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Pope warns U.S. bishops of threat to faith

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI says U.S. Roman Catholics need to understand the "grave threats" to their faith posed by what he calls radical secularism in the political and cultural arenas.

In addressing visiting U.S. bishops yesterday, he used the same language in warning that attempts are being made to erode their religious freedom.

Benedict did not explicitly mention it, but the bishops have complained that their religious freedom is eroding in the face of growing acceptance of gay marriage and attempts to marginalize faith. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has formed a committee on protecting religious liberty.

The pope said many of the bishops have complained about attempts to deny conscientious objection with regard to cooperation in "intrinsically evil practices." U.S. church leaders have been pressing for a broader religious exception to part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul that mandates private insurers pay for contraception.

Bishops also are pressing for broader religious exemptions in U.S. states that have legalized same-gender civil unions or marriage.

The vast network of Catholic social services in the United States includes adoption and foster-care placement. Bishops in some states have either shut down adoption programs or have lost their government contracts after refusing to place children with same-gender couples.

Benedict expressed appreciation that bishops have been more outspoken about American Catholic politicians who don't follow church teaching on abortion and other issues. The pope said Catholics in political life have a "personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral issues of our time."

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