(CNSNews.com) - Recent government attacks on religious liberty have made him fear the United States might be headed toward “despotism,” the newly appointed archbishop of San Francisco—a city represented by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—warned in a recent speech.
“When I saw what was happening and my eyes were opened, it made me fear that we could be starting to move in the direction of license and despotism,” the Most Reverend Salvatore J. Cordileone said at a May 24 conference on religious liberty at the Ethics in Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
In the same speech, Cordileone also said church leaders “cannot get political in the sense of being partisan,” while noting that protecting religious liberty was not a political issue but an issue of "first principles."
Cordileone, who holds a doctorate in canon law, currently serves as bishop of Oakland, Calif., and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Subcommittee on the Defense and Promotion of Marriage. He has been a leading spokesman for Catholic teachings on marriage and sexual morality and an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and civil unions.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cordileone archbishop of San Francisco on Friday. Cordileone will formally take up that position on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis, the patron saint of San Francisco.
When he spoke in Washington, D.C., in May, Cordileone referenced a speech that Cardinal James Gibbons--who served as archbishop of Baltimore in the late 19th and early 20th centuries--gave in Rome in 1887.
Gibbons' 1887 speech focused on the unique heritage of liberty enjoyed by all Americans, including Catholics.
The Catholic Church has been "forced to struggle for her existence wherever despotism has cast its dark shadow, like a plant shut out from the blessed light of heaven,” Gibbons said in that speech. “But in the genial atmosphere of liberty she blossoms like a rose.
"For myself,” Gibbons continued, “as a citizen of the United States, and without closing my eyes to our shortcomings as a nation, I say, with a deep sense of pride and gratitude, that I belong to a country where the civil government holds over us the aegis of its protection, without interfering with us in the legitimate exercise of our sublime mission as ministers of the Gospel of Christ.
“Our country has liberty without license, and authority without despotism,” this American cardinal told that European congregation 125 years ago.
After referencing these words of Cardinal Gibbons, Bishop Cordileone said he became concerned about the future of religious liberty in the United States after he got involved in the issue of same-sex marriage.
“My own experience: I sort of backed into this religious liberty debate by my involvement with her Siamese twin, the definition of marriage in the law,” he said.
“And I got swept up in that, not exclusively, but in large degree, because I was enlightened by Dr. [Robert] George [of Princeton Univerity] and other people of his kind, as to the erosion of the rights of religious institutions to serve the broader community in accord with their moral principles precisely because of this issue, as well the rights of individuals to have their freedom of conscience respected,” said Bishop Cordileone.
“When I saw what was happening and my eyes were opened, it made me fear that we could be starting to move in the direction of license and despotism,” the bishop said.
He then cited a number of examples of attacks on religious liberty in the United States, including a New Mexico photographer who was sued for declining to photograph a same-sex “commitment ceremony” and the numerous Catholic Charities around the country that have had to stop providing adoption services because states have declared it discriminatory for adoption services not to place a child with a same-sex couple.
Bishop Cordileone also specifically discussed the regulation that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has issued, which takes effect on Aug. 1, and which requires health-care plans, including those provided by Catholic business owners and institutions, to provide cost-free coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs. The Catholic bishops of the United States have unanimously declared this regulation an “unjust and illegal mandate” that violates the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion by forcing Catholics—both employers and employees—to act against the teachings of the Catholic faith.
“I want to express profound gratitude and how encouraged I am by all of you who have stood by us Catholics in the midst of this Health and Human Services-mandate battle,” said Bishop Cordileone. “It is a great moment for all of us, and it is a great moment of encouragement for us leaders in the Catholic Church. We all rightly recognize that this is a question of the state intruding into the affairs of the church even to the point of defining for the church what constitutes their ministry. And we all recognize that if they get away with this--I’ll put it that way--that it will not stop there. It will just keep getting worse. We are all vulnerable.”
Bishop Cordileone went on to say that church leaders cannot “get political” but that the fight in defense of religious liberty and against the HHS mandate is not a political fight by a fight over first principles.
“We cannot get political in the sense of being partisan, not those of us who are church leaders at any rate,” he said. “Ultimately, it would compromise our role as the conscience of society and as that buffer we heard about earlier between the government and individual.
“Also, this is not really a political struggle, it is a struggle for first principles, principles that we should all be able to agree upon,” he said. “We would as faith communities compromise who we are called to be if we became tied to any political agenda or platform.”
“As we have heard repeated today, religious liberty is the first right in the Bill of Rights not just chronologically but logically,” Bishop Cordileone said.
“We are here today standing together because we love the United States of America and we want what is best for her,” he told the Ethics and Public Policy conference. “The United States of America has benefitted myself and I am sure all of you, and those people who immigrated to this land and found great opportunity. We are here today because we know if we do not stand together, our nation will fall apart.”
In February, after the Obama administration finalized the sterilization-contraception-abortifacient regulation, CNSNews.com asked Minority Leader Pelosi, who is Catholic, if she was going to stand with her church in resisting it. Pelosi responded that she was going to stand with other Catholics in supporting the Obama administration against the church.
“First of all, I am going to stick with my fellow Catholics in supporting the administration on this," said Pelosi. "I think it was a very courageous decision that they made, and I support it.”