St. Paul’s hosts Archbishop Wuerl’s speech on religion and public policy

CAMBRIDGE -- The secular effort to eliminate religion from public debate denies the reality that the vast majority of citizens are also believers, said Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C.

“People of faith are also people who vote,” he told a crowd at St. Paul Parish in Cambridge on May 30. “For Catholics, the Church is our spiritual home as much as the nation is our native land. You cannot pull the person apart.”

Currently, there is an effort to extract religious influence from contemporary society. But secular morals cannot sustain a culture. The nation needs a transcendent reference point -- a conscience. Otherwise moral opinion is simply a majority vote, he said.

“The principle of the separation of church and state isn’t threatened by the voice of the faithful. In fact, it’s only strengthened,” he said. “The idea that somehow they could be in opposition is to deny that very reality that the person of faith and the political person are the same person.”

In fact, polls show that more than 90 percent of Americans believe in God, he said during his remarks, entitled “Religious Faith and Public Policy: The Role of Religion in a Pluralistic Society.”

The lecture was sponsored by St. Paul’s Lay Committee on Contemporary Spiritual and Public Concerns (CSPC). Jerome D. Maryon, president of the CSPC, said that all people of religious faith are united by the spirit of wisdom in their effort to follow the ways of the Lord. In attendance were Methodists, Lutherans, Jews and Muslims, all invited as part of the committee’s ecumenical outreach.

According to Maryon, Archbishop Wuerl is on the “front lines” of the clash between faith and politics in Washington.

“Archbishop Wuerl has been a pillar of truth and a rock of certitude in a period of recession and uncertainty,” said Maryon who is executive editor of a law journal, The Forum, and vice president of the Massachusetts chapter of the Catholic Democrats.

Archbishop Wuerl said that America’s Christian roots extend all the way back to the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document in the American colonies. In it, the colonists agreed to follow the law of God and seek the common good.

According to Archbishop Wuerl Thomas Jefferson saw the United States as a nation of free people who recognize God’s role in private and public life. “There was little room in his thoughts for the idea that one would be personally against a gravely wrong action and publicly in favor of it,” Archbishop Wuerl said.

He added that the push to form public policy without religious influence denies our history. “It is as if we were to somehow paint over all the road signs, erase all recognition of who we are in our roots, in our founding documents, in our way of thinking, in our history and start all over again -- this time without all that.”

The effort to gag the Catholic Church also has a long history in this country. Seventy years after the 1634 founding of the Catholic colony of Maryland, the nation’s first Catholic church was shuttered -- the door bolted by the sheriff.

“The government in Maryland ordered the church locked so that in the words of the governor’s decree, it could never again serve as a place of Catholic worship,” he said.

Last year, Archbishop Wuerl had the honor of turning the key with the current sheriff on the restored building. “It’s easy to lock doors. We must be always pushing open doors,” he said.

Today, there is a growing movement to deny faith-based organizations the right to be faith-based. Historically, they were able to partner with the government and respond to societal needs. The idea that they must change their identity in order to comply with secular norms is new, he said.

Last February, Catholic Charities in his archdiocese closed their adoption program due to the same-sex marriage law that requires all agencies to also place children with homosexual couples. The same happened in the Archdiocese of Boston in 2006.

The contemporary challenges of secularism, materialism and individualism must be addressed by authentically witnessing to Jesus Christ, drawing others to his grace. The greatest need resides in the places where faith has been silenced the most -- among politicians, intellectuals and communication professionals, he said.

But many Catholics are ill formed in their faith or simply embarrassed by their belief. The faithful have the responsibility to follow their consciences -- even the poorly formed ones. The Church needs to go back to the basics of catechesis, recognizing the deficiency of many hearers. And the faithful, in particular the laity, must never be ashamed by the teachings of the Church, even in the face of political correctness.

Archbishop Wuerl closed his remarks by saying that we should never hesitate to say, “God bless America.”

Danuta Bajak, a dual citizen who moved from Poland to the United States 20 years ago, said she took away from the address that “We Catholics have to be braver.”

She said she was particularly struck with the archbishop’s reflection on catechesis. She compared it to the study of languages, in which not every student is successful. Sometimes the teacher is not well prepared, the materials are not attractive or the methodology is ineffective. Many of the same problems exist in religious education.

The certification program Bajak completed to become a religious education instructor taught her how much she needed to learn about the faith.

Now, she sees in her classes how bright and inquisitive the children are. “God is so attractive that with the right way of speaking to them, it is easy to enflame their love for God,” she added.

Father Michael Drea, pastor of St. Paul’s, said he hopes events like this help individuals to live their faith. He takes the responsibility seriously, particularly because the parish is located within Harvard University’s campus. Harvard educates the leaders of the world, he said, adding, “The Church has an active hand in teaching the Catholic conscience so that they can bring the Gospel of Christ and form the world.”