Cardinal Etchegaray argues here that the dialogue between church and state, with both parties rooted in sometimes conflicting absolute claims and values, has become more recently a wider-ranging dialogue between the church and a pluralist, relativist liberal society. The very definition of “liberal society” is open to argument, and the church may find elements to commend or oppose in any given definition. Since the nineteenth century the church has often found itself in opposition to various ideas of “liberty,” especially those that represent an idolatry of absolute rights that push aside Christian spiritual and moral concerns. Now that liberalism has become the pervasive model for society, the church finds it may more easily express its critique, with the aim of making society more conducive to allowing people to become fully human. Indeed, the church provides a necessary check on the excesses of liberal society, particularly those of capitalism and democratic populism. Its essential point is the transcendent dimension of the human person—our connection with the divine. The pursuit of economic and political ends needs to be governed by a concern for the ethical, itself founded on the divine. Liberal society will only live up to its own highest aspirations through promoting self-mastery and an awareness that humanity’s freedom is ultimately found only in God.

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