February 2003 Church & State | People & Events

White House Official Promotes Faith-Based Plan At Moon Event

The White House is wooing a new ally in the drive for its "faith-based" initiative: controversial Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon.

James Towey, director of the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, spoke at a December conference in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Arlington, Va., sponsored by the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, a Moon front group.

Towey called the faith-based initiative "the centerpiece of the president's domestic policy" and said the administration opposes the "near relentless effort to sanitize the public square of all religious influences."

Moon has repeatedly used the "faith-based" initiative as a means to recruit support among local clergy, especially African-American ministers. (See "Moon Shadow," June 2001 Church & State.) Observers say Towey's appearance will greatly bolster that outreach.

A report on the conference appeared in the Moon-owned Washington Times newspaper. According to the account, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) also spoke.

Davis endorsed the faith-based plan, telling attendees, "God gets a great deal of lip service in this world. God has prescribed laws of behavior, and the central of these are love and justice."

Moon himself also took to the podium. Moon, who believes he is a new messiah sent to complete the failed mission of Jesus Christ, called for all religions to work together. Under Unification theology, all religions are to merge into one faith with Moon as the world's spiritual leader.

"It is time to overcome the hypocritical faith in God's name that lacks true love and abandon all selfish works that violate original human rights and result in injustice," said Moon. "It is most important that the various religions achieve harmony with each other and provide a model for the world."

During the lengthy address, Moon also claimed that his comments came not from research or personal opinion but "through experience, as I overcame all manner of difficulties and communed with God and spirit world."

Moon and his wife consider themselves the "True Parents" of mankind, viewing themselves as a kind of reincarnated Adam and Eve. During his remarks, Moon referenced this, telling the crowd, "God's purpose is to establish a restored Adam and Eve, or True Parents, centering on true love. It is to establish the original true world by having them receive the marriage blessing. Once that is accomplished, their true family will be the point of origin for true tribes, peoples, nations and the world."

Moon's influence with the Bush administration may only continue to escalate. In December, Bush appointed a Moon operative, David Caprara, to head AmeriCorps VISTA, the national community service organization.

Caprara formerly ran the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and also worked at a Moon front group called the American Family Coalition. He frequently appears at Moon events, most recently speaking at an Oct. 29 ministers' workshop in Ocean City, Md., that was sponsored by yet another Moon-related group, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

In other news about Moon:Moon continues to convene conferences in the "spirit world" during which famous historical figures renounce their former faith and beliefs and swear fealty to Moon. The Washington Times on Dec. 28 ran an advertisement from the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification featuring three of these testimonies from St. Anselm, Thomas Paine and President Rutherford B. Hayes.

The Unification Church claims that during "spirit world" conferences last year, Jesus Christ, Confucius, Muhammad, St. Paul, Martin Luther, St. Augustine, the Buddha, several Hindu leaders and others pledged allegiance to Moon and offered personal testimonies.

The new round of testimonies featured more of the same. Paine, for example, asserted, "If Americans do not want to become eternal wanderers they must follow the teachings of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who is on earth. He possesses a fundamental philosophy to save not only America but also all humanity."

Paine, best known as the author of the pamphlet "Common Sense," which helped spur revolutionary fervor, noted that there is "freedom of the press in this place but I am sad that the limitation of time prevents me from fully expressing my excitement."

Hayes, the 19th president of the United States, called out, "People of earth! People of America! I cannot record here everything that I have experienced. I can only say that the Unification Principle is a great truth and that it is unmistakable that the Rev. Sun Myung Moon holds all the keys to human salvation and peace."

Pat Robertson Partner Charles Taylor Funded Al-Qaeda, Report Says

Liberian President Charles Taylor, a business partner of TV preacher Pat Robertson, helped fund al-Qaeda terrorists by giving them safe harbor in his country during a diamond-buying spree, investigators in Europe have charged.

Investigators looking into a connection between al-Qaeda and Taylor determined that terrorists were active in the region for at least two months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. Investigators charged that three highly placed al-Qaeda operatives, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, moved about in Liberia and nearby Burkina Faso, buying diamonds that were later used to fund terrorist activities. The trio was later joined by other a-Qaeda terrorists, who moved in and out of Liberia at will.

