Cardinal: ‘We stand with our Muslim sisters & brothers’

CARDINAL THEODORE McCARRICK has long been in the media spotlight as a major Catholic leader in the U.S. In this 2001 photo, he greets Admiral William Fallon, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, at the close of the first Sunday Mass following the September 11 terrorist attacks. (U.S. Navy photo by Michael Pendergrass; shared via Wikimedia Commons.)CAREER IN CATHOLIC EDUCATION & IMMIGRATION ISSUES

Before I became editor of ReadTheSpirit in 2007, I worked for many years reporting on religion in major American newspapers. I covered now-Emeritus Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in his work with the national conference of bishops, especially on the Catholic church’s long-standing advocacy for immigrants and ethnic minorities around the world. His passion, this week, on behalf of our Muslim neighbors is fueled by more than a century of Catholic advocacy on these issues, combined with nearly 50 years of bridges the Vatican has built to Judaism and Islam. This was not one Catholic cleric voicing a personal opinion. This was a major leader in the worldwide, 1-billion-member Catholic church testifying before Congress based on assumptions that are at the core of the church’s approach toward Islam, immigration and cultural diversity. It was a landmark rebuke of bigotry in American politics from the highest levels of the world’s largest organized religious group.
David Crumm, Editor of ReadTheSpirit

IN FEBRUARY, ReadTheSpirit reported on the U.S. Rep Peter King hearings that were widely criticized as a “Muslim witchhunt.” And, Dr. Wayne Baker in wrote a week-long series about the King controversy, drawing lots of spirited comments from readers.

TODAY, we are publishing Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s public testimony before the U.S. Senate on March 29, 2011. Please, we invite you to click the Facebook “recommend” link at the end of this text and share it with friends. Or, email friends with a link to this text. The URL is shown above; or there’s an “email this article” link below. Do a good deed for diversity today—spread the word.

Testimony by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick
Archbishop Emeritus of Washington

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
before the Senate Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate
Subcommittee on The Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights
“Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims”
March 29, 2011

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the subcommittee, allow me to thank you for the invitation and opportunity to be with you today to offer testimony. As Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Washington, I am here today representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. … (My) testimony places the treatment of American Muslims in the broader context of religious liberty from the perspective of our rich American tradition and our Catholic teaching and experience. As a community that has been the target of religious discrimination, we understand the need today to bring attention to protecting the civil rights of our Muslim brothers and sisters.

We see religious freedom as an essential foundation for our life together in our own nation and across the globe. Over time, we have made much progress together, but we fear this shared foundation is being weakened and undermined by religious prejudice, unwise policies, and polarizing words and tactics which divide us. Most appallingly, religious freedom is destroyed by attacks on people in some countries because of their religion and by the terrible misuse of religion to incite hatred and even justify violence.


Sadly, this fundamental betrayal of religious belief, attacking those of differing religious perspectives in the name of religion, can sometimes be used to promote suspicion and fear of all people associated with a particular religious tradition. This kind of generalized religious prejudice is wrong and unjust and a clear violation of religious freedom. A justified concern for security and the appropriate pursuit of those who pervert religion to attack others cannot be allowed to turn into a new form of religious discrimination and intolerance. This is why we stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters in defense of their dignity and rights, just as we welcome and expect their reciprocity and solidarity with us when the rights of Christians and other religious groups are violated around the world.


In our pluralistic society, religious values and commitments are assets for the common good, not sources of division or conflict. American history demonstrates how people of many religious traditions have contributed greatly to the betterment of the country. The abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement drew on the leadership of diverse religious traditions coming together. It is our respective faiths that lead us to care for the poor, educate the young and heal the sick in services that enrich our nation and strengthen our society.


In our work on religious freedom, we listen carefully to and hear the pleas of those who suffer persecution and discrimination. Today, we note with particular sadness that Muslim Americans, with whom we have had a positive dialogue for over two decades, have had their loyalty and beliefs questioned publicly in sweeping and uninformed ways. This compels us to reach out in solidarity and support of their dignity and rights as Americans and believers. We worry about the rhetoric and actions that target our Muslim neighbors and friends. From the sometimes imbalanced criticism and hurtful words leveled at the Muslim community over the planned building of the Park 51 mosque in New York, to the public burning of the Koran by a Christian minister, to the defacing of a mosque in Oregon following the interruption of a planned terrorist attack, Muslim Americans are increasingly facing unjust acts of discrimination and prejudice. Like our own historical experience, their very loyalty as Americans and their traditions and values are being questioned.


