Catholic News Agency Head: Pope Francis Will Defend Religious Freedom

Wednesday, 20 Mar 2013 12:49 PM

By Cyrus Afzali and Kathleen Walter

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Leading Catholic journalist the Rev. James Mulford believes Pope Francis will usher in a new era that will focus on defending religious freedom around the world and that will play a key role in the church’s stance on important issues going forward.

In an interview with Newsmax TV, Mulford, publisher of the Catholic news agency ZENIT, said the new Pope’s life experiences have given him an acute sense of what constitutes religious freedom and drive his desire to defend it.

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“I would not limit it to Catholics. When Christians are denied their religious freedom to exercise in any way, whether it be in health care, education or family matters, the church and Pope Francis are going to defend and speak up for that,” he said.

President Barack Obama has at times had a strained relationship with the church’s American leaders, in part due to contraception policies ushered in by the Affordable Care Act. Despite the occasional strains in their relationship, Mulford says the church will always extend an open hand to the president.

“In the 15 years of our news agency, we have discovered so many good stories around the world of Catholics being present in every field of human endeavor, whether it be healthcare, education, science, sports, you name it,” he said. “Catholics are 1.2 billion members around the world and will 100 percent be in support of freedom, the family, values and virtue. Does that mean there is 100 percent political support for everything the administration is presenting? That will be on a case by case basis.”

As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Rob Portman voiced support for gay marriage in recent days, many have naturally wondered what the new Pope’s take on the issue will be. Mulford is not predicting any policy change, but believes there will be an increased emphasis on tolerance.

“The church has always been against discrimination in any form and we saw this after the election of Pope Francis. It’s only been a few days since he was named Pope, but he’s not going to be so much defending, imposing or demanding things from others. Rather, he will be living what he believes and offering and inviting Catholics around the world to live what they believe, offer that as a humble testimony and not impose their opinions on other people,” Mulford said. “It won’t change doctrine or belief, but it could open a lot of hearts to accept things.”

The resurgence of radical Islam in the Middle East, especially Egypt and Libya, is something that’s concerning an increasing number of Christians around the world. Mulford says his news agency reports on the struggle for religious freedom around the world.

“The church is worried about religious freedom of Christians and Catholics in the North African countries, but it’s not limited to that. We know that as you begin to take away from one group, you open the gates to take freedom away from everyone,” Mulford said.

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