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VATICAN CITY (CNS) –  The current U.S. debate over religious freedom should inspire Catholics in Europe to seek greater legal protection of their right to conscientious objection, according to a retired Vatican cardinal.

Believers and institutions must have a legal right to invoke conscientious objection when faced with "legislative norms that, because of their moral implications, are in conflict with moral norms officially affirmed by one's religious authorities," said Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, former president of the commission governing Vatican City State.

The cardinal made his remarks in a speech April 17 at the law school of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan. Large sections of his speech were published by L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

Governments must always guarantee "the freedom of the church and its institutions to live and act in conformity with its religious convictions and, at the same time, the freedom of individuals to live and act in conformity with the dictates of their consciences," the cardinal said.

He explained to his audience that his remarks were prompted "most of all by the recent experience in the United States, a country which through the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights was founded precisely on religious freedom."

Cardinal Lajolo said recent U.S. laws and norms on abortion and on not discriminating against same-sex couples when arranging adoptions "place serious problems of conscience before Catholic institutions and Catholic citizens."

The cardinal said the recent federal government's mandate on services that health insurance must cover included "the costs of abortion." In fact, the Health and Human Service mandate would require that most health insurance plans cover the cost of contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can induce abortion.

Cardinal Lajolo said Europeans should not pretend that a similar situation could not develop on the continent. He asked for an "articulated elaboration" of the right of conscientious objection and said legislators must work to include conscience clauses in new laws that could create moral conflicts.

The Catholic Church "does not intend to impose" its moral teaching on society, he said, but it does expect that its moral principles be taken into consideration and that the rights of Catholic institutions and individuals to follow church teaching be guaranteed.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.