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U.S./ Religious Liberty is a fact of life--and of citizenship

April Fri 27, 2012

The Liberty Bell in front of Independence Hall  The Liberty Bell in front of Independence Hall

We, wherever we are—be it in the United States or elsewhere—if we are believers in God and the next life—be we Catholics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc., etc., etc.—are citizens of two cities. This does not mean that we have divided loyalties; rather, it means that we must be loyal, faithful, and true in the exercise of our citizenships. The ultimately loyalty for the Catholic is to God and His holy Church.

Now I return, more generally, to the idea of dual citizenship for the believer-American citizen, particularly the Catholic. Recalling Charles Dickens, we in the U.S. of the second decade of the twenty-first century, live in the best of times and the worst of times. Dickens addressed the bloody turmoil of the French Revolution. We address a different time, but it is not without its mammoth challenges and suffering as well as hope and promise.

In the American context, the dual citizenship of which I speak is not a loyalty to two states (one of which is the United States) but to country and God. For, American Catholics are simultaneously asked to be faithful members of the Church and contributing members of the American republican democracy. This is why Pope Benedict XVI earlier this year in one of his ad limina addresses to U.S. bishops noted that there is now, more than ever, a “need for an engaged, articulate and well-informed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate.”

Why is this important?

I, for one, do believe the voice of Catholics, as formed by the Universal Church, her teachings, the exhortations of the Holy Father, and the teachings of the bishops-in-union-with-Peter, are quite correct in their presentation of what’s right and what’s wrong regarding the positions on the issues of the day on the public matters that address the common good. This is not argument, on my part, this is—for the time being—background.

What is argument is this: for the American republican democracy to succeed, it is essential that this voice must not be excluded and silenced. Moreover, as the Framers established a union described in the Constitution’s preamble, it is essential for Catholics, who are simultaneously citizens of two cities, to understand how they are to inform themselves on the public issues of the day through careful and deliberate moral evaluation of what is before them. For this preparation to be effective, we need to hear the voices of the successors of the Apostles when they help form our consciences which will direct our actions as citizens in the City of Man. After all, it is we, as citizens of this country, who cast ballots, who run for office, who accept appointive office, and who lobby causes that are crucial to the success of American republican democracy. But when we pursue these things, we must be mindful of our other citizenship.



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