Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 8, 2010
Church must take part in public debate, says Benedict
British bishops oppose Equality Bill that could force them to ordain women, sexually active gays
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY - Catholic teaching and the truths of the Gospel have a right to be heard in public debate, especially in a country where so many people claim to be Christian, Pope Benedict told the bishops of England and Wales.
The pope urged the bishops to continue defending Church teaching in the public realm. They have a right "to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society."
In a Feb. 1 address to bishops who were making their ad limina visits, Pope Benedict referred to the Equality Bill under debate in Britain's Parliament.
Some legislation designed to guarantee equal opportunity for all people actually would impose "unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs," he said.
Catholic bishops have said the Equality Bill means churches could be sued by anyone who was turned away as a candidate for the priesthood on grounds of gender or sexual lifestyle.
A recent vote in Britain's House of Lords, however, supported an amendment that protected the existing rights of churches to insist that clergy and high-profile lay employees live in a manner consistent with Christian moral teaching.
On Feb. 2, the British Labour government hinted that it would no longer oppose the amendment.
Pope Benedict said that by being vocal participants in public discussion, the bishops are maintaining Britain's long-standing tradition of freedom of expression.
They are also giving voice to the similar beliefs held by many people who are unable to express them, he said.
"When so many of the population claim to be Christian, how could anyone dispute the Gospel's right to be heard?" he asked.
"Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others - on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth," he said.
The pope also spoke against dissent within the Catholic community. To bring a coherent, convincing message to the people, the Church must ensure the Catholic community speaks with one voice, he said.
"It is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate."
The bishops must prepare the laity to convey Church teaching accurately and comprehensively, he said.
The pope will visit Britain in September and is expected to preside over the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th-century theologian and former Anglican.
The pope said Newman is an outstanding example of one who was faithful to truth even at high personal cost.
"Great writers and communicators of his stature and integrity are needed in the Church today, and it is my hope that devotion to him will inspire many to follow in his footsteps."
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