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CURRENT ISSUE:  October 4, 2010
VOL. 48, NO. 17   •   Oakland, CA
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Catholics called to reject
‘cultural shift’ on human person
Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Nearly 300 Catholics from throughout the Oakland Diocese participated in an energetic day-long forum, Sept. 18, aimed at helping Catholics increase their voice to defend the human person through the principles laid out in the Manhattan Declaration.

Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron summarized the call as he warned that some forces in contemporary society seek “to redefine what it means to be human.”

Archbishop Vigneron, who was the bishop of Oakland until his installation in Detroit last year, warned that society is struggling with “a cultural shift in how we view the human person.” The shift “is a kind of virus, which involves redefining what it is to be human.”

Society is moving toward “a radically autonomous self, an imperial self with detached and detachable relationships in which each of us is a lone sailor on a sea of chaos,” the archbishop warned.

The conference was organized at the request of Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone by the St. Anthony of Padua Institute and the diocesean Department for Evangelization and Catechesis. According to Steven Cordova of the Institute, Bishop Cordileone asked the sponsors to help educate Catholics about the Manhattan Declaration “to allow us to have an articulate voice in the public square.”

In addition to Archbishop Vigneron, Bishop Cordileone and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Curry of Los Angeles participated in the conference.

The conference culminated nine months of anticipatory lectures by notable figures, including Princeton professor Robert George, one of the drafters of the Manhattan Declaration and a leading figure in the pro-life, pro-marriage debate.

The Manhattan Declaration is a widely supported statement in defense of vital institutions of society, focusing on the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty. Drafted by notable scholars and Christian leaders of all stripes, the Declaration has become a rallying point for efforts to defend those goods. Nearly 500,000 people have signed the Declaration since its release last November.

Archbishop Vigneron explained that the Declaration focuses on conscience as the catalyst for what we do. Conscience “is me recognizing what is good as good and what is bad as bad. I do not shape the good or the bad; they disclose themselves to me.”

He emphasized that, as society debates good and evil, “you cannot take a bye in the matter of conscience.” He encouraged Catholics “to be bold and courageous, yet discrete and loving and meek. There is something beautiful about standing for truth with meekness and charity.”

Acknowledging that the struggle in contemporary society may be difficult, Archbishop Vigneron referred to Pope John Paul II’s challenge of the martyr’s conscience as “the kind of measure we all are called to make in serving the good and avoiding the evil.”

He spoke of St. Thomas Moore, who was martyred, as “rock sure but kind, sympathetic” and contrasted Moore’s approach with some in contemporary society who act out a “brutal ugliness of hate-inspiring ideology.”

The archbishop noted that many people in society are ignorant of the truth, but may not be deeply bonded to the popular cultural views. “Most people vacillate between being relativistic in the morning and absolute in the evening,” he said, offering as an example that “how they want their son-in-law to treat their daughter, they cease to be relativistic!”

Although the contemporary challenge is great, ArchbishopVigneron concluded on an optimistic note. “Our nation is basically good-hearted, generous people. What we need is courage, and sometimes that requires perseverance. God is at work and, in the end, good will triumph.”

Other speakers at the daylong forum, held in St. Isidore Parish hall in Danville, focused on other aspects of implementing the Manhattan Declaration.

Bishop Curry explored church-state relations focusing on the history of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Its purpose “is to get government out of religion,” he said, explaining that the First Amendment is intended to prevent government control of religion, but never intended to prevent religion from being involved in government.

Bishop Curry emphasized that, under the Constitution, “We have the right to influence politicians.”

He explained that President Thomas Jefferson’s oft-quoted view of “a wall of separation between church and state” was written to assure Americans that government should not interfere with religion, rather than to keep religious beliefs from influencing government.

Francis Beckwith, a Baylor University philosophy professor, was optimistic about progress in the debate over abortion.

“Pro-lifers should be encouraged that the arguments have clearly moved to our advantage,” according to Beckwith. In the 1980s the leading arguments for abortion often focused on reducing population growth and benefits to women’s careers. Today many of those arguments are no longer being made. Today the debate usually focuses on when the embryo becomes a person, Beckwith pointed out, an argument the pro-life movement should win.

“The unborn is indeed one of us,” Beckwith explained, using strictly natural law to support his argument. “Human beings remain identical to themselves, yet change over time. There is no decisive break in its being over time,” Beckwith said, leaving abortion advocates unable to make an effective argument for the point when an embryo becomes a person.

Speaker Jennifer Morse of the Ruth Institute, which defends marriage of a woman and a man, reminded the audience that the purpose of marriage is to link a mother and a father to their children and one another. “Biology is the primary way we define parenthood,” Morse emphasized, with an important exception for adoption.

The recent judicial ruling against Proposition 8 would make marriage little more than just “a government registry of friendship,” Morse added. If that view prevails, society soon will have triple partner parenting and multiple partner marriages. The latter already is under consideration in Canada. All of this “will result in a very large expansion of the state’s power in civil society,” Morse warned.

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