Cardinal Theodore McCarrick: Attacking Other People’s Beliefs Is Not Freedom of Speech
Apr 12, 2014
The former Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick says that none of the divine religions permits and discounts the humiliation of the followers and sacraments of other religions and scoffing at what millions of people hold to be sacred and holy is not allowed or commended by any religion.
TEHRAN (FNA)- “There has to be respect for what other people believe. It is almost like you slap somebody on face if you attack what they hold to be sacred, and it is really an attack on the respect that other people deserve. If we believe that we are all brothers and sisters in God’s family, then we must love all brothers and sisters and not treat them as fools, and not attack what they hold to be holy and sacred,” said Cardinal McCarrick in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency.
Theodore Edgar McCarrick is an American Cardinal of the Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 2001. Cardinal McCarrick served as the Auxiliary Bishop of New York, Bishop of Metuchen and Archbishop of Newark before being elected as the Archbishop of Washington by Pope John Paul II in 2000.
Cardinal McCarrick has traveled to so many countries across the world, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Poland, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Switzerland and Iran. On May 16, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI accepted Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation as he had reached the customary age of 75. He is fluent in seven languages, including French, German, Italian and Spanish. In 2003, Cardinal McCarrick headed a delegation of American scholars and religious figures traveling to Iran as a goodwill gesture by the United States aimed at reaching out to the Iranian people.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was one of the first American figures who appeared on the U.S. media to condemn and speak out against the devilish plan by the American pastor Terry Jones to burn copies of the Holy Quran in 2010.
Cardinal McCarrick took part in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency and responded to our questions about the decline of moral and religious values in the secular societies, inter-faith and interreligious dialog and promoting it, discrimination against the religious minorities and anti-religious bigotry and blasphemy. What follows is the text of the interview.
Q: Your Eminence, the moral values have begun declining in the recent years. Such practices as abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality are being legalized and permitted in different Western countries. What’s the church’s attitude towards these new developments? Is it permissible according to the church’s teachings that two people of the same gender get married to each other? Isn’t this contrary to the human spirit and dignity?
A: Our teachings have not changed through all the years since the gospel. As you say, we certainly believe in marriage as a union of a man and a woman; a union that lasts forever and given to us by God by which we can bring children to this world. If two people of the same sex get married, this is something which the church certainly does not teach and this is not a way of marriage. I think the church, under the fraternal directions of Pope Francis, believes that we don’t condemn anybody because we are all sinful people and we are doing the best we can, but as far as the teaching goes, we have to teach that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that abortion is taking the innocent life of a baby and euthanasia is taking the life of an older person whose life depends on God, not on us. So these new developments are not happily considered by the church and not by the teachings of Islam, either.
Q: So, what’s your suggestion and what are the practical solutions to such problems that have emerged in the contemporary era, especially in the developing and industrialized world?
A: I think we have to continue teaching and teach better. I think for a long time, since the 1960s, there has been a great revolution in the world being anti-authority and people do not accept any ancient authority and any authority that comes from a cultural background, and I think because of that, so many things that we know, we teach and we believe are important and good and come from God are seen as not being valuable. This is the new thinking, that nothing is important and that everybody can go their own way and make their own decision as to what is right and what is wrong. But church teaches, and Islam teaches that we have a rule to follow, a rule that the Prophet (PBUH) taught in a strong way as a correct morality. The Jesus has taught the same thing so the church finds itself teaching what it has always taught, saying to people that we are not condemning you as individuals, but we are saying that we do not believe what you are doing is right.
Q: Cardinal McCarrick, what’s your viewpoint regarding the weakening and enfeeblement of the ethical values and belief in God among the youths, both in the religious and secular societies? It can be seen that young people have become more inclined toward secular values promoted in the West and by the mainstream media that most of the times advocate the principle of the separation of the church and the state and invite people to abandon religion. What’s your take on that?
A: Unfortunately, Mr. Ziabari, what you’re saying is exactly what is happening. The old authorities are losing their authority. The church and its teachers and the teachers of the mosque that are trying to reach out to the young people, are not reaching them anymore. Because they have to talk to the young people maybe a couple of hours in a week, whereas in the media and the television, the young people can listen and watch for hours and hours a day, so the amount of teaching that young people can get from the church and the mosque is in no way near the amount that the media such as the television and radio can give, and because of that, young people listen to that so much and are influenced by it and it seems to be easier for them; it plays to their weaknesses, plays to their temptations and the things they find easy … and I’m afraid this is what is happening in our society, and unless we can somehow capture the young people, then the future does not look promising because if they are now in their 20s and 30s and reject the values of religion and ethical practice and do their own thing, then once they get old, everything will be worse.
Q: Yes, unfortunately this is what is happening now. First, we admit that there’s the principle of freedom of choice and everybody has the right to choose the way he wants to traverse, but after all, morality and religion are necessary for the prosperity and peace of the society. The clergy sometimes find it difficult to teach the young people what is right and what is wrong. How can the clergy and the religious preachers promote the moral and ethical values in a persuasive and convincing way?
