The Manhattan Declaration: The Manifesto That's Shaking America

SANDRO MAGISTER

It's been endorsed by Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox leaders, united in defending life and the family.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the news passed almost without notice: the news about a strong public appeal in defense of life, of marriage, of religious freedom and objection of conscience, launched jointly -- a rarity -- by top-level representatives of the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion, and the Evangelical communities of the United States.

Among the religious leaders who presented the appeal to the public on Friday, November 20, at the National Press Club in Washington, were the archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Justin Rigali, the archbishop of Washington, Donald W. Wuerl, and the bishop of Denver, Charles J. Chaput.

And among the 52 first signatories of the appeal were 11 other Catholic archbishops and bishops of the United States: Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit, Timothy Dolan of New York, John J. Myers of Newark, John Nienstedt of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, Richard J. Malone of Portland, and David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh.

The 4700-word appeal is entitled "Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience," and takes its name from the area of New York in which its publication was discussed and decided last September.

The final drafting of the text was entrusted to Robert P. George, a Catholic professor of law at Princeton University, and to Evangelical Protestants Chuck Colson and Timothy George, the latter a professor at the Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.

The other signers include Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, archpriest Chad Hatfield of the Orthodox seminary of Saint Vladimir, Reverend William Owens, president of the Coalition of African-American Pastors, and two leading figures of the Anglican Communion: Robert Wm. Duncan, primate of the Anglican Church in North America, and Peter J. Akinola, primate of the Anglican Church in Nigeria.

Apart from the bishops, the other Catholics who signed the appeal include Jesuit Fr. Joseph D. Fessio, a disciple of Joseph Ratzinger and founder of the publisher Ignatius Press, William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, Jody Bottum, editor of the magazine "First Things," and George Weigel, a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

The "Manhattan Declaration" has not emerged in a vacuum, but at a critical moment for American society and politics: precisely while the administration of Barack Obama is pushing hard for passage of a health care reform plan in the United States.

Defending life from the moment of conception and the right to objections of conscience, the appeal contests two of the points endangered by the reform project currently under discussion in the Senate.

In Congress, the danger was averted thanks in part to aggressive lobbying conducted openly by the Catholic episcopate. After the final vote had guaranteed both the right to objections of conscience and the blocking of any public financing for abortion, the bishops' conference hailed this result as a "success." But now the battle has started all over again in the Senate, on a working document that the Church again considers unacceptable. The bishops' conference has already sent the senators a letter indicating the changes it would like to see made to all of the points in dispute.

But now there is also the ecumenical "Manhattan Declaration," the last chapter of which, entitled "Unjust Laws," ends with this solemn statement:

"We will not be intimidated into silence or acquiescence or the violation of our consciences by any power on earth, be it cultural or political, regardless of the consequences to ourselves."

And immediately afterward:

"We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar's. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God's."

In an initial passage, the appeal also says this:

"While public opinion has moved in a pro-life direction, powerful and determined forces are working to expand abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, and euthanasia."

And it is true. According to the most recent surveys, public opinion in the United States is shifting noticeably toward greater defense of the life of the unborn child.

From 1995 to 2008, all of the research had shown that more people were pro-choice than pro-life, with a significant margin between them: the former at 49 percent, the latter at 42.

Now, instead, the positions have been reversed. The pro-choice have fallen to 46 percent, and the pro-life have risen to 47 percent, overtaking them.

The religious leaders who are pressuring Obama on the minefield of abortion, of homosexual marriage, of euthanasia, therefore know that they have with them a large and growing segment of American society.

The issuing of the "Manhattan Declaration" has received extensive coverage in the media in the United States, without anyone protesting against this political "interference" by the Churches.

But that's just the way it is in the United States. There has always been a rigorous separation between religion and the state there. There are no concordats, and they're not even conceivable. But this is exactly why the Churches are seen as having the freedom to speak and act in the public sphere.

In Europe, the landscape is very different. Here "secularism" is understood and applied in conflict, either latent or explicit, with the Churches.

This may be another reason for the silence that in Europe, in Italy, in Rome, greeted the "Manhattan Declaration." It is held to be a typically American phenomenon, foreign to the European way of thinking.

A similar difference in approach concerns the denial of Eucharistic communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians. In the United States, this controversy is extremely heated, while on the other side of the Atlantic it isn't. This difference in sensibilities also divides the hierarchy of the Catholic Church: in Europe and in Rome the question is practically ignored, left to the individual conscience.

