WASHINGTON –– In a Nov. 4 speech at the University of Notre Dame, the apostolic nuncio to the United States warned that the “menace to religious liberty is concrete on many fronts” today particularly “within your own homeland.”

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, speaking in South Bend, Ind., at a university-sponsored conference on religious freedom, said threats to religious liberty in the United States may not be as obvious as the religious persecution in other countries, but he stressed that the “not so obvious” threat often “appears inconsequential or seems benign but in fact is not.”

The archbishop highlighted the Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate as a threat to religious liberty, but he was quick to point out it was just one example of attacks on “authentic and legitimate exercise of religious freedom” in the United States and stressed that people should not forget “the other perils to religious liberty that your great country has experienced in recent years.”

He said religious persecution occurs when “some people question whether religion or religious beliefs should have a role in public life and civic affairs.”

“The problem of persecution begins with this reluctance to accept the public role of religion in these affairs,” he said, especially when the protection of religious freedom “involves beliefs that the powerful of the political society do not share.”

Archbishop Vigano said religious liberty has been threatened when Catholic Charities agencies across the country are “being removed from vital social services that advance the common good because the upright people administering these programs would not adopt policies or engage in procedures that violate fundamental moral principles of the Catholic faith.”

When religious liberties are threatened, he said, they are not always defended by “influential members of the national American community — especially public officials and university faculty members –– who profess to be Catholic.”

Instead of explaining and defending Catholic teachings in light of current public policy issues, he said, they are “allying with those forces that are pitted against the church in fundamental moral teachings dealing with critical issues such as abortion, population control, the redefinition of marriage, embryonic stem-cell commodification, and problematic adoptions, to name but a few.”

The archbishop also noted the responsibility lay Catholics have to implement and defend their faith in the modern world, which he said was emphasized by Blessed Pope John Paul II’s “Christifideles Laici” a 1998 apostolic exhortation about the mission and vocation of the laity.

Archbishop Vigano said today’s Catholics are still “a far cry from embracing” Pope John Paul’s charge to Catholic lay men and women particularly “when we witness in an unprecedented way a platform being assumed by a major political party, having intrinsic evils among its basic principles, and Catholic faithful publicly supporting it.”

“There is a divisive strategy at work here,” he continued, adding that it is “an intentional dividing of the church,” which he said weakens it and enables it to be more easily persecuted.

Archbishop Vigano stressed that “history can help us understand what is happening in the present moment,” knowing that “Catholics have, in the past, experienced and weathered the storms that have threatened religious freedom.”

He urged Catholics to respond to religious liberty threats, pointing out that New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and other U.S. bishops and bishops around the world have urged Catholic faithful “to confront the challenges which the faith faces today.”

Catholics must “live and proclaim the Gospel through the church’s teachings,” Archbishop Vigano said, “so that by reasoned proposition, not imposition, God’s will and our discipleship can advance the common good.”