A: I think that there are three ways. The first way is the way in which all of the people act. They often say, I cannot hear what you are saying, because what you are doing speaks so loud. So if we are not ourselves living holy and moral lives according to the commandments and the holy books and the teachings of holy men who precede us, if we do not follow these rules in our lives, then it is very hard for us to persuade the young people to do it. If they see us abusing marriage and the rejoice of relationship between a man and a woman, if they see us taking advantage of each other, if they see us doing the things which are sinful and acts of pleasure, not acts of joy as the Book says, then they realize that we can’t talk, because we are not doing what we preach. They say that you talk in a good way, but you don’t live that way. That’s the first thing. We have to be examples; we have to be models. If we are like that, and if they see us living a good life, that is going to be a very important help in strengthening their understanding of the right road.
Also, we really have to promote the reading of the sacred books, reading of the Bible and reading of Quran. We need to be able to teach them; the ancient truth. These are the great things which we have learned from the holy prophets who have been touched by the God’s grace and were our teachers throughout the years. We have to learn how to proclaim that message in the language of the day. The Archbishop of Washington, who is my superior, is a wonderful teacher and he does that by making sure that he uses the language of the day in promoting the ancient truth. We have to talk their language; the language of the young people. If we don’t talk the language of the young people, they will not listen to us, or else, they will not understand. So that is another thing which we have to do.
Practice good things, so you serve as good examples, make sure that they are reading and understanding the holy books and then finally to know how to speak to them in their own language.
Q: There’s always been a heated debate on the dichotomy of free speech and blasphemy. For instance, you surely remember the controversy that erupted over the publication of cartoons ridiculing Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten in 2006. Do you believe that the media should have the freedom to scoff at the sacraments of the followers of divine religions because this right is enshrined by their freedom of speech?
A: I think in the ideal world, yes. But there has to be a respect for the teachings of other people. There has to be respect for what other people believe. It is almost like you slap somebody on face if you attack what they hold to be sacred, and it is really an attack on the respect that other people deserve. If we believe that we are all brothers and sisters in God’s family, then we must love all brothers and sisters and not treat them as fools, and not attack what they hold to be holy and sacred. So, whereas I have always been in favor of the freedom of speech and freedom of religion and all types of freedom, yet if freedom of speech is an attack on other religions, this would be a violation of freedom of religion. There is a difficult conversation among these rights. It’s hard to make a general rule for them. I do believe in the freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But when the freedom of speech turns into an attack on other people’s beliefs, then it ceases to be freedom of speech.
Q: Your Eminence; what’s your perspective on the necessity of promoting inter-faith dialog among the followers of the dominant divine religions? How can a comprehensive and lasting dialog help them settle their disputes, realize an inclusive mutual understanding and propel them toward respecting each other’s sanctities and beliefs? How can the inter-faith dialog lead to the removal of anti-Muslim, anti-Christian and anti-Jewish bigotry and prejudice across the world?
A: That’s a wonderful question. It’s a question we have all been asking ourselves over the years, and I’ve developed a program that depends on 5 five steps. The first step is that, you have to talk with each other. You have to meet each other and talk with each other. The second step is that you have to talk “to” each other. So often, we have people living together, and they keep saying their own things, but they don’t listen to what the others say. So, you have to talk to each other. You have to really enter into a dialog and conversation. Number three; if you do that, then you’ll get to be able to understand the other person, to understand why we believe what we do, to understand why it is so important that we have faith in one God, and then we will be able to appreciate what the other people believe. If you understand why the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) proclaimed something and why this is the word of Allah, and the same thing to Gospel and Jesus, then you can appreciate them, and then you can begin to cooperate. That’s the ultimate stage of the inter-faith dialog, that is, we end up working with each other.
In the United States, we have been so blessed with the real determination to do this, and I’m so grateful to the Muslim leaders here, in the Islamic Society of North America, and all my friends in different Muslim associations and mosques who are really wonderful people. We understand each other, we are following this practice; we are talking to each other, understanding each other and appreciating each other, and then working together. And remember, some years ago, when there was a preacher who wanted to burn the Holy Quran, I was the first one to go to the television to say how stupid that was, and how evil that was. It was not an exercise of freedom of speech. It was an attack in discourtesy and hatred on another religion. So we are very fortunate to have an interreligious dialog in the United States for a long time, and I’m really thankful to my Muslim friends in the country.
Q: It can be seen that in different countries, the religious minorities are sometimes persecuted and denied their basic rights, or mistreated because of their religious beliefs. This is an unfortunate phenomenon in the 21st century and bespeaks of the lack of tolerance and religious freedom in different parts of the world. What’s your viewpoint on that?
