Religious freedom in the United States faces threats of “unprecedented gravity” the Vatican has warned.
In a letter on behalf of Pope Benedict (pictured) to U.S. Catholic group, the Knights of Columbus, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said that “concerted efforts are being made to redefine and restrict the exercise of the right to religious freedom.”
The letter, addressed to Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Order, thanked the Knights for working “tirelessly to help the Catholic community recognise and respond to the unprecedented gravity of these new threats to the Church’s liberty and public moral witness”.
It said: “By defending the right of all religious believers, as individual citizens and in their institutions, to work responsibly in shaping a democratic society inspired by their deepest beliefs, values and aspirations, your Order has proudly lived up to the high religious and patriotic principles which inspired its founding”.
The comments come as the U.S. bishops campaign for religious liberty in the face of attacks such as President Obama’s HHS mandate, which requires employers to cover abortifacients, contraception and sterilisations.
Last month, the bishops concluded their “fortnight for freedom” - two weeks of intensive “prayer, study, catechesis, and public action.” Shortly before launching the event, the bishops had reaffirmed their condemnation of the HHS mandate, nothing that the rule effectively punishes Catholic institutions for operating in the public sphere.
“Those deemed by HHS not to be ‘religious employers’ will be forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions. This is not only an injustice in itself, but it also undermines the effective proclamation of those teachings to the faithful and to the world,” they wrote.
In his letter, Cardinal Bertone quoted remarks by Pope Benedict in January in which he called on America’s bishops to “counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimise the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.”