Interfaith effort sought to bring moral teaching to public schools Keeler urges Catholics to work with Muslims, Jews and Protestants

November 14, 1995|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Cardinal William H. Keeler, the elected head of the nation's Roman Catholic bishops, called yesterday for an alliance of his church with Jews, Muslims and Protestants to return "basic moral teaching" to the public schools.

The proposal was one of six on an interfaith agenda for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops that the cardinal said were in line with Pope John Paul II's vision for the United States, expressed during last month's visit to the New York area and Baltimore.

The Baltimore cardinal urged the U.S. Catholic hierarchy as its annual Washington meeting began to "build now in an ecumenical and, where possible, an interfaith way to address those areas where there is broad agreement on what we ought to do."

First on his list of interfaith projects was teaching morality in the public schools. "Within the past year," Cardinal Keeler said, "national leaders in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities have individually expressed an interest in joining with us to promote a restoration of basic moral teaching in the public schools, an interfaith effort that is already happening in many communities."

His other cooperative proposals involved:

* Fighting pornography.

* Ending immorality and violence in entertainment and advertising.

* Broad-based marriage-preparation to "decrease the rate of failure."

* Motivating teens "to live chastely before marriage" -- drawing on the success of the Southern Baptists' True Love Waits program, in which teens promise to abstain from sexual activity before marriage.

* Helping the news and entertainment industries to improve their understanding of religion.

"This," he said of the last point, "is crucial in our country, where each week more people participate in public worship than in the spectator sports which receive so much more attention."

The cardinal's proposals were contained in his final address as president of the conference of bishops, archbishops and cardinals, a position he has held for three years. His successor will be elected during the Washington meeting that concludes Thursday.

Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop John H. Ricard, chairman of the church's domestic policy committee, told the assembled prelates that the federal government needs a strong reminder of the moral principles set forth 10 years ago in their pastoral letter, "Economic Justice for All."

"As we meet," Bishop Ricard said, "the Congress and White House are in a tug of war over partisan positioning. Our priorities are different -- we focus on vulnerable children and poor families. In the welfare, tax and budget debates, we believe the nation should put poor children and families first."

The nearly 300 bishops at the meeting will be asked to adopt a statement from Bishop Ricard's committee, updating the economic pastoral letter of a decade ago.

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