Manhattan Declaration: Turning Point in History

New Ecumenical Moment

In his Lenten message for this year, Pope Benedict XVI focuses on the theme of justice. He reminds us that there can be no true justice without God, that is, without human beings recognizing their need for God and that only God can give us what we ultimately need.

He quotes St. Augustine on this point, who offers an incisive insight: “If ‘justice is that virtue which gives everyone his due . . . where, then, is the justice of man, when he deserts the true God?’ (De civitate Dei, XIX, 21).”

It was precisely this recognition of our need of God to achieve justice on the most fundamental issues that motivated religious leaders from throughout our nation and beyond to gather in Manhattan on Sept. 28, 2009.

Concerned over the advancing erosion of justice, human rights and the common good due to attacks on the sanctity of human life, the undermining of marriage and the family, and increasing restrictions on religious liberties, over 100 leaders from the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical Protestant and Anglican traditions met to hear speakers, strategize, and join together in solidarity to speak with one voice on these issues.

The Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, Bishop of Oakland, Episcopal Advisor to Catholics for the Common Good
Bishop Salvatore Cordileone,
Catholics for the Common Good Epicopal Adviser

The result is a document known as “The Manhattan Declaration.”

Having been privileged to be a participant at this event and one of the original signatories of the document, I can say that this gathering in Manhattan and the Declaration which ensued represent a critical turning point in our nation’s history and a new ecumenical moment.

After centuries of differences and at times even hostilities, we experienced a new sense of unity, common purpose and just plain joy to be in each other’s company. We realized that we can still respect differences while also doing what Pope John XXIII urged us to: focus on what unites us. And it is more critical than ever that we do so now.

One may ask why the Declaration focuses on these issues. Certainly there are many other issues of social justice that, as people of faith, we should, and indeed are, working on.

Life, marriage, and religious liberty, however, are the foundation of everything else, and we cannot have a healthy society if it is built on a faulty foundation. No matter how much good we do elsewhere, it will ultimately fail to achieve its end if the foundation is not solid.

The Declaration has the effect of a call to action, but it is a call to compassion as well. We must be respectful of those who disagree with us, and, especially, compassionate toward those who have been pressured or duped into make decisions in their lives that have brought them and others great suffering. It is precisely such suffering that we hope to spare future generations of citizens.

Also, the reference to civil disobedience in the Declaration should not be taken as a threat. It is not a threat, but a statement of resolve. The rejection of God’s design for life and marriage inevitably leads to rejection of God Himself, without Whom, Pope Benedict reminds us, there can be no justice.

The practical application of this rejection is the stripping of rights of those who act in accordance with their faith in God, even when it comes to serving others not of their own religious tradition.

There are many examples of this already happening in this country and throughout the world, mainly in traditionally — and perhaps formerly — Christian countries. We are resolved to resist any such unjust laws which may be enacted in the future.

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But, yes, it is also a call to action. What, then, can you do?

First, I would encourage all of our people to read and reflect on the Manhattan Declaration, which is printed on the next page of The Catholic Voice. It is also available at Besides the Declaration itself, other useful information is available online.

Then, please join the over 423,000 people who have signed the Declaration by signing it yourself, which you may do online at

In addition to signing, there is much else which can be done, especially becoming better informed about these issues in order to become a spokesperson and advocate for them. The website will give you other ideas on how to take action.

Finally, in keeping with the spirit of Lent, we all need to recognize our own failures, whether big or small, in respecting God’s design, especially in living out our respective vocations.

As Pope Benedict teaches in his Lenten message, if we want a justly ordered society, we must start by looking within: “Injustice, the fruit of evil, does not have exclusively external roots; its origin lies in the human heart, where the seeds are found of a mysterious cooperation with evil.”

May this Lent be for all of us a time of spiritual renewal and purification of heart, which translates into action and compassion for the sake of justice, human rights, and the common good.


Originally pulbished in "The Catholic Voice", the newspaper of the Oakland Diocese.Bishop Cordileone is Bishop of the Oakland Diocese and an Episcopal Adviser to Catholics for the Common Good.

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