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Is the Catholic Church still the world's moral authority?

The Catholic Church is more than 1 billion strong, but has been weakened in recent years by secularization and abuse scandals.  While the church is growing globally, a recent Pew study found nearly one-third of Americans who were raised Catholic no longer practice the religion.

Fox News Chief Religion Correspondent Lauren Green asked former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Francis Rooney whether the Catholic Church is still the world's moral authority. 

Rooney says even with the child sex abuse, Vatileaks scandals and a declining number of faithful attending church each week, the church still has the power to lead. “The principles which compromise the Holy See’s diplomatic outreach are enduring … in many parts of the world where scandal hasn’t occurred … [the Catholic Church has] the greatest impact in areas that are marginalized, where Christians are persecuted, “said Rooney. 

Pope Benedict XVI resigned as the leader of the Catholic Church in February 2013. Green asked if it was because of pressure within the Holy See.

"I think the Holy See’s voice is needed more than ever ..."

- Ambassador Francis Rooney

“I don’t think it was the scandals per say… you gotta remember that Benedict was part of the solution … he was the fella that changed the procedures to make sure that the Vatican would have a voice when these [sex abuse] cases came up and that Bishops wouldn’t be able to sweep them under the rug and avoid calling in the civil authorities,” said Rooney.

Rooney, author of “The Global Vatican” said “Pope Benedict’s health never been that good … his health had to come to deteriorate” during his time as Pope. Rooney believes this was a factor in the Pope’s resignation.

On another front, the Catholic Church is fighting to get a reprieve from the controversial Health and Human Services mandate.  The church says the law forces religious organizations to provide contraception coverage in their health plans. They are seeking an exemption based on religious liberty.

As the fight continues, critics raise doubt over its effectiveness to win the legal fight.

“The issue here is the first amendment … the right to practice religion versus the government taking an action which happens to be in this case … contraception,” said Rooney. “I don't think the struggle to defend the first amendment is a bad thing.”

Rooney sees the current relationship between the Holy See and Obama Administration as “more attenuated” then in previous White Houses.

Ken Hackett, the former president of Catholic Relief Services was installed this summer as the new U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. While not knowing Hackett personally Rooney said “he’s a very enlightened choice … his background with Catholic charities certainly should resonate strongly with the emphasis Pope Francis put recently.” 

“In a world right now with some many asymmetrical conflicts that are religiously and culturally oriented I think the Holy See’s voice is needed more than ever,” said Rooney. 

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