishop is apostolic and prophetic. Bishops are to encourage and inspire the laity, to teach the principles, and certainly to be outspoken, but at the same time they are to respect what the Second Vatican Council calls “the vocation of the laity.”

What are the action steps to follow up on this Declaration? What can pastors, parish groups and parishioners do to defend these foundational principles?

The first thing they need to do is read the Manhattan Declaration. They can read it online at www.manhattandeclaration.org. It is the first step toward educating oneself about the crucial issues, the foundational nature of the principles and the threat to the nation that we face at this particular time. That’s to help them become not only better Christians, but also better citizens, because they become more fully informed citizens.

Then the Manhattan Declaration asks people to join the original 180 signers who are religious leaders, including many Catholic bishops. About 450,000 people have signed, and we hope soon to reach a million.

By signing, we want people to become part of the solution. Signatories not only pledge to work for the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage and the protection of religious freedom and the rights of conscience, but also to stand up for these principles whenever required.

Under no circumstances will we yield to pressure, even under compulsion of law, to do what is unjust or immoral. That’s a strong pledge. We as Christians believe in the rule of law; we’re not anarchists. If the state asks us to do something under the law, we will do it unless it requires us to do what is contrary to the moral law and conscience, in which case we simply will not do it, and we will suffer the consequences.

There are resource materials on the website for priests, pastors and other religious leaders to preach on these subjects. There is material for study groups and individuals, some based on the Bible and some with arguments based in natural law. The materials on the website are meant to empower people to educate themselves, their children and others to act as good citizens by giving priority to these issues.

Like we’ve said, these are not the only important issues. The environment, poverty, economic development, and national security are very important. But we won’t get any of those other issues right if we get the foundational principles wrong.

For more information or to register for the Manhattan Forum lecture ($50 admission), visit www.sapi.org, phone 888-619-7882, or send a check to St. Anthony of Padua Institute, 1711-B Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94709.

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