We recognize that people of other religious traditions, and people who do not share a belief in God, also can face criticism and bias in the larger society for their beliefs. It is the duty of the Church to urge all people of good will to avoid all forms of religious bigotry, bias and hateful words that injure the dignity of persons and disrespect their religious convictions. We remain firmly committed to the defense of religious liberty for all—not just for Catholics—because our commitment is to the dignity of each and every human person.

At the same time, we recognize that not every charge of wrong-doing against people or groups within a religious community amounts to religious discrimination, bias or bigotry. Religious beliefs are no excuse for threatening others with or carrying out acts of violence. At this particular moment in our nation’s history, we face a real threat to our national security from one kind of terrorism that has its origins in a particular form of extremist ideology that holds itself out as authentic Islam. These pervasive threats endanger people both in this country and abroad. We cannot pretend that these threats do not exist. Our government has a duty to understand these threats and confront them effectively in order to keep our people safe and to promote and defend the common good of all.

The legitimate concern for the public order, however, must be pursued with effectiveness, skill and respect for religious liberty. In particular, we need to avoid generalizing about Islam based solely on the extreme views and conduct of a small group of radical extremists. These unfounded generalizations and efforts to fan the flames of fear are wrong and unjustified, but are especially inappropriate and hurtful when expressed by leaders in public life. These attacks are a grave injustice against the vast majority of Muslims in the United States who are loyal and productive members of our American society.


Our American experience demonstrates that religious pluralism contributes positively to the common good and moral fabric of the nation and the global community. We live and work alongside others of different beliefs or no belief at all. Global communications makes us a virtual village. Increased immigration makes us actual neighbors. These new realities can lead to either greater respect for others of differing religious belief or to potentially destructive conflicts. The challenge and struggle today is to continue to build a culture of respect for religious freedom as a guarantor of human dignity and a contributor to the justice of our nation and the peace of our world.

For the Catholic bishops, religious freedom and its absence have many expressions. Our own history as an immigrant people and religious minority has its own stories of suspicion, discrimination and intolerance. These are not merely a thing of the past. For example, the identity and integrity of our Catholic institutions can be undermined when the state tries to limit religious freedom by defining too narrowly what is “religious”  or  requires religious institutions to violate their moral convictions on human life or the definition of marriage in order to participate in public programs to assist the poor. These threats to religious practice now come less from sectarian religious bias and more from radical secularism that promotes unlimited “freedom” but would deny it to religious institutions that have differing moral convictions flowing from their faith.  

As pastors within a universal Church, we hear the cries and share the pain of believers around the world who suffer persecution, violence and discrimination simply because of their religious identity. In the last year alone, we have seen dramatic examples of the persecution of Catholic and other Christian communities around the globe: the New Year’s bombing of a Coptic Church in Egypt; the Christmas Eve bombings of Christian churches in Nigeria; and the October 31 attack on worshipers at the Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad. This March, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister of Minority Affairs, was assassinated at the hands of Muslim extremists. Mr. Bhatti was a Roman Catholic who advocated for tolerance and religious freedom for all religious minorities in Pakistan. For this courageous witness he was brutally murdered.

We appreciate the many sincere expressions of sympathy and condemnation that came from our dialogue partners in the Muslim community—the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). They have stood with us as trusted allies in speaking out against violence and in defense of religious freedom. Solidarity among people of every religion in the face of attacks on people of any one religion is respect for religious freedom in action.


As a religious community, our Catholic faith commits us to defend and promote the right to religious freedom for all as a moral priority and human responsibility. This common commitment to religious freedom is at the heart of American life. It is also an example to a world where too many doubt that people of different religions can live together in peace and mutual respect. As other countries wrestle with how to treat religious minorities, let them look to our nation where we work to ensure that their Muslim sisters and brothers are treated with dignity and their religious identity and beliefs are treated with respect. Let them see a people blessed with hard won religious freedom living out our commitment to the rights of all by demonstrating full respect for the identity, integrity and freedom of all religions.

CARE TO READ MORE? ReadTheSpirit also hosts a section, Sharing Islam, which publishes stories by and about Muslims in America. We also publish the Interfaith Heroes series of books, which profile men and women from many different faiths who have reached across religious boundaries—as Cardinal McCarrick has in this case—to promote peace.

We want our international conversation to continue

Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture. So, please, email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think of our stories—and, please tell a friend to start reading along with you!

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(Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.)

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