The Washington Post reported that the investigators believe that Taylor, Liberia's dictator, received a $1 million payoff for harboring the terrorists. Al- Qaeda operatives apparently began smuggling diamonds in the region after the U.S. government froze the group's American assets in September of 1998, following the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Key al-Qaeda terrorists stepped up their activity in Liberia just before the Sept. 11 attacks. In July of 2001, an al- Qaeda leader flew to Burkina Faso with $1 million that was eventually turned over to Taylor. According to the report from European investigators, the money was to pay Taylor "to hide the two al- Qaeda operatives in Camp Gbatala," a military facility near a farm Taylor owns.

Robertson has been in business with Taylor since 1999, when he formed a company called Freedom Gold Limited. The company, although chartered in the Cayman Islands, operates out of Robertson's Virginia Beach headquarters. Robertson's agreement with Taylor gives Freedom Gold the right to mine for gold in southeastern Liberia. If any gold is found, Taylor's government will pocket royalty fees.

Taylor, considered one of the most brutal dictators in the world, is an international pariah who has been accused of looting the impoverished west African nation for personal gain. Last year, he appeared at a "Liberia for Jesus" rally in the nation's capital of Monrovia, where he proclaimed that the country was under the rule of Jesus Christ. The event, which Robertson helped organize, received coverage on the televangelist's Christian Broadcasting Network.

Robertson has also tried, without success, to convince the U.S. government to ally with Taylor. He lobbied the State Department to lift its ban on Taylor and allow him to visit the United States and in June of 2002 went so far as to write to Secretary of State Colin Powell, demanding to know why the United States has not backed Taylor in his struggle against an armed opposition movement called Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy.

At the time Robertson wrote the letter, U.S. intelligence officials were already looking into a connection between Taylor and al-Qaeda. Although Taylor has denied being tied to al-Qaeda, investigators say the connection is well established. Observers speculate that the new information may lead to further U.S. sanctions against the country.

'Amoeba'-Like Split By Religious Right Haunts Michigan GOP

  A heavily Republican county in Michigan is still reeling from TV preacher Pat Robertson's presidential campaign in 1988, with warring GOP factions battling for control of the party.

Oakland County, just northwest of Detroit, is one of the five most Republican counties in the nation. Yet, according to an account in the conservative newspaper Human Events, local Republicans "are not happy with their party."

The conflict stems from 1988, when, as the paper put it, "Michigan Republicans split like a giant amoeba and sent two delegations to the national party convention (one favoring the elder George Bush, the other for Pat Robertson)...." Religious conservatives, Human Events says, believe that current county GOP chair L. Brooks Patterson is "hostile to their candidates and causes."

In November, the county's GOP leaders met to elect a new executive committee. Religious Right activists stacked the meeting and elected former Michigan Christian Coalition head Tom McMillin as chair over Patterson. McMillin then adopted new rules making it easier for him to appoint fellow social conservatives on the committee.

Members of the Republican old guard were furious over the changes and stormed out of the meeting en masse. They later gathered in a rump caucus and began operating as the county party's true executive committee. McMillin and his supporters filed suit in state court, but a three-judge panel rejected the case.

Patterson attempted to heal the rift by stepping down as party chairman. The executive committee then elected Paul Welday, an aide to U.S. Rep. Joe Kollenberg (R-Mich.) as chair. Welday in turn appointed the Rev. Keith Butler, a McMillin aide, as the party's publicity chair.

In other Christian Coalition news:The Christian Coalition of Alabama is taking credit for electing a Republican to the governorship. Although the organization claims to be non-partisan, the Coalition commissioned a study after the November election that concluded that its voter guides helped Republican Bob Riley defeat Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman.

The Coalition claims its voter guides helped sway women from Siegelman toward Riley. "The most important conclusion drawn...is that the Gubernatorial Election would have definitely gone to Don Siegelman had it not been for the Christian Coalition Voter Guide and other efforts," read the report.

A Coalition critic said the report was telling. "The issue is not about who won or lost the election," the Rev. James L. Evans, pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala., wrote in the Montgomery Advertiser. "The problem is a Christian group claiming one thing and doing another. On the one hand the Coalition claims they are a non-partisan Christian group. Then with the other hand they brag that their voter guides contributed to a particular outcome. As my grandpa used to say, 'you can't hit what you are shooting at if you don't aim at it.'"

Falwell Fibs About Alleged Calif. Public School Christmas Ban

In mid December, TV preacher Jerry Falwell sent out an e-mail alert asserting that public schools in Sacramento, Calif., had issued an order to teachers informing them that they were not to utter the word "Christmas" in class.

"Imagine that," Falwell wrote to his supporters. "Christmas banned in a public school classroom. This interdiction is actually quite predictable because the word Christmas and the concept of a holiday bearing the name of Christ contradicts the situation ethics that pervades many public school classrooms. If there is no true right and wrong, there must not be a notion of a Savior or the need of a Savior."

