Bishop: Church must continue ‘increasingly unpopular’ advocacy for poor, vulnerable

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SOUTH BEND — On the heels of the United States conference of Catholic bishops’ fall meeting in Baltimore, the chairman of the bishops’ doctrinal committee said the Church is called to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus and the cause of human dignity in a secular world.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend played a key role in drafting the 26-page statement on the Eucharist that the USCCB will vote on during their fall meeting next week, that was at least partially motivated in an attempt to chastise Catholic politicians – including President Joe Biden – who receive Communion.

Though he didn’t mention the matter of Communion, his homily on Thursday opening the annual Fall Conference organized by the Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame turned around the Church’s “increasingly unpopular duty to issue a cry in defense of the most poor and vulnerable: Migrants, the unborn, the disabled, the infirm, and the elderly.”

“This is our duty,” Rhoades told a packed Basilica of the Sacred Heart on campus. “Because the Gospel we proclaim, the Gospel of Life, is the gospel of the dignity of the human person.”

The theme for this year’s conference is “‘I have called you by name,’ human dignity in a secular world.”  Close to 1,000 people have registered to take part in the conference, that has a line-up of some 150 speakers, including this author.

“Human dignity abounds in the stories about Jesus: The good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the widow,” he said during his homily. “Human dignity informs many miracles of Jesus: Healing the infirm, exorcising the possessed, forgiving the adulterous, and ultimately, dying in the Cross for us all. All that Jesus did and said is a reminder of the dignity of the human person.”

“Following Christ, the Church continues this mission and sees in every person, the living image of a God himself,” the prelate said. “The Church recognizes that all human beings have received an incomparable and inalienable dignity from God.”

“Throughout history, and today, the Church has tried to defend human dignity in the face of every attempt to re-dimension or distort its image. Moreover, she has denounced the many violations of human dignity.”

The topic of the conference, Rhoades said, is particularly important in today’s society and culture, where the number of religiously unaffiliated is increasing, adding that he was pointing this out because “ultimately, human dignity is found in the God who created us in His image. We believe in the transcendent dignity of the human person.”

Quoting Pope John Paul II, he said that if people live as though God didn’t exist, the human person and the inviolability of life ends up rejected and compromised.

“We can rejoice in the new prospects for advancing human dignity as a result of scientific and technological progress,” Rhoades said. “Yet at the same time, it is disturbing that such progress can often bring about new forms of attacks on the dignity of the human person. In fact, in our secular age, we see an extraordinary increase in grave threats to the life and dignity of people, especially the defenseless, the unborn, the disabled, the elderly and the poor.” 

Under the scope of defending individual freedom, he said, extreme, materialistic and utilitarian things are justified, even those that were once considered “unethical or even criminal.”

“In our secular age, it has become more difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what pertains to the intrinsic value of human life and dignity,” Rhoades said.

The prelate also said that sometimes, he sees a parallel between the early centuries of the Church and the Church’s situation today: “The Church was a transforming presence in society. Not because of its political power, but for the power of the witness of its members.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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