Wuerl: Religious Freedom under Fire

Article excerpt

ROME -- The next pope faces a "challenge of faith in a very secular world" and growing assaults on Christianity, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington told the Tribune-Review.

Wuerl, Pittsburgh's bishop from 1988 to 2006, and other cardinals met here on Sunday to begin the process of replacing Pope Benedict XVI.

The 72-year-old Wuerl will be one of 115 Roman Catholic cardinals who will find a successor to the first pope to resign in six centuries. It will be Wuerl's first such vote as a member of the College of Cardinals.

Speaking with the Trib at the Vatican's Pontifical North American College, Wuerl described the conclave as "a spiritual mission" at a time of "historic proportion."

He said the cardinals "will pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and then, with that as the backdrop, we just start getting to know as much as you can about each one of the candidates, which is everybody."

Wuerl dismissed himself as being in a "diminished order" as a contender, however, insisting that "you start with a much more realistic candidate."

For whoever is chosen, the fundamental challenge is that "very secular world."

Churches worldwide have much more difficulty teaching faith and even worshipping today, Wuerl said.

"One of the things that the (Catholic) Church is experiencing globally ... is a diminished appreciation of religious freedom. I think that is a real concern because freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, is one of the bedrocks of human freedom."

The threat to religious freedom is more "virulent" in the developing world, the cardinal said, but it's a more "subtle violence that we also find in our own country."

Wuerl cited what he called "a bedrock of the American experience that the government did not begin to tell churches what they should or shouldn't do, what they could or couldn't teach. ... Now we are seeing that being challenged.

"The church has to live with that and work with that," he said, while "keeping true to her own teaching. …