It was an inflammatory charge that probably stirred up thousands of Falwell's followers. But there was one drawback: It seems to have no basis in fact. The alleged ban on Christmas in Sacramento never happened.

Falwell said the ban involved a "veteran first-grade teacher who was informed this week that she could not mention the word 'Christmas' in her Sacramento public school classroom." He gave no other details. The story popped up in other Religious Right publications in December, but it appears to be entirely without foundation.

Contacted by Americans United, officials at the Sacramento City Unified School District said no such order had been issued. In a fax to Americans United, school officials wrote, "We have no knowledge of any teacher being told not to say 'Christmas.' We've asked Personnel, Legal and elementary school associate superintendents. Also, no local media calls have been received. No memos pertaining to holidays were sent to schools this year."

Opponents of the Religious Right were also suspicious of the story because it sounded very familiar to a claim going around in far-right circles six years ago that public education officials in Alaska had banned the phrase "Merry Christmas" from schools. In 1997, an official with the Alaska Department of Education told Americans United that the claim was bogus and that no such directive was ever issued.

In other news about the Religious Right:A state legislator in Georgia has introduced a bill that would require any woman who wants to get an abortion to first go through a trial and have a judge sign a death warrant for an "execution" of the fetus.

State Rep. Bobby Franklin, a Republican from suburban Atlanta, remarked, "For the last 30 years, these little boys and girls have been receiving the death sentence, but there hasn't been a trial. They've been put to death without any due process. These are little boys and girls that we need to protect."

Even abortion opponents in Georgia criticized the bill. "I understand the sentiment expressed in the bill, I just don't know if it's the best approach," said Randy Hicks of the Georgia Family Council.

But at least one Religious Right leader seemed open to the idea and gave it favorable mention. Ken Connor of the Family Research Council wrote in The Pastor's Weekly Briefing, a publication of Focus on the Family, that felons convicted of serious crimes receive due process before being executed yet "every day, the innocent unborn are killed in abortion clinics without even the pretense of due process."

Evangelicals have made a negative impact on non-Christians, a new poll shows. Pollster George Barna found that non-Christians gave "evangelical" Christians a 22 percent approval rating. The poll asked non-Christians to rank 11 types of individuals, among them military officers, ministers, "born-again" Christians, lawyers, evangelicals and prostitutes.

Evangelicals came in 10th place, just above prostitutes. "Born-again" Christians fared better, with a 32 percent approval rating. Toping the list were military officers, with an approval rating of 56 percent.

Vatican May Seek Full Membership In United Nations

The Roman Catholic Church may soon seek full membership in the United Nations, a top church official has indicated.

Currently, the Vatican has permanent observer status at the UN, a status it has held since 1964. In late November, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, said the church is interested in seeking full UN membership, especially if the enhanced status would enable it to perform a peace-keeping role in the world.

The Vatican, Sodano told Corriere della Sera, is studying "possible forms of a greater presence in that assembly." He said that could include full UN membership "if it should be useful."

"In that organization, there were two permanent observers Switzerland and us," Sodano told the newspaper. "Now Switzerland has become a member and we are alone. The form of our presence is an open question."

As a permanent observer, Vatican officials are allowed to take part in UN discussions and debate but do not vote at the general assembly. The Vatican is permitted to vote at UN-sponsored international conferences, where it often sides with hard-line Islamic states to block reproductive rights initiatives. Increasingly, the United States has sided with the Vatican in these votes as well.

Sodano said the Vatican's role at the UN is to undertake "discreet and patient work to promote peace and make the Christian message known."

Other Vatican officials are apparently thinking along the same lines. Archbishop Renato R. Martino, who recently completed a 16-year term as the Vatican's UN representative, was asked by Catholic News Service if the Vatican should seek full membership in the international body. He replied, "I think it's time."

No other religious body has official representation at the United Nations. The Holy See, as the Vatican's operation is known, has diplomatic ties with 170 countries, including the United States.

Church-State Rulings Have Gone Too Far, Scalia Tells Va. Crowd

The Supreme Court has gone too far with its rulings upholding the separation of church and state, Justice Antonin Scalia told a small crowd in Fredericksburg, Va., Jan. 12.

Scalia, speaking at a "Religious Freedom Day" sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Knights Templar, two Roman Catholic fraternal groups, asserted that the nation's founders never meant to "exclude God from the public forums and from political life."

