Declaration of Dependence

Members of Congress, appointed public officials, political leaders, delegates to the Republican Convention, and all of you, my sisters and brothers in the Lord. It is a great privilege for me to welcome you to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and to celebrate this Mass with you. I hope that your visit to the “City of Brotherly Love” will be pleasant and memorable. Philadelphia is a city prominent in history. It is here that the Second Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. At that moment, Philadelphia became “the Cradle of Liberty.” In 1787, Philadelphia hosted the Constitutional Convention. Here was drafted that document which made this nation great in securing the blessings of liberty to our forefathers and to us, the descendants of those who came to this country in search of new beginnings and new opportunities.

If you visit Independence Hall, where the 1787 Constitutional Convention gave birth to our Constitution, more than likely, the guide will point out to you a carving above George Washington’s presiding chair, a carving known as the “Sun on the Horizon?’ In that historic convention, a delegate, in conversing with Benjamin Franklin, questioned whether the sun was rising or setting. The aged Dr. Franklin, having witnessed the birth of a new nation, one built on liberty with the promise of basic rights for all people, replied unhesitatingly, “It is a rising sun.”

The rising sun heralds the dawn of a new day, a day that is filled with many possibilities, challenges, and opportunities. This year 2000, a great year of jubilee, like the rising sun, heralds the dawn of a new century and a new millennium, a time of new possibilities, challenges, and opportunities—a new beginning. For Christians, this year will see the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. The dawn of the third millennium of Christianity means, for us who are disciples of Christ, that we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to bear the gospel of Jesus Christ into a new and exciting future. This is a time of great grace as men and women throughout our nation are inspired to accept the invitation of Pope John Paul II to participate in the new evangelization.

The pope, in calling for a new evangelization, challenges everyone in the Church to be an evangelizer, that is, to be one who by word and witness brings the good news of the gospel to others, to see to it that gospel values penetrate and infuse all the strata of our society and culture. This entails integrating our whole life with our faith. The Church calls upon each of you—lawmakers, appointed government officials, political leaders—to become evangelizers for justice and for all the eternal values needed for the welfare of our nation.

The pursuit of justice and moral values must be a common labor of religion and of government. The preamble of the United States Constitution includes as the second of the six purposes or goals of the Constitution “the establishment of justice?’ James Madison, called the Father of the Constitution, did not hesitate to declare what principles guided the Founding Fathers: “We have staked the whole of our political institutions upon the capacity of men to govern themselves…according to the Ten Commandments?’

Promotion of moral values—the basis for the achievement of justice—is an urgent challenge in the United States today because of the rapid advancement of technology as well as because of the accelerating changes in lifestyles and conduct spreading throughout this nation. Questions are arising today in numerous areas where changes in values, progress in technology, and skills in science threaten to outrun our wisdom and morality. Whether it be on the right to life of the unborn, new reproductive technology, nuclear arms, new styles of family life, genetic engineering, human cloning, pornography, AIDS, drug abuse, consumerism, euthanasia, teenage pregnancies, racism, refugees, immigrants, poverty, unemployment, urban ills, homelessness, and many other issues, we are dealing with challenges that have deep moral dimensions and, therefore, require the application of Judeo-Christian moral values. Answers must be given, and it is the moral value system flowing from our faith in God that must be the basis for the answers. For it is on the answers given that will depend the quality of life in this nation and perhaps the future of life itself.

Your commitment and that of the Church to the pursuit of social justice and the living of moral values must be even greater today because of the paradox that as progress in technology increases in the world, there is not a corresponding growth in social justice and morality.

What does this evangelization mission on behalf of moral values and social justice mean for you who are legislators and civic leaders? It means that because of your faith in God, because of your position and talents, you have been entrusted with a special and sacred charge to be promoters or evangelizers in the work of being seekers of social justice and protectors of human rights.

In the area of human rights, the challenge to public leaders is awesome. Up to a century ago, much of the life of a community was governed by religious principles and social taboos. Today, the efficacy of religious principles and social taboos has been replaced by the enforcement of legal systems. And so we have instead a greater reliance on penalties and sanctions. Today our social communities are based on legal foundations because that is the only way we can achieve some kind of moralism and some kind of adherence to human rights. In short, the legal system frequently is entrusted with fulfilling the mission of religion in the pursuit of justice and the protection of human moral values. This was dramatically illustrated in the case of the human rights of African Americans in the United States. They effectively won their freedom by their blood and our law. A court of law proved more powerful than the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.

Since much of the evangelizing mission of religious bodies in the ministry of social justice and protection of human rights has passed to lawmakers, government officials, judges, and others in the legal system, you should be prepared for a long and arduous war. I am not a prophet of doom. But even a casual observer of the American scene must admit that the trend today is to eliminate more and more from society and from law those religious-moral values that formerly were conatural to them. The clear trend today is toward a relativist, secular, antireligious, humanistic point of view in society and law. This trend is being accelerated in society, codified in the legislatures, and ratified in the courts.

We have seen this trend in legislation and court decisions regarding unborn babies and, in the latest Supreme Court decision, regarding even babies almost fully born; physician- assisted suicide; homosexuality; obscenity; support of religious schools; divorce; condoms in schools; family life; and in many other areas. Marriage and the traditional family are already under siege through legislation and decisions on domestic partnerships, same-sex unions, and adoption.

Such a trend away from traditional Judeo-Christian values would not be possible, or at least would have greater difficulties in advancing, if people of faith, especially those in the making and deciding of laws, would resist more actively and with greater unity. Right now, those attacking Judeo- Christian values are doing so with almost virtual impunity.

They are winning the battle against these values not because they outnumber us, not because our Judeo-Christian values are false or the rationale for them weak, but because so often we are silent. We all know the warning of Sir Edmund Burke: “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” All of us—religious and government leaders, especially legislators—have to recognize that in this battle, neutrality and passivity are not options.

This morning, I challenge all of you in the political world to enter the battle, to become on behalf of social justice and all public morality evangelizers of our society, of our nation, of our cultures, of our values, of our people. In the development of the social and economic order, in the necessary regulations affecting entertainment and the media, in the support of traditional marriage and family life, in the defense of the unborn, the physically and mentally disabled, the poor, the elderly, and dozens of other areas relating to social justice and to human rights and values, you have the greatest opportunity to be evangelizers and to have the most significant impact.

As faith-filled leaders in government, you have a right and, in fact, an obligation to assert your moral convictions based on the natural or universal law of God as vigorously and as effectively as possible. You must do all in your power to defend these universal moral convictions in the public arena so that, as the Vatican Council declared, “Civil authority may act with justice and laws may conform to moral precepts and the common good.” Whatever you are, whatever you become, elected representatives, judges, government officials, political leaders, whatever your position, in matters of morality you cannot leave your conscience at home. No one else does. A pluralistic society does not require that you change your moral convictions which are based on the universal or natural law or that you be silent about them.

Reflect on the words of St. Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons: “I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first?’ And so also with you—you serve your government and your people best when you serve God first.

Undoubtedly few will change radically the story of evangelization for justice and moral values in the United States, but each of you has the opportunity to change events in a small way. It will be in the totality of those thousands of small changes that will be written the history of freedom and justice for all.

I leave with you the challenging words of St. Augustine: “There will be peace and justice in your heart only as long as faith is watchful. If, however, our faith sleeps, we are in danger.”


  • Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua

    Anthony Joseph Bevilacqua (1923 – 2012) was an American cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Philadelphia from 1988 to 2003, having previously served as Bishop of Pittsburgh. He was created a cardinal in 1991.

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