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Being Truly Catholic Now
It’s a big Church that believes.

Austen Ivereigh, co-founder of Catholic Voices

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That’s why, even though most people are strongly in favor of the idea of marriage as between a man and a woman, it’s been mostly the churches that have been offering the arguments. That’s great, but it can too easily reinforce the frame that Christians are trying to “impose” a Biblical or sacramental value on what is a civil, or secular, institution. That’s why I say in the book that we mustn’t ever start our arguments with, “The Church says . . . ” It’s not appropriate. We need to start with the question of why the state distinguishes marriage from other relationships, and whether that’s valid. If we believe it’s important for state and society to uphold marriage as distinct, then it follows that we need to resist redefinitions of marriage that would render marriage indistinguishable from other relationships. That’s where the argument needs to be.

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LOPEZ: As you know, the Catholic bishops have been leading a charge in defense of the principle of religious liberty in the most fundamental and specifically practical ways. But should it be the bishops? Should lay Catholics be leading the way? And with an ecumenical coalition?

IVEREIGH: It was very exciting to be just outside Washington, D.C., training Catholic Voices USA, at the time when the 43 Catholic organizations were announcing their lawsuit against the U.S. government. “Historic” is not a cliché here. The unanimity of the bishops, the vitality and clarity of the statements from the different organizations, and the fact that at stake here is not so much a policy but the very framework in which politics takes place — this is a very important moment.

The First Amendment is one of the glories of America, and possibly its most valuable postwar export. It has profoundly influenced the states of the world, and even the Second Vatican Council. So when the U.S. government violates it, and seeks to coerce the Church to act against its core beliefs, Catholics must take a stand, not just for their own sake, but for the sake of America itself. How do you take that stand? On many levels, of course — episcopal declarations, attorneys’ briefs, parish action. But I think the most important thing that can be done is to communicate the meaning and the value — to the ordinary citizen, not just to Catholics — of religious liberty, and to demonstrate the connection between that freedom and the “good” that the Church offers society.

That means talking about the soup kitchens, crisis-counseling centers, and marriage-preparation courses; it means witnessing to the relationships that are founded on, and are themselves the fruit of, bonds of trust arising from the actions that are the expressions of religious freedom. The key liberty that has to be communicated is that of manifesting belief — the freedom to act on, and in ways consistent with, our religious beliefs; the freedom to organize and engage society, to witness and persuade, and to serve others. Without the principles and convictions of our faith, we have no organizations that witness to them. That’s why religious liberty is the first and most important principle animating civil society. The loss of religiously motivated organizations is above all a loss to society as a whole.

American Catholics have to be making that case above all. People aren’t going to (necessarily) relate to the Church’s positions on contraception; they might think them backward and anachronistic. But they can grasp the fact that Catholic understanding of sexuality is part of a wider ethic, the same ethic underlying the Church’s witness on the death penalty or poverty or euthanasia. These are the connections Catholics have to make; and yes, the argument needs to be as ecumenical and universal as possible; and yes, I think lay people have a particularly important role, as the people that run the institutions and associations that serve others, to explain the link between the service they offer and the ethic that energizes them.

 

LOPEZ: What’s different about Catholic Voices and why do you expect it to be a good fit in the U.S.?

IVEREIGH: I joke that in 2010, preparing for the pope’s visit to the U.K., we made a song, and now, two years later, we find ourselves touring the world explaining that we’ve only got this one song! I think Catholic Voices is everything to do with the moment — the call by Pope Benedict and our bishops for lay Catholics to raise our voices in the public square at a time when powerful forces would like to put faith in a box marked “private.” It’s also because of the call to the new evangelization; the Church is looking around for examples of successful public engagement. Catholic Voices has deliberately situated itself within what the Catholic journalist John Allen, in analyzing Pope Benedict’s approach, calls “affirmative orthodoxy.” In a 2009 column he defined it as: “No compromise on essential points of doctrine and discipline, but the most positive, upbeat presentation possible.” That captures where we want to be — not debating church teaching, but working out how to translate it and connect it with contemporary concerns, rubbing the priceless pearl so it can be seen better.



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