In a 10-minute speech, Scalia endorsed symbolic uses of religion by government, such as "In God We Trust" on currency, chaplains in the military, "non-denominational" prayer before public school sporting events and use of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Scalia said these practices "reflect the true tradition of religious freedom in America a tradition of neutrality among religious faiths. Government will not favor Catholic, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, but the tradition was never that the government had to be neutral between religiousness and non-religiousness."

The justice, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 and a persistent foe of church-state separation on the court, blasted the idea that the Constitution is a "living" document that "morphs...whatever we think it ought to mean, it means and that new meaning will be imposed on our citizens coast to coast." He demeaned those who hold this view as believing that the Constitution is like "Plasticman," a comic book hero who can change his shape.

Ironically, Scalia was in town to mark the anniversary of a 1777 meeting between Thomas Jefferson, George Mason and others that led to the drafting of the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty. That law, drafted by Jefferson, became the basis for the First Amendment's separation of church and state.

Legal observers were particularly galled that during his remarks Scalia criticized a federal court ruling striking down the use of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge. The case is on appeal and could someday reach the Supreme Court. It is highly unusual for Supreme Court justices to announce how they will vote on a case before it reaches the justices.

A lone protestor stood at the back of the crowd hoisting a sign that read, "Get Religion Out of Government." Scalia made note of it, telling the crowd, "The sign back here which says 'Get Religion Out of Government' can be imposed on the whole country. I have no problem with that philosophy being adopted democratically. If the gentleman holding the sign would persuade all of you of that, then we could eliminate 'under God' from the Pledge of Allegiance. That could be democratically done."

Americans United issued a statement calling on Scalia to recuse himself from future church-state cases.

"Supreme Court justices are not supposed to announce their views before a case reaches them," noted Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Since Scalia can't seem to abide by that simple rule, perhaps it's best if he just stayed out of future church-state controversies. It's obvious his mind is made up before he's even heard the argument."

Pa. School District Considers Adding ' Intelligent Design'

Members of the Phoenixville, Pa., School Board have added a sentence to the school's mission statement that one board member hopes might open the door to the teaching of "intelligent design" and creationism.

David M. Langdon, an evangelical Christian who believes in the creation account described in the Book of Genesis, originally introduced a proposal that would have specifically permitted including intelligent design in science classes. Administrators balked at that proposal but did agree to modify the school's mission statement to assert, "Critical thinking, along with objective and thorough investigation of data and theories in all areas of study, is necessary to ensure the success of the educational program."

Langdon sees the move as an opening for intelligent design. Evolution, he said, cannot be proven. "By and large, evolution denies any view of God being involved in the creation of any form of life on earth," he told the Phoenixville News. "One is a theistic view and one is an atheistic viewpoint."

Langdon told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he would press teachers to present "both sides" of the issue of evolution and said teachers should instruct about "the problems with evolution." He added that he would like to see district teachers trained in how to "present ideas that are controversial in many different areas [such as] same-sex adoption and gay marriage. You need to hear both sides to make a good, honest decision."

Teaching intelligent design, Langdon insisted, does not promote religion. "It just says there is a higher intelligent power that started all this it doesn't promote any one religion or religion in general."

Frank Fish, a biology professor at nearby West Chester University of Pennsylvania, said Langdon had oversimplified the matter. Fish pointed out that among scientists, evolution is not considered controversial and that intelligent design has little support in the academic community.

"It's just creationism wrapped up in another guise, and that's all there really is to it," Fish told the News. "The question becomes, 'Is it a scientifically valid theory?' The emphasis there is science, 'Is it science?' It's not. We're talking faith; we're talking religion, and that is outside the way science conducts itself."

Robb S. Frees, president of the school board, said he backs Langdon and the new approach.

"There are holes in the theory of evolution, there are holes in creationism and there are holes in intelligent design," he told the Inquirer. "None of them is definitive. When presented professionally and it's the administration's job to monitor that I believe it can be beneficial to have all viewpoints presented."

Iranian Students Debate Need For Separation Of Religion, Government

Iranian students studying to be Islamic clerics are beginning to debate a question that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: Is it time to separate religion and state?

The debates are taking place among students in Qom, a desert community 90 miles south of the Iranian capital of Tehran. Religion News Service reported in December that young men from all over Iran flock to the city to study Islam at the city's theological schools, or hozahs, hoping to become spiritual leaders known as ayatollahs.

Surprisingly, not all of the students and instructors believe that Iran should be a "faith-based" Islamic state.

