It is not discrimination for a Catholic to publicly profess his faith, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington insisted Sunday in a pastoral letter on “Being Catholic Today.” “It has become increasingly acceptable,” he stated, “to disparage as bigoted and mean-spirited anyone who seeks to uphold fundamental truths about the human person that have been recognized throughout history.” Church teaching is rooted in an “authentic humanism,” he added, and “it is neither discrimination nor an undue imposition on the freedom of others to promote that belief and live by it.” The letter, published May 24, outlined various challenges facing Catholics in the U.S. who want to practice their faith publicly. The faith must be lived in action because the “missionary activity of the Church is essential to her identity,” he said. This is practiced through Catholic ministries to the poor, immigrants, and children. These ministries must never be severed from the teachings of Christ, he added. “The Church is not a business, a club, or a special-interest group. Her origins are found in the will and actions of Christ.” Yet threats loom to the practice of the faith because some wish to impose a secular morality on everyone, including Catholics, he explained. This would include a forced “tolerance” for acts such as abortion or sexual activity that contradicts Church teaching. As a primary example of this threat, the cardinal cited two Washington, D.C. laws. One, the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act, mandates that employers, including religious and pro-life organizations, are not free to hire and retain only those employees who do not publicly contradict their mission. The other law, the Human Rights Amendment Act, forces religious schools to “endorse, fund, or provide other assistance for the promotion of sexual conduct contrary to their faith and moral beliefs,” he stated. In both cases, Catholic institutions that live their faith by serving the poor are being forced to violate Church teaching. The Washington archdiocese led an effort to oppose the laws, which were passed the city council and signed by the mayor in January. An effort to disapprove of the laws passed the House but not the Senate, ultimately failing to stop the laws from going into full effect. Catholic and pro-life organizations in the city now might fight the laws in court if a discrimination lawsuit is brought against them. Cardinal Wuerl listed other threats to religious liberty, such as demands that Catholic teachers be able to contradict Church teaching in their words and actions. This battle is being waged in San Francisco by opponents of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s move to clarify Church teaching in employee handbooks for diocesan teachers. This included statements of Church teaching on sexual ethics and assisted reproductive technology. A campaign against the Archbishop’s action was launched, including a public letter from Bay Area Catholics to Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Cordileone. “Some now wrongly claim it is discrimination for the Church to insist that those who teach in Catholic schools present Catholic teaching in word and in witness,” Cardinal Wuerl stated. “As Catholics, who we are cannot be separated from how we live. Jesus taught us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and care for the sick and those in need, and the Catholic Church’s history of educating and serving the poor is long and wellknown.” Catholics can show love to everyone, without approving of sin, he explained. “We can embrace someone who has had an abortion. But we cannot proclaim that the killing of a child in the womb is good. For someone to insist that we do so under the guise of avoiding ‘discrimination’ is unjust.” Rather than an objective judgement of an action, “discrimination” is actually something very different, and something the Church has abhorred through the ages. “In an age when the prevailing society treated some people like property, the first Christians saw slaves and nobles as brothers and sisters in Christ,” Cardinal Wuerl wrote. In modern times, Catholics helped the civil rights movement obtain equal rights for Americans of all races, he added. “Prejudice and discrimination are wrong because they divide the human family, violate fundamental human dignity and are contrary to the truth and charity to which we are all called,” he continued. Yet although the Church embraces all sinners, it cannot approve of sin, he added. “Jesus did not change his message just because some who heard it felt it was a ‘hard saying’.” “No one should be surprised that the Church continues to be faithful to Jesus’ Gospel — his teaching,” he added. “After all, it is his message, his Church. We are not free to change either.” The Church is not imposing its will on everyone, he added, but rather seeks the freedom for Catholics to practice their faith publicly.
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