Christians in Iraq forced to flee terror, archbishop says
Seeking to show universal concern for religious freedom, the nation’s Catholic bishops discussed Thursday federal government policies that they say redefine ministry, but also heard a plea from an Iraqi archbishop who said his country’s Christians are being killed or forced to flee.
“As leaders of the church in the United States, you bear a special responsibility toward the people and Christians of Iraq. In 2003 your country led the war that brought some terrible consequences,” said Bishop Schlemon Warduni, an auxiliary bishop of Babylon of the Chaldeans. His nation has gone from one where Christians and Muslims were friends to one where churches are bombed and clergy kidnapped, tortured and killed, he said.
“No more war, no more death, no more explosions, no more injustice,” he told the bishops, who were gathered in Atlanta for their semiannual meeting.
They devoted two hours to religious freedom, with much discussion on their fight against a federal rule that doesn’t exempt Catholic agencies from a mandate to provide free contraceptives to employees. They stressed that persecution overseas is far worse than any difficulties they face. But several speakers warned that America may be on a slippery slope to marginalizing faith.
Thomas Farr, a former director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, argued that the freedom to publicly debate and change religious views is necessary for a stable, just civil society.
But such freedom is in “global crisis,” he said. According to recent studies from the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where religious freedom is highly restricted, and those restrictions are growing.
Hostility toward people of faith is rising rapidly in Western Europe, although the forms it takes are mild compared to the violence in some other nations, he said.
The problem, he said, is “a belief that religious freedom is not only unnecessary for human flourishing or social development, but that it poses a threat to these and other goods.” Despots from Stalin to Saddam Hussein acted on that premise, he said. [More]