"I think the influence of religion will pale in Iran's future politics," said Hojatol-Islam Mohammad Taqi Fazel-Meibodi, a prominent cleric in Qom. "The youth feel that our attempt at merging religion and government has failed. And the hozah will be forced to listen to them. At any case, neither of us can go it alone."

Ayatollah Seyed Hussain Mousavi Tabrizi, a lawyer and religious leader who favors reform, said the question divides Qom's students.

"There are two lines of thinking here," he said. "The first group thinks religion must meddle in every little detail of government affairs and people's lives and the leader has God-like powers."

Continued Mousavi Tabrizi, "The second group, like myself, thinks there is no mandate in Islam to dictate how a president or parliament or army should operate; the will and vote of the people must decide who shall run a country and how. It is written in a hundred places in the Koran that the will of the people must be implemented. Any other way is not only illegal but against Islam, and such a system is bound for failure."

To be sure, there is still much opposition to separation of mosque and state in Iran. Hardliners are well represented in parliament and view talk of separation as a betrayal of Islam.

"These talks are utterly unacceptable and un-Islamic," Mohammad Mohammadi, a member of parliament, asserted. "Islam does not need to be reformed or changed. Neither does our system. There is a minority making noise about this, but it's pointless, and they are digging their own graves. I'm sure they are being guided by a foreign enemy."

But demographic trends at work in Iran could give the young people the final say. The country's population is overwhelmingly young; 70 percent are under the age of 30. Lately, young adults, including many university students, have been agitating for change.

In December, thousands of students marched in Tehran, protesting a death sentence given to Hashem Aghajari, a popular instructor at Tehran University and advocate of reform.

Thanks to satellite television and the Internet, young adults in Iran are getting a taste of Western-style freedoms and they apparently like what they see. During the protest, one student, Sajad Ghorghi, 22, told The New York Times that young people would not create disturbances "if they had basic freedoms, such as wearing what they wish, listening to music or if men and women could freely mingle and have normal lives."

Another student, 24-year-old Reza Delbari, complained then when he graduates he can look forward to a low-paying job and added, "Then I have to be intimidated and humiliated every day by people who want to say what is religiously right. We cannot even decide for our own future."

Religious Right Reps. Gear Up For Big Push In Mo. Legislature

A band of newly elected Religious Right legislators many affiliated with conservative Baptist churches is gearing up to push a social-issues agenda in the Missouri legislature.

Seven conservative Baptists were elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in November, reported The Pathway, a Baptist newspaper in the state. The seven join five previously elected Baptists who are expected to join forces with social conservatives from other denominations to push a Religious Right-style agenda.

"We're seeing a bellwether change in Missouri politics," said Rep. Ron Jetton, who serves as speaker pro tem of the House. "I believe we can have a huge impact on legislation."

Continued Jetton, "And I will be working for a constitutional amendment to allow voluntary prayer in schools. I couldn't even get a hearing on this legislation last session."

The social conservatives also plan to push new curbs on abortion and curtail funding for the arts. Rep. Cynthia Davis noted she attended an orientation session in Kansas City after her election.

"They were trying to convince us we need to support the arts and culture," she said. "I told them I didn't understand why we were being asked to support public pornography."

Davis noted that the state is experiencing budgetary woes and added, "I see it as an opportunity to come in and cut and slash programs that are eroding the moral structure of what people have been trying to build."

Several of the representatives said they are convinced that God helped them win.

"I prayed about it," remarked Davis. "And I do believe that God affects the outcome of elections. I believe He puts people in positions in times like this to help shape the future of the state."

Another new representative, Mike Cunningham, said he prayed the "Prayer of Jabez" before starting his campaign.

"The prayer talks about expanding our territory, and I figured this was a way of doing it," he said.

N.J. Appeals Court OKs Barring Overtly Religious From Juries

Prosecutors in New Jersey can bar people who appear to be overtly religious from serving on a jury, a state appeals court has ruled.

The court, ruling 2-1 on Dec. 31, rejected a challenge brought by Lloyd Fuller, a 22-year-old Newark man sentenced to 10 years in prison after he robbed a Chinese restaurant. During Fuller's trial, prosecutors refused to consider two potential jurors one man who said he had served as a missionary and another man who wore a long black robe and a skullcap. Neither man was asked about his religious beliefs, but the prosecutor later said that the man in the robe was "obviously a Muslim."

The prosecutor defended his actions, telling the trial judge that "people who tend to be demonstrative about their religions tend to favor defendants to a greater extent than do persons who are, shall we say, not as religious. They may very well tend to be more accepting of a person's professions of innocence in the face of facts to the contrary."

