1. Secularism (with its pluralistic perspective) itself has truly become part of our cultural climate. Long ago religion was intolerant of it. Maybe we see a kind of “religious indifference” which does not, however, reject spirituality and interests for “ultimate meaning”. It may be a rejection of religion as religion has been so present for … well… centuries. One might say “organized religion”. Well, there is a growing indifference towards certain doctrines and morals expounded by religions.
2. Yes, some say that religion imposes and should set free the “liberty” of people to choose any form of life structures they want. Then they say that whenever something about religion is said it should not be tolerated because it becomes an imposition. Once upon a time religions did not tolerate secularism and even pluralism. Today it is secularism and pluralism that cannot tolerate religions. This reminds me of what Cardinal Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation of Faith, wrote some years back:
“In democratic societies, all proposals are freely discussed and examined. Those who, on the basis of respect for individual conscience, would view the moral duty of Christians to act according to their conscience as something that disqualifies them from political life, denying the legitimacy of their political involvement following from their convictions about the common good, would be guilty of a form of intolerant secularism” (Doctrinal note on Catholic participation in political life #6).
3. When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI he wrote a letter to the members of the International Theological Commission (5 October 2007) Here is part of his letter:
“…humanity or society or indeed the majority of citizens is becoming the ultimate source of civil law. The problem that arises is not, therefore, the search for good but the search for power, or rather, how to balance powers. At the root of this trend is ethical relativism, which some even see as one of the principal conditions for democracy, since relativism is supposed to guarantee tolerance of and reciprocal respect for people. But if this were so, the majority of a moment would become the ultimate source of law. History very clearly shows that most people can err. True rationality is not guaranteed by the consensus of a large number but solely by the transparency of human reason to creative Reason and by listening together to this Source of our rationality”.
4. Indeed Catholics—and people of other religious traditions—can express themselves. Of course they are not to impose. We are so allergic to that, are we not? But to speak out and share their views of ethics and even faith….yes they can share.
5. In the Veritatis splendor of Pope John Paul II and in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (and in some other Church documents) this question of “influencing” society has become a matter of concern. The Church has been accused of imposing too much on society. Indeed, history can prove this. But even this heavily accused Church also knows how to evolve.
6. I used to think, in my younger years, that “I knew better” than the Church. But no, this is stupid. Many Church people are also people who think well and dialogue with the world. Underneath the “stupid” things I used to see in the Church is a well of wisdom. Really. So when it comes to imposition, this is not anymore the style of the Church—at least in terms of documents she publishes. (How she conducts herself, like here in the Philippines, is another story…very sad in some ways….)
7. So in terms of imposition the documents are clear: no force and no imposition. The style now is to “guide the conscience” of the faithful. Hence there is what is called “magisterium” which is actually a “teaching office”. Pope John Paul II wrote: “The Church puts herself always and only at the service of conscience” (Veritatis splendor #64).This is “to obtain the truth with certainty and to abide in it” (Veritatis splendor #64).