Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Freedom of Conscience?

Last week was the 125th International Gathering of the Knights of Columbus. Who knew they were so big in Poland and the Philippines, eh? My pastor, Fr. Joe, was there in his capacity as State Chaplain. Receiving slightly more press was Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State.

Cardinal Bertone is a career non-diplomat, like Pope Benedict, and is building a reputation for off-the-cuff remarks in conferences and interviews that are refreshing in their lack of political language. While political nuance is a necessary aspect of our world, straight talk is always welcome. At least by this Parochial Vicar.

In a characteristically free interview, Cardinal Bertone makes this explosive observation:

"I’d like to underline one particular thing, especially here in the United States where the freedom of conscience is a major issue. On the basis of the Catholic identity, the man who is in public office or the man who is a politican, I can’t understand how a party whether it be an American party or an Italian party, how a particular political party can impose an ethical choice on the member of that particular political party...
It’s exactly based on the question of this freedom of conscience that a party cannot impose a particular choice on an individual. I find this a great contradiction here in the United States but also in other places as well that these ideas can be imposed by a particular party."

The imposition of the particular party. Notice that this is not a partisan statement, but an evaluation. It seems to be an increasing difficulty for individual variance within the political system. My own father spent a long afternoon in June of 2006 arguing at a state political convention. What was he arguing for you ask? Freedom of Conscience by the individual candidate on a state-wide initiative that same election.

Cardinal Bertone is deriding a political process that makes its representatives repress their views as contradictory. You are free to express anything you want, just so it doesn't effect the party's chances. How does that sit with your American free spirit? Not to well, huh? Is there no freedom on certain issues? Is there no room for individual expressions of the same general vision of one party? I'd like to think that American ideals would allow for such expressions.

From a Catholic Vision, Cardinal Bertone's comments also touch a key point of Pope Benedict's expression of the Catholic faith. The truth of the revelation of Jesus Christ will always win in a fair public consideration. We Catholics have a duty to know and so propose this truth. Human governments must protect the process that allows free and sensible expression. Perhaps that is at risk here?

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