Cardinal-designate O’Brien on Defending Freedom

Former Baltimore Archbishop Comments on ‘Ad Limina’ Visit

By Ann Schneible

ROME, JAN. 20, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Christians must remain ever vigilant in confronting movements that seek to infringe upon religious freedom.

This was the reminder voiced by Cardinal-designate Edwin O’Brien when he spoke to ZENIT today about Benedict XVI’s address Thursday to U.S. bishops on their “ad limina” visit.

The archbishop of Baltimore from 2007 till last year, and now the Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Cardinal O’Brien also served for a decade as the archbishop for the Military Services.

The Holy Father announced Jan. 6 that the 72-year-old prelate will be made a cardinal next month.

ZENIT: What have been your impressions of this ad limina visit, especially in light of the upcoming consistory in which you will be created Cardinal?

Cardinal-designate O’Brien: Well, I don’t see much connection, but I’m certainly taking an extra interest in things Roman, since I will be living here soon, as soon as my successor is installed — and I hope that’s very soon, but we’ve had no word on that yet. I will be moving permanently here to Rome, and the visits to these dicasteries have given me some good insight, some good orientation, and kind of a sense of expectation for what awaits me here.

ZENIT: The Holy Father in his discourse to the bishops spoke about the issue of religious freedom. Throughout the world Christians have been facing persecution, both through the secularization of the West and also with violent persecution in other places. What does it mean for you to be created a cardinal at this point in Church history?

Cardinal-designate O’Brien: Aside from being created a cardinal, I think we in the United States have always been concerned about persecution and intolerance around the world. I don’t think we ever expected it to come in the form it is coming in our own country, where the government is impinging on some very good work we are trying to do, to force on us values that are foreign to the Judeo-Christian heritage.

The highlight of this ad limina visit has been the visit with the Holy Father. I don’t think any of us expected as magnificent an allocution as we heard yesterday. He was right on, and made the proper distinctions and it applies perfectly to our country. I hope that we can make best use of that to help our fellow Americans realize that slowly but surely, “Big Brother” is closing in on religious communities such as ours and the good work we’re trying to do.

ZENIT: Could you speak a little more about this problem of the government infringing on religious freedom, such as regards abortion and same-sex marriage. For instance in Baltimore, there was the instance of the mayor speaking in favor of same-sex marriage.

Cardinal-designate O’Brien: In Baltimore, a couple of years ago, we had a novel requirement which would never have been dreamed of, where our pregnancy counseling centers were told by law, passed by the city council, that they had to put a sign up saying: “We do not provide birth-control or abortion services.” Why did we have to do that? That was totally arbitrary on their part, and an attempt to put us out of business in favor of Planned Parenthood. The courts so far have ruled in our favor on this.

[Moreover,] if we imitate other states that have passed legislation regarding same-sex marriage, the next step will be that we have to teach this as appropriate in all our schools, that every one of our institutions has to accept the principle, and the reality in their communities and wherever they work. The next step will be as it is in European countries: if you speak openly about the immorality of same-sex marriage, you’re open to prosecution. It’s a slippery slope, and it’s certainly going to happen.

The basic thing is, that to compare this to discrimination by race, discrimination by color — that’s pigmentation, that’s real discrimination. But we’re talking about the basic fundamental institution of marriage from the very beginning, from Scriptures and through civilized nations has [always] been between a man and a woman open to children. When we try out of sympathy or emotion to change that, it’s a huge and dangerous initiative, and one that is dangerous for our future.

ZENIT: As the Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, could you speak about the conflicts that are going on in the Holy Land, and how the Church in Rome can be present to the Christians there?

Cardinal-designate O’Brien: My responsibility will be to support the Christian institutions in the Holy Land, primarily — but not exclusively — as they relate to the patriarch of Jerusalem. And to encourage members of the order to take interest in what’s going on there: [such as] the diminishing number of Christians, and the many obligations we have in schools and hospitals, seminaries, the obligations we’ve taken on to support these Christian institutions, and many Catholic institutions, and the people living there. [With] so few people living there, help has to come from outside. That is the principle goal that I will have: to educate, to encourage members of the order to take greater interest — not only by their donations, and by their participation in the activities of the order, but certainly by pilgrimage.

Our main emphasis is the personal sanctity of every member of the order. If we accomplish that — and have that especially [present] in this upcoming Year of Faith — and work on the new evangelization with the various lieutenancies and members of our order, I think the rest will fall into place. Our attention and our help to the institutions in the Holy Land and our patriarch there will follow pretty quickly. We’re doing a lot already, but throughout the Church, this new evangelization reminds us that we never are where we should be. There’s always more we can do, and we should not presume without grace. And grace is available to us, and I think there will be many graces during this Year of Faith.

ZENIT: You were the archbishop of the Military Services. What is the state of the military chaplaincy, and how can this new evangelization be brought to the military?

Cardinal-designate O’Brien: From 1997-2007 I was the archbishop for the military services, which includes 1.5 million Catholics in the armed forces of the United States and their families, and veterans’ hospitals, over 170 of them. Archbishop Broglio is now the military ordinary, and he’s doing a wonderful job. Our biggest problem is bringing the faith to our brave and generous men and women of our armed forces and their families. And without priests we can’t do that adequately. We should have more than 800 priests serving in all the branches, and we’re well below 300 right now. And it’s still diminishing.

There are some good signs of vocations; Archbishop Broglio has done wonderful work, and I think there are over 30 seminarians now studying. They will belong to the various dioceses of the country, but after three years of ordination they will join the military. That’s a first, it’s a huge step forward. And I hope that, as a result of the experiences that some of our men have had in combat, and in the armed forces, the sense of generosity, of self-sacrifice, of discipline, there are ample signs that vocations are coming as a result of the reality of sin and hardship and suffering that’s taken place, and the importance of the Church to meet those needs. I think that’s what our young people are going to respond to when it comes to vocations.

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