Catholics discuss religious freedom in Israel at conference

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Discussing conditions in Israel and the Middle East, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C. said that “twilight has fallen on the possibility of a two-state solution,” but added that despite the real and enormous challenges, it was not too late for peace in the region.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C. speaks at the Religious Freedom and Human Rights conference Monday. Photo by Ed Pfueller/The Catholic University of America
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C. speaks at the Religious Freedom and Human Rights conference Monday.
Photo by Ed Pfueller/The Catholic University of America

The crowd of Catholic leaders, clergy and invited guests listened attentively as the cardinal gave his keynote address as part of the conference called, Religious Freedom and Human Rights — Path to Peace in the Holy Land — That All May be Free. Held Monday at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., the conference attendees represented a diverse sample of Catholic interest groups and organizations. The conference was sponsored by a similarly wide spectrum of groups — the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America (CUA) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


The speakers, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, covered issues of human rights and religious liberty in Israel and the Palestinian territories, bringing their own perspectives  to the subjects. In talking through the problems and issues, all of the speakers brought forth ideas on how to encourage peace and improve the lives of everyone living in the region.

“I find this a really hopeful conference,” said Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore who attended the conference.

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Much of the day’s discussion revolved around Israeli religious policies for minorities and the interaction of the Israeli government with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. McCarrick spoke of how he saw the growth of Israeli settlements as a real danger to the peace process.

“Recognizing Israel’s shortcomings is crucial,” said Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “But they must be understood in context. The relationship between religion and state is complicated.”


Berkowitz spoke as a respondent to McCarrick and discussed a lot of the positive aspects of life in Israel for religious minorities. While acknowledging the validity of the concerns under discussion about Israeli policies, he said a one-sided story is often told in the world media.

“Verifiable and illuminating facts about freedom in Israel are overlooked in Western reporting,” he said, citing as an example Israeli tolerance of peaceful demonstrations supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt while the Palestinian Authority detained and arrested many who did the same.

The conference ended on a hopeful note of future reconciliation and peaceful tolerance for all who travel to the region but the daunting task of getting there should always get its due, McCarrick said, and there was general agreement from his audience.

“It’s really all about education,” Madden said. “Today won’t solve the big problems, but people will go home and think about what they’ve learned.”

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