A: I think it has to be dealt with on two levels. It should be eliminated on the ordinary level of the street, because if it’s not eliminated on the ordinary level of the street where people work and live, then it’s not going to be eliminated on the level of government, and I think it has to be eliminated on both levels. On the level of the government, it has to be eliminated, too. Certainly, on the street level, and the level of ordinary churches and mosques and Friday sermons where people preach friendship, dignity of every human being and the rights of the human being, this should be coped with. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said, my religion is for me, and your religion is for you, and the Holy Quran says, if Allah wanted everybody to be of the same religion, He would have created it that way.
So, the Quran and the Bible understand that there may be people who will not always believe in exactly the same thing. But we have to respect each other and it’s on that level that we can get our governments say that, ok, every religion which does not hurt the other religions can be respected, can be supported and can be protected.
Q: Your Eminence; I noted that in your response to one of my previous questions, you referred to the controversy over the burning of the Holy Quran by a Christian pastor in the United States a few years back. I want to know what you, as a high-ranking Catholic cleric, exactly think about that incident, which broke the hearts of millions of Muslims. Was the act of burning the Holy Quran compliant and in accordance with the teachings of Christianity?
A: Exactly not. I was the first one to go on television to attack this and say it was wrong. I was on Al Jazeera to talk to the Muslim world and the Arab world. The first time this was said will happen, a number of us gathered, Christians, Jews and Muslims, and appeared on television stations and I was the first one who spoke out against it and said how foolish this was, and how unlike it was to what Christianity teaches. Christianity demands that we have respect for each other; Christianity demands that we do not attack each other, it demands that we should not take the sacred objects of other religions and treat them disrespectfully, even as we hope nobody would treat our sacred objects disrespectfully. So, I’m very sure about that, because I spoke out against that immediately and one of the Muslim magazines covered my statements condemning what this poor fellow was trying to do.
Q: I had heard that by virtue of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which stipulates the separation of church and state, the teaching of creationist theories and criticism of evolution as proposed by Charles Darwin is disallowed in certain U.S. states. Do you find this practice fair and compliant with the tenets of academic freedom?
A: I think it would depend on how they are taught. I think if they’re taught as one possibility, then it’s all right. If they are taught as the answer, then I think that’s wrong, because there are other positions, other points of view that the children and young people should know about. They should know that there’s a view that the creationism is the total answer; they should know there’s a view that God created all things by the stages of evolution, and that God created everything automatically. These are different points of view which honest people have, and so I think they should be allowed that those who believe it can proclaim it. I think they must allow also the possibility of others to proclaim what they believe so that the young people, as a whole, understand the complexity of creation and be convinced about the wonder and brilliance of one God who created this world.
Q: You traveled to Iran in 2003 as the leader of an Abrahamic delegation. How did you find Iran at that time, the culture and lifestyle of the Iranian people and the magnets of Iranian civilization? What was the most attractive and interesting part of your trip to Iran?
A: This is a long time ago, but I was there three years ago also, and hope to be back again in March for a few days to meet some of the ayatollahs. But I found Iran to be fascinating place. What is so interesting about it is that there are so many nations in the world, especially in Asia and Africa that are created by a politician who draws a line on the map and says this is one country, and that’s another country. He doesn’t know what’s on the ground. He doesn’t know that there are many tribes there. But Iran is the Ancient Persia. This is the empire which existed for many centuries before the Christian Era. This is empire that Rome, with all its power, was never able to subdue. Iran, Persia has been the birthplace of extraordinary leaders, great philosophers, great emperors and great presidents. I think the diverse population of Iranians is a model to the world, and I found the people very friendly, very open, smiling and joyfully receiving the guests.
When I had a question, I didn’t speak Farsi, but there were many people who spoke English, and this was very helpful. I found my visit tour very joyful and I’m planning to come back in March and then perhaps again in the summer time.
Q: Your Eminence; Iran's new President Hasaan Rouhani and his administration have been trying to increase Iran’s interaction with the West. What’s your assessment of his election, his approach in the foreign relations and his achievements since he took office in August 2013?
A: I’m a fan and a supporter of this new government. I have met the Foreign Minister (Mohammad Javad Zarif), I’ve not met Dr. Rouhani, but what I hear of him is all very good; I also met the Iranian ambassadors and I pray that this is the beginning of a new stage of relations between the West and Iran, especially between the United States and Iran. I’m so pleased that the two presidents had the chance to talk on the phone. I’m so pleased that we have been able to come, with the best organization and best way to handle this difficult situation. I’m very pleased that Iran and the P5+1 have come to what I think is a breakthrough solution.
I think there are two questions on the political level. When a sovereign state, for scientific purposes, says that it wants nuclear energy while everybody else has nuclear energy, then it should be able to do it. I think the world has said that we just do not need more countries that have weapons of mass destruction, and I think the world has a right to do that. We follow the fatwa of the Supreme Leader who has said several times that Islam cannot involve the weapons of mass destruction. Ayatollah Khamanei has been very very clear on that. I think now that we have entered into this arrangement, I think that it will be worked out and seen that Iranians stick to their words and promise, and hopefully the Iranians will see that the West is willing to stop these very difficult sanctions and promote cooperation between the Iran and the world.
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari