Sunday, September 19, 2010


Saint Thomas More

The Right Honorable Chancellor
of England

VATICAN CITY, 17 SEP 2010 (VIS) - At 5.15 p.m. today the Holy Father met with representatives from British civil society, and from the worlds of culture, academe and business, as well as the diplomatic corps and religious leaders. The meeting took place in Westminster Hall which, built in 1099, is the oldest part of Westminster Palace and is used for events of national and international significance.

The Pope began his address by recalling "the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls [Saint Thomas More and other English Martyrs to the Faith were tried and condemned to death in Westminster Hall] and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides.

"In particular", he added, "I recall the figure of St. Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose 'good servant' he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process".

"The fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More's trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy".

The Holy Father continued his remarks: "The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as 'every economic decision has a moral consequence', so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore".

"The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is ... to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles".

Without the "corrective" role of religion, the Pope explained, "reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith - the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief - need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilisation.

"Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue - paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination - that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life".

After then highlighting how the British government co-operates with the Holy See in such areas as peace, human rights and development, the Holy Father noted how "the Holy See also looks forward to exploring with the United Kingdom new ways to promote environmental responsibility, to the benefit of all".

"In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare. Where human lives are concerned, time is always short, yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed 'too big to fail'. Surely the integral human development of the world's peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world's attention, that is truly 'too big to fail'".

The Holy Father expressed his joy at progress in co-operation between the United Kingdom and the Holy See "in the years that have passed since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations, in promoting throughout the world the many core values that we share". In this context he also voiced the hope "that this relationship will continue to bear fruit, and that it will be mirrored in a growing acceptance of the need for dialogue and respect at every level of society between the world of reason and the world of faith. I am convinced that, within this country too, there are many areas in which the Church and the public authorities can work together for the good of citizens".

"For such co-operation to be possible", he concluded, "religious bodies - including institutions linked to the Catholic Church - need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed".

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