Fuller's attorneys argued that excluding potential jurors on the basis of religion violated his 14th Amendment right to equal protection. But the court majority disagreed.

Appellate Judge Joseph F. Lisa said the prosecutor's actions were permissible, writing, "Baptists constitute a clearly defined group, a creed or denomination sharing common religious principles. Thus exclusion based upon membership in this group is properly prohibited. The exclusion of [the Muslim], however, was not based on his presumed membership in the Muslim faith. If it were, the exclusion would be constitutionally impermissible. The prosecutor believed, from the manner of [the man's] dress, that he was likely to be 'very devout in his faith.' The prosecutor further believed that people who tend to be demonstrative about their religions tend to be defense-oriented."

Dissenting Judge Jose L. Fuentes argued that the prosecutor's action had violated the religious freedom rights of potential jurors, asserting that "crucifixes, yarmulkes and other forms of religious expression and symbols of affiliation would be transformed into per se indicias of juror disqualification."

The decision in State of New Jersey v. Fuller is expected to be appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Vatican Tells Catholic Politicians To Uphold Church Teaching

The Vatican has told Roman Catholic politicians that they have "the right and the duty" to uphold church teachings on bioethics, reproductive choice, the family and other issues governed by moral law.

With the approval of Pope John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Jan. 16 published a 19-page "Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life" addressed to Catholic bishops as well as politicians and other laity involved in public life.

"A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals," the document said.

Issues subject to moral law, it said, are those involving bioethics, abortion, euthanasia, experiments on human embryos, Catholic education, the protection of minors, drug abuse, prostitution, religious freedom, economic development, justice and peace. There was no direct reference to cloning, which the Vatican opposes, or to the death penalty or war, both of which it finds acceptable only under extraordinary circumstances.

The document, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who as prefect of the congregation is the Vatican's highest authority on faith and morals, said that the Catholic Church respects the separation of church and state but that moral and ethical values remain transcendent.

"For Catholic moral doctrine, the rightful autonomy of the political or civil sphere from that of religion and the church but not from that of morality is a value that has been attained and recognized by the Catholic Church and belongs to the inheritance of contemporary civilization," it said.

In Washington, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., welcomed the document and said the church owes a "debt of gratitude" to its members who work in the public sector.

"Catholic men and women can make a great contribution to the political sphere by their participation, and by bringing to that process their properly informed convictions based in moral principles and essential values which are rooted in our nature as human beings and in our Catholic faith," Gregory said.

He cautioned, however, that Catholic politicians "cannot subscribe" to any value that embraces "moral relativism" by denying the "non-negotiable" ethical principles espoused by the Vatican document.

In an apparent attack on the imposition of strict Sharia law in some Islamic countries, the document said, "In practice, the identification of religious law with civil law can stifle inalienable human rights."

But it rejected the view that "ethical pluralism is the very condition for democracy."

"Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society," it said.

The document noted that today's political leaders must grapple with problems "never faced by past generations." They will succeed only to the extent that they base their actions on "the centrality of the human person," it said.

"Legislative proposals are put forward which, heedless of the consequences for the existence and future of human beings with regard to the formation of culture and social behavior, attack the very inviolability of human life," it said. "Catholics, in this difficult situation, have the right and the duty to recall society to a deeper understanding of human life and to the responsibility of everyone in its regard.

"In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person," the document said. It criticized laws allowing abortion and euthanasia, but not "extraordinary treatments, which is morally legitimate," and stressed "the duty to respect and protect the rights of the human embryo."

The document said that Catholic politicians must safeguard and promote traditional, monogamous marriage "in the face of modern laws on divorce" and give no legal recognition to "other forms of cohabitation."

It asserted the "inalienable right" of parents to freedom over the education of their children and the need for society to protect minors and provide protection from drug abuse and prostitution, which it called "modern forms of slavery."

"In addition," it said, "there is the right to religious freedom and the development of an economy that is at the service of the human person and of the common good, with respect for social justice, the principles of human solidarity and subsidiary, according to which the rights of all individuals, families and organizations and their practical implementation must be acknowledged."

The document said peace is not a secular value, as "certain pacifistic and ideological visions" may hold, and that it involves questions more complex than "summary ethical judgments" allow.

"Peace is always the work of justice and the effect of charity," it said. "It demands the absolute and radical rejection of violence and terrorism and requires a constant and vigilant commitment on the part of all political leaders." (RNS)