Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Rhode Island Declaration

(The following was given at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., on October 3, 2010 by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 2 Timothy 1: 6-8; 13-14.)

In place of a regular homily, I want to read to you a document entitled, The Rhode Island Declaration, in the hope that you will consider signing it—as I did several weeks ago.

In today’s second reading, St Paul tells us that we are to “guard” the truth. To guard means to defend: we are to defend the truth when it is attacked or undermined—not by our own power, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, who, as Paul says here “dwells” within us.

The Rhode Island Declaration is a document that was written to defend the truth. It’s based on The Manhattan Declaration, which was drafted several months ago under the leadership of Chuck Colson (some of you will remember him from Watergate), Robert George (a law professor at Princeton University) and Timothy George (the Dean of Beeson Divinity School in Alabama). It was signed by a number of notable people, including Archbishop Dolan of New York and Archbishop Chaput of Denver.

The Rhode Island Declaration, as I said a few moments ago, was based on the Manhattan Declaration and was designed to mobilize support locally for issues relating to the sanctity of human life, marriage and religious freedom.

A number of local college professors, doctors, lawyers and pastors initially signed the document when it first came out—including yours truly!

And here it is:

We are Rhode Islanders who are members of different religious traditions. We address this declaration to all citizens, believers and nonbelievers alike, out of our concern over the serious present-day threats to the natural goods of human life, marriage, and religious liberty—each of which is a gift from the Creator for the common good and well-being of all members of society. We invite all men and women of good will to reflect critically on the issues we address here, and to stand with us—and with many men and women of conscience throughout history—to defend these natural goods in the public forum by way of reasoned argument and lawful political action. our belief in the wisdom of the Creator and the goodness of the created order is the source of our vision and hopeful efforts for a well-ordered society under the rule of law. We cherish the rule of law and we respect the authority of human legislators. We count it as a special privilege to live in a democratic society where the making of law benefits from the rights of all citizens to participate in the political process. Yet even in a democratic regime, laws can be unjust. Such laws lack the power to bind in conscience because they can claim no authority beyond the sheer force of human will. We stand with Dr. Martin Luther King in his appeal to a higher, universal law of justice: “a just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”

Human Life

The lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are increasingly threatened today. 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 in open disregard for the intrinsic worth of every individual human life. Government is very often complicit in these threats to human life—at times in the name of the otherwise commendable goal of defending individual rights. But there can be no right deliberately to take innocent human life. Rather, a primary responsibility of government, indeed of us all, is to protect the weak and vulnerable, especially those whose lives are deemed “unwanted” or too burdensome to warrant protection. We pledge to work unceasingly for the equal protection under law 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 innocent human life and we will support in every possible way those who, in conscience, take the same stand.


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. But this impulse must be resisted. It reflects a loss of understanding of the meaning of marriage, as embodied in our civil law as well as our religious traditions. To yield to it would be to forsake any possibility of rebuilding a healthy marriage culture. It would lock into place the pervasive though false and destructive belief that marriage is only about romance and other adult satisfactions, and not, in any intrinsic way, about the unique character and value of bonds and acts whose meaning is shaped by their aptness for the generation and fostering of life. Marriage is not a “social construction.” It is an objective reality—the faithful union of man and woman, who by their natural complementarity of body and spirit are uniquely endowed for mutual help, and the upbringing and education of children. It is the duty of the law to recognize, honor, and protect this most basic form of human society.

Religious Liberty

Freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely threatened. The threat is evident in efforts to weaken or eliminate conscience protections for healthcare institutions and professionals, and in antidiscrimination 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 immoral, or to go out of business. Attacks on religious liberty are significant threats not only to individuals, but also to the institutions of civil society, including families, charitable organizations, and religious communities. The well-being of such institutions provides an indispensable buffer against excessive governmental power and is essential to the flourishing of every other institution on which society depends, including government itself.

Therefore, we commit ourselves to the promotion and defense of human life at every stage, of marriage as the faithful union of husband and wife, and of the legitimate rights of conscience. Each of these is inviolable. Each is an essential element of human dignity and the common good of society. We shall work unwaveringly in defense of these principles, through education and active participation in the political process, no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We invite all Rhode Islanders to join us in this commitment.

Needless to say, I hope and I pray that you agree with the sentiments expressed in this document (every Catholic should!). And, even more importantly, I hope and pray that you will consider signing it yourself.

Remember, if we don’t guard the truth and defend it, no one else will. And our children—and our children’s children—will suffer the consequences.