Rights, Privileges, and Allegiances

“We Catholics,” concluded Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, “and here I am sure I speak, too, for other Christians and all people of faith — do not demand special privileges, but we do claim our rights. We come not to impose, but to serve, according to our beliefs; and to be given the freedom and support to do so, as long as these do not undermine the rights and freedoms of others.” (Zenit)

I know that Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor is probably better known for his platitudes than his incisive commentary, but I reckon thems fighting words. Possibly the addition of the “as long as” clause at the end blunts the cutting edge of the statement a bit (it is, after all, presupposed in the “we come not to impose” statement). Nevertheless, let this be heard: It is our right and our duty to serve our society according to our beliefs.

Of course one has great sympathy for the good Cardinal. He is, after all, the highest ranking Catholic in a country in which it was once a capital offense of treason to be Catholic. When emancipation was finally granted in 1830, it perhaps did seem to the government of the day that they were extending a privilege rather than a right. It seems that in politics, one can never quite shake that uncomfortable feeling that Catholics, for all their protestations of loyalty, do not ultimately give their highest allegiance to the state.

Fr Neuhaus, over on the First Things site, has been musing about a recent statement of the British Prime Minister that is not unrelated. Tony Blair had said:

But when it comes to our essential values-belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage-then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common; it is what gives us the right to call ourselves British. At that point no distinctive culture or religion supersedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom.

As Fr Neuhaus says, “No Christian who thought about it carefully could subscribe to such a statement.”

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