Transcript: Cardinal McCarrick on Christ

The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'FOX News Sunday,' December 26, 2004.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: It's always an honor to talk with our next guest, especially at this time of year. We welcome Theodore Cardinal McCarrick (search), the archbishop of Washington. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you, sir.

THEODORE CARDINAL MCCARRICK, ARCHBISHOP, WASHINGTON: I wish you the same and to your whole family.

WALLACE: Thank you, sir. One of the fascinating developments the last year or so has been the new explosion of interest in the life of Jesus Christ (search). Whether it's Mel Gibson's hugely successful movie "The Passion of the Christ" or the book "The Da Vinci Code," which has 9 million copies in print, or the recent covers of Time and Newsweek on the nativity, 2,000 years after his life and death people are fascinated with Jesus.

How do you explain it?

MCCARRICK: Well, of course, I guess you start by saying that we believe he's both man and God. We believe that he is the Father's great gift to the world, the gift of salvation. I think that, perhaps, most of it begins by the gift of faith that so many people in the world have had over those 2,000 years, that he left an extraordinary legacy, and the legacy was the salvation of the world.

The legacy was also a church that he left behind and a church that, even though it has not maintained that unity that he desired so much and that we all desire and pray for so much, yet there are more than a billion and a half people in the world today who believe in the Lord Jesus.

And because of that, the stories of his life are told and retold to children in tents in the desert and in skyscrapers in large cities. All over the world, people believe in him.

WALLACE: But let me ask you about that, because this interest, this attention does not always follow the Bible. "The Da Vinci Code" (search) makes up a whole new story about the life of Jesus. These covers of the news magazines, their stories inside look for scholarship that either supported or contradicted in hard, historical fact the story of the Bible and the nativity.

Does it bother you when people don't just accept the story of Christ on faith?

MCCARRICK: Well, that's a hard question to answer in that precise way.

Let me say that I regret that people don't see with the eyes of faith, because so many of us do. I regret that people don't understand the message of the gospel, which is the message of salvation, the message of love for neighbor, of care for other people.

You regret that, because if they do not see that message and if they do not follow it, then a lot of good is not done in the world, because he really came to inspire us to be good people, inspire us to look out for our neighbor, to care for the poor, to protect life wherever we find it. Those were parts of his great gospel message.

But more than anything else, his message is good news. That was yesterday's Christmas message, good news -- good news for the world. You know, "I bring you peace, and you have to take it." And so often, because people don't listen to the message, they don't take that message of peace.

WALLACE: I want to pick up on something that I talked about with Mrs. Cheney, and that's another trend we see these days about political correctness and Christmas.

At the lighting ceremony in front of the Capitol, this year, they talked about the "holiday tree" and the "people's tree." Local governments banned Christmas trees or depictions of the nativity. What do you make of the argument that celebrating Christmas can violate the separation of church and state or just make non-Christians feel excluded?

MCCARRICK: Well, I guess I would start by looking at the history. It seems to me that when this country was established, it was established by men who were believers. Now, they might have been theists, like Jefferson is supposed to have been, or they might have been very important members of a congregation.

But basically, when we had our Constitution (search), it talked about the separation of church and state in such a way that no church was to be established here. It didn't mean that no church was to be loved here and respected here, that no religious position was to be despised or held in disrespect.

But, unfortunately, I think the history of our country, especially, unfortunately, in our time, the history of our country seems to have not only not established religion, which is what it's supposed to do, but also it seems to have disestablished unreligion.

There is a secular religion that seems to be established in our society today, that the society cannot support religious institutions even if they're going to serve the poor, even if they're going to run hospitals, even if they're going to reach out into the most difficult neighborhoods in our society and help people in a way that government can't do.

So I think that you have to put a very thoughtful division on that question, because, yes, we should never establish a church in our country, absolutely. That's not what America is all about.

But on the other hand, the founding fathers never said we should not have religion as a major foundation of our society. And I truly believe that if we don't have religion as a foundation of society, the society is going to be weak.

WALLACE: Let me ask you, Cardinal, if I may, please take a look at a poll that was recently done by FOX News-Opinion Dynamics. Here it is: 51 percent of those surveyed said that public displays of Christmas symbols are more under attack this year than in the past. Do you share that view, sir?

MCCARRICK: I think it's quite possible, from what I read and see on the television, you would get that opinion, that there's more attacks in different places on religious symbols.

And I think that may be because those who are so opposed to it feel that the tide is turning now, once again, against them. And I think they feel that they're caught in a corner. Because there is a -- I believe there is a real revival of religion in our country, not just of Christianity, not just of the traditional religions, but of people who really believe in God and may not be able to express it in the words of present-day religion, but people who are not unhappy that their neighbor is a believer, people who are not unhappy that their neighbor has taken in their lives as a guide certain moral values that make it nicer to live in that neighborhood and nicer to work with people who accept values and accept the rights of others as part of their basic philosophy.

WALLACE: In the last segment, we asked Mrs. Cheney about the much-noted exit poll on Election Day in which 22 percent of Americans said that moral values was the single biggest issue in deciding their vote. What do you think those people were saying?

MCCARRICK: Well, I think they're probably saying something that I just said a few moments ago. I think they were saying that you cannot really successfully, happily live in our society unless you have an internal values system that allows you to have respect for yourself, respect for your neighbor and respect for those extraordinarily important foundations of our society like honesty and justice and care for the poor and self-respect and kindness and patience.

All those things are part of the Christian message, but, to a certain extent, they're part of every religious message. And I think the people were saying, "Hey, you know, let's not let our society get too far away from that, or we'll end up self- destructing."

WALLACE: Well, it's interesting, because you point that out, and Mrs. Cheney, when she was talking, talked about sort of a reaction against the cynicism about America, that if you're going to talk about what America has achieved, don't always undercut it, don't always see the negative side of it.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people that read that about moral values and think it's about gay marriage or about abortion. Do you think it's more, when people talk about moral values, it's more this sort of big picture, a sense of optimism, a sense of morality? Or do you think it gets more to these kind of specific, some would say polarizing social issues?

MCCARRICK: Well, I think it depends on who is responding to the question. I certainly believe that there are many people who believe that attacks against marriage, attacks against innocent life, attacks against peace in the world, those are major values that are really conducive to making decisions.

And I think there are others who just have an uncomfortable sense that there are too many people in our society who are just walking away from the Golden Rule (search), walking away from the general need of looking out for your neighbor and loving your neighbor and trying to build a community of peace.

So I think there are some who definitely would look at marriage and look at family and look at life and look at education as specific values that they would be impelled to support in the way they vote. And there would be others besides those who may be, as Mrs. Cheney said, who may be disturbed at the cynicism or the pacifism of our society that does not say, "Hey, I'm here to help. God has put me here to do a work, to do a job, to change the world in some good way." That's what we believe.

WALLACE: And, finally, Cardinal McCarrick, in this special season, what is the message for Christians and for non-Christians?

MCCARRICK: Oh, I think it's a message of hope. It's a message that says to everybody that the world may sometimes seem dark, but it should not, because there are -- we believe there is God in the world. The kingdom has come. The message John the Baptizer -- last weekend in Advent, that there is reason to hope. There is reason to put your trust in God and in the goodness of other people and not to be afraid.

WALLACE: As you say, it's a message of good news.


WALLACE: Cardinal McCarrick, all of us wish you a very Merry Christmas and very Happy New Year, and thank you for joining us today.

MCCARRICK: Thank you. God bless you.

WALLACE: Thank you, sir.