But it most be noted out that something is changing on this point, even on the Old Continent. And not only because there is a pope like Benedict XVI, who has stated that he prefers the American model of relations between Church and state.

A sign of this came a few days ago from Spain, where the Catholic Church is grappling with an ideologically hostile government, that of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, which is preparing a law that would liberalize abortion even more than it is now.

According to reports from sources including L'Osservatore Romano, the secretary general of the Spanish bishops' conference, Bishop Juan Antonio Martínez Camino, did not hesitate to advise Catholic politicians that, if they vote in favor of the law, they will not be admitted to Eucharistic communion, because they will have placed themselves in an objective situation of "public sin."

Not only that. Bishop Martínez Camino added that those who maintain that it is morally legitimate to kill an unborn child put themselves in contradiction with the Catholic Church, and thus risk falling into heresy and into "latae sententiae,' or automatic, excommunication.

It is the first time that words so "American" have been heard from the leadership of a bishops' conference in Europe.

But let's get back to the "Manhattan Declaration." The complete text, with a list of the first 152 signers, is on this web page:

Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience

The following is the abbreviated text, released together with the complete text of the "Declaration":



Manhattan Declaration Executive Summary

November 20, 2009

Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are (1) the sanctity of human life, (2) the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and (3) the rights of conscience and religious liberty. Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.



Human Life

The lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are ever more threatened. While public opinion has moved in a pro-life direction, powerful and determined forces are working to expand abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. Although the protection of the weak and vulnerable is the first obligation of government, the power of government is today often enlisted in the cause of promoting what Pope John Paul II called "the culture of death." We pledge to work unceasingly for the equal protection of every innocent human being at every stage of development and in every condition. We will refuse to permit ourselves or our institutions to be implicated in the taking of human life and we will support in every possible way those who, in conscience, take the same stand.



Marriage

The institution of marriage, already wounded by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is at risk of being redefined and thus subverted. Marriage is the original and most important institution for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all. Where marriage erodes, social pathologies rise. The impulse to redefine marriage is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture. It reflects a loss of understanding of the meaning of marriage as embodied in our civil law as well as our religious traditions. Yet it is critical that the impulse be resisted, for yielding to it would mean abandoning the possibility of restoring a sound understanding of marriage and, with it, the hope of rebuilding a healthy marriage culture. It would lock into place the false and destructive belief that marriage is all about romance and other adult satisfactions, and not, in any intrinsic way, about the unique character and value of acts and relationships whose meaning is shaped by their aptness for the generation, promotion and protection of life. Marriage is not a "social construction," but is rather an objective reality -- the covenantal union of husband and wife -- that it is the duty of the law to recognize, honor, and protect.



Religious Liberty

Freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized. The threat to these fundamental principles of justice is evident in efforts to weaken or eliminate conscience protections for healthcare institutions and professionals, and in anti-discrimination statutes that are used as weapons to force religious institutions, charities, businesses, and service providers either to accept (and even facilitate) activities and relationships they judge to be immoral, or go out of business. Attacks on religious liberty are dire threats not only to individuals, but also to the institutions of civil society including families, charities, and religious communities. The health and well-being of such institutions provide an indispensable buffer against the overweening power of government and is essential to the flourishing of every other institution -- including government itself -- on which society depends.



Unjust Laws

As Christians, we believe in law and we respect the authority of earthly rulers. We count it as a special privilege to live in a democratic society where the moral claims of the law on us are even stronger in virtue of the rights of all citizens to participate in the political process. Yet even in a democratic regime, laws can be unjust. And from the beginning, our faith has taught that civil disobedience is required in the face of gravely unjust laws or laws that purport to require us to do what is unjust or otherwise immoral. Such laws lack the power to bind in conscience because they can claim no authority beyond that of sheer human will.

Therefore, let it be known that we will not comply with any edict that compels us or the institutions we lead to participate in or facilitate abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that violates the principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every member of the human family.

Further, let it be known that we will not bend to any rule forcing us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality, marriage, and the family.

Further, let it be known that we will not be intimidated into silence or acquiescence or the violation of our consciences by any power on earth, be it cultural or political, regardless of the consequences to ourselves.

We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar's. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God's.

 

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Sandro Magister. "The "Manhattan Declaration": The Manifesto That's Shaking America." Chiesa.com (November 25, 2009).

Reprinted with permission from Sandro Magister.

THE AUTHOR

Sandro Magister manages Chiesa and write from Rome.

Copyright © 2009 Chiesa




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