From The Catholic Herald
By Mark Greaves
Cardinal George Pell has said a crucial task for Christians today is to "regularly and publicly" confront secularists who want to push religion out of the public sphere.
The cardinal - one of the Church's most influential voices - said Christians needed to show secularised societies that "there are better ways to live".
He made the comments at a lecture at Oxford last week on "Varieties of Intolerance: Religious and Secular", organised by the Oxford University Newman Society and sponsored by The Catholic Herald.
He spoke of a "dangerous" new trend across the English-speaking world to use anti-discrimination legislation to curb religious freedom. To fight this intolerance, he said, Christians needed to regain their "self-confidence and courage".
"Put simply, Christians have to recover their genius for showing that there are better ways to live and to build a good society; ways which respect freedom, empower individuals and transform communities," the Archbishop of Sydney said.
"The secular and religious intolerance of our day needs to be confronted regularly and publicly. Believers need to call the bluff of what is, even in most parts of Europe, a small minority with disproportionate influence in the media. This is one of the crucial tasks for Christians in the 21st century."
As a primary example of intolerance Cardinal Pell cited the treatment of Christians and Mormons who supported Proposition 8, the amendment that reversed California's gay marriage law last November.
He described how churches and temples were subjected to violence, vandalism and intimidation, and how supporters of the amendment were forced from their jobs and blacklisted.
He then argued that criticism of violence by Muslim extremists was being proscribed by western democracies by punitive legislation."
What do these two tales of intolerance tell us?" the cardinal asked. "We should note the strange way in which some of the most permissive groups and communities, for example Californian liberals in the case of Proposition 8, easily become repressive, despite all their high rhetoric about diversity and tolerance."
There is the one-sidedness about discrimination and vilification," he said, because "Christianophobic blacklisting and intimidation is passed over in silence".
He added that in a healthy democracy people should be free to discuss and criticise each other's beliefs. Reciprocity, he said, was essential to this but "some secularists seem to like one-way streets", seeking to drive Christianity from the provision of education, healthcare and welfare services.
He said that courts in the US were winding back exemptions for religious groups to provide services in line with their own beliefs.
In Australia, he said, a law decriminalising abortion in the state of Victoria "made a mockery" of conscientious objection by forcing doctors to refer patients to healthcare workers who would provide it. "
Clearly there is an urgent need to deepen public understanding of the importance and nature of religious freedom," he said. "Believers should not be treated by government and the courts as a tolerated and divisive minority whose rights must always yield to the minority secular agenda."
He explained that the effect of the "totalitarian tendencies" of modern liberalism was to "enforce conformity" and to strip Christianity of the power of its public witness.
"There is no need to drive the Church out of services if the secularisation of its agencies can achieve this end," he added.
The pressure against religion in public life, he argued, stemmed mainly from a misplaced belief in "absolute sexual freedom".
The cardinal said: "At the level of the individual, the possibilities of happiness are greatly restricted by the lovelessness, fear and despair that the assertion of the autonomous self against others usually leaves in its wake." In a press conference before the lecture the cardinal discussed a number of subjects, including the crisis afflicting the Legion of Christ, a congregation which recently admitted that its late founder, Fr Marcial Maciel, had secretly kept a mistress and fathered a child.
Cardinal Pell said it was not reasonable to expect the Legion to deal with the revelations without outside help. He said an authority in the Church should intervene to investigate Fr Maciel's corruption and potentially to re-examine the Legion's charism.
On Europe, he said that in the Netherlands "radical liberalism has been tried for 40 years and has almost destroyed the Church".
He said: "I think we've been tempted in the past to try to make Catholicism more attractive by going quiet or softly on the so-called hard teachings, the call to faith, the call to forgiveness, the call to sexual fidelity. Cut-price Christianity doesn't work - it's never going to be cost-free."
On the lifting of the SSPX excommunications, he said he supported efforts to reconcile the Lefebvrists with the Church, but that "it remains to be seen just how much this lifting will help". He added: "The whole operation was not a brilliant success - and I think that's understating it."
After his lecture in the Divinity Hall at Oxford University he answered questions on moral relativism, science and the role of the laity. He also clarified his opposition to gay marriage, saying he believed some recognition of gay relationships was "appropriate". He said: "I would agree that in a long-term homosexual relationship, it's appropriate for them to be recognised in law. I don't think the rights should be equivalent to the state of heterosexual marriage because I regard that as the basic cell of our society which is truly important for the future and for the protection of children."
Cardinal Pell had been invited to Oxford by the Newman Society to launch its appeal for £100,000 to fund a lecture series, a scholarship programme and an alumni association. His lecture is available in full on the society's website, http://www.newmansociety.org.uk/.
We will be publishing an exclusive interview with Cardinal Pell next week.
— As we went to press, the Pope was expected to issue a letter to the world's bishops about the lifting of the excommunications of